Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: June 30, 2017.
Webpage updated: June 30, 2017




Smeaton's Tower is situated on Plymouth Hoe, overlooking Plymouth Sound.  The National Grid Reference is SX 477 538.

Smeaton's Tower is a landmark overlooking Plymouth Sound

The first of the Eddystone Lights, on the Eddystone Reef, 14 miles south of Plymouth Sound, was erected in 1695 by Mr Henry Winstanley but it was washed away in a storm 7 years later taking its designer with it. 

Mr John Rudyerd built the second Eddystone Lighthouse in 1711 but that one was destroyed by fire in 1755.  On December 13th 1756 Mr John Smeaton and his team of masons commenced work on this very lighthouse, although it was not until June the following year that the first course of interlocking Portland stone blocks was laid.  It was completed in August 1759 and the 24 candles were first lit on the evening of October 16th that year.  It would still be on the reef today but for the fact that the rock on which it stood was undermined by the sea. 

A new lighthouse was built on an adjoining rock by Sir James Douglass.  It was realized that if Smeaton's tower was left standing it would be a constant danger to the new lighthouse because if the rock did give way then it likely crash into the new lighthouse.  When the Trinity House Board threatened to blow it up, Mr F J Webb suggested that Smeaton's tower should be dismantled stone by stone and re-erected on Plymouth Hoe to replace the Trinity House navigation obelisk.   He and Mr H Penrose Prance called a public meeting, the outcome of which was that 1,200 was raised by subscription and the sanction of Trinity House obtained.

Smeaton's Tower viewed from the Royal Citadel

Smeaton's Tower viewed from the Royal Citadel.

A tablet affixed to the interior of the lighthouse explains the background: ~ The portion of this tower above the spiral staircase was removed from the Eddystone Rock by the Trinity Corporation in 1882, and presented to the Committee for its re-erection as a memorial to John Smeaton CE, FRS.     The lower part has been reproduced in facsimile, except that an entrance has been made at the level of the Hoe.      The external original stonework was re-erected at the cost of Councillor John Pethick, and the new granite was prepared and presented by Pethick Brothers.  The hauling of the stones and other materials was gratuitously done by Alderman William Derry and Councillor Joseph Wainwright.  Other donations of labour or materials were made by H Ede and Son, R Cumming, S Thomas, J Best, Sparrow Brothers, A H Lethbridge, and Roose Brothers.  The remainder of the expenses was defrayed by public subscription.     The foundation-stone was laid by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, KG, Master of the Trinity Corporation, October 20th 1882, in the Mayoralty of C F Burnard, and the Tower was opened and publicly inaugurated on September 24th 1884, by the Deputy-Master and Elder Brethren of the Trinity Corporation in the Mayoralty of John Greenway.     The site is that which was occupied for at least two centuries by the Trinity landmark, and the Trinity Corporation retains the right to control the exterior of the tower for the same purpose.     Executive Committee:- Charles F Burnard JP, chairman; William Derry, hon.treasurer; Henry J Snell, hon. architect; J Walter Wilson, town clerk; Edward S Lancaster, Frederick J Webb, hon. secretaries; T Cole, J J Crealock, A Groser, Capt. Inskip JP, E James JP, J E Moon, W F Moore JP, Admiral Morshead, J Pethick, J Wainwright, H J Waring JP.~

The new base of the Tower consists of 215 tons of Dartmoor granite rising in 19 courses to a height of 20ft 6ins.  The height of the original portion,from the top of the new base to the top of the lantern, is 59ft 2ins, giving a total height of 87ft 8ins.  The diameter of the new base, which was constructed thanks to Mr John Pethic, is 25ft 8ins and the diameter at the top is 16ft 8ins.   The rooms have a diameter of 12ft 4ins.  Mr A R Lethbridge was the contractor for the ceilings and floors.  Mr Hearder donated and fitted a lightening conductor.

HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by the Duchess, were due to arrive at Plymouth Station at 9pm on Thursday October 19th 1882, having travelled down on the "Zulu" Express from London.  They were to be the guests of Admiral Sir Houston Stewart at Admiralty House (now known as Hamoaze House), where they would be joined by HRH Prince Henry of Germany.  After the ceremony they were to return to Admiralty House for lunch and then leave Plymouth on the 2pm train for London.

So significant was the Eddystone light that an image of Smeaton's tower appeared on the bronze penny coin in 1860 and apart from a gap of 42 years, it was a constant companion to Britannia right up until the penny ceased to be minted in 1970.

The Mayor of Plymouth declared Smeaton's Tower open to the public on September 24th 1884 in the presence of Captain Webb, the deputy master of Trinity House.  A banquet was held in the Saint Andrew's Hall during the afternoon at which the Mayors of most of the boroughs of Devon and Cornwall were present.

On the morning of April 3rd 1913 Plymothians awoke to find Smeaton's Tower had become during the night a target for the suffragette movement.   Painted in large white letters around the base were the words: 'To Churchill: no security until you give women votes, no matter how big the Navy.'  It was a message to Mr Winston Churchill who, with other Lords of the Admiralty, had arrived in the Sound just before eight that morning.