Plymouth - Part Five

What use is a lighthouse on dry land? Smeaton's Tower once stood about 14 miles out to sea - on a clear day you can still see the stump on the horizon where it once stood proud against the elements.

Look out to sea from The Hoe and you'll see the impressive expanse of Plymouth Sound.

On the far horizon, about 14 miles away you can just make out the Eddystone Lighthouse -  the fourth lighthouse to stand on the treacherous Eddystone rocks.

Just to the left of it, you can still see the stump of its predecessor – most of which stands beside you here on Plymouth Hoe.

Smeaton's Tower was built nearly 250 years ago - a revolution in lighthouse design and the brainchild of one John Smeaton.

One thousand tons of granite and Portland stone - it stood 72 feet tall on one of the most notorious reefs in the English Channel.

The first lighthouse, an octagonal wooden tower, was washed away, along with its creator Henry Winstanley, during a violent storm in 1703.

The architect had travelled from Essex to ride out the bad weather - confident his construction could withstand the worst storms. It was a tragic error which cost Winstanley his life. 

The second lighthouse was burnt down after a fire broke out in the lantern. During the blaze the lead cupola began to melt and as the duty keeper Henry Hall was looking up he swallowed seven ounces of molten metal.

It's said no one believed him until he died a few days later -  when doctors found a lump of lead in his stomach. It can now be seen in the Edinburgh museum.

In 1756 John Smeaton was asked by the Royal Society to come up with a design for the third Eddystone light. His inspiration was an oak tree - a tall natural object that could withstand gales without breaking.

And that’s how he built it -  using 1,493 blocks of stone, like the rings of a tree all dove-tail jointed together with marble dowels and oak pins.

Just like a tree, the tower bends in the wind. It's hard to imagine what it was like out there in the middle of a raging storm, as it bent to and fro and the waves crashed right over the top. It sounds terrifying, but the tower never snapped and now it’s the model for all lighthouses built on rocks.

The lighthouse protected shipping for 120 years and there's a good chance it would still be standing there today had the relentless pounding of the waves not eroded the foundation rock on which it stood.

When it was finally replaced in 1882, Smeaton's Tower was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt on Plymouth Hoe - where it stands as a permanent reminder of the Yorkshire born engineer who created it.

John Smeaton has another claim to fame - he also invented quick-drying cement!

From Smeaton's Tower make your way down to the seafront road and our next point of interest, a viewpoint overlooking the Tinside Lido.

For those with buggies and wheelchairs, return the ramp at the end of The Hoe and turn right down HOE ROAD to the seafront.