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Celebrating 321 years since Eddystone Lighthouse was lit up for the first time

The Eddystone Lighthouse is located on the dangerous Eddystone Rocks, 9 statute miles (14 km) south of Rame Head in England. While Rame Head is in Cornwall, the rocks are in Devon and composed of Precambrian gneiss.

The current structure is the fourth to be built on the site. The first and second were destroyed by storm and fire. The third, also known as Smeaton's Tower, is the best known because of its influence on lighthouse design and its importance in the development of concrete for building. Its upper portions have been re-erected on the Plymouth Hoe as a monument and tourist attraction. The first lighthouse, completed in 1698, was the world's first open ocean lighthouse although the Cordouan lighthouse preceded it as the first offshore lighthouse.

Early sketch by artist Gerben Steenks

Situated near the mouth of the English channel, the Eddystone reef is among the world’s most hazardous stretches of water, infamously known for causing numerous shipwrecks over the years. Today’s Doodle celebrates the first lighting of Eddystone Lighthouse, the first lighthouse built on those infamous rocks on this day in 1698. 

It was English merchant Henry Winstanley, who’d invested in ships that sunk at Eddystone, who accepted the daunting challenge of building a much-needed lighthouse essentially in the wide open sea, 14 miles from the coast of Plymouth.

Work began in 1696 but was delayed when a French vessel arrived and took Winstanley prisoner. Although England and France were at war, the French king Louis XIV released Winstanley, saying that “France was at war with England, not with humanity." It was clear that the importance of the lighthouse transcended international conflicts.

Rising some 80 feet above the rock, the Eddystone Lighthouse was surmounted by a weather vane and domed cupola containing 60 candles and a “great hanging lamp” to warn navigators to steer clear of danger. Requiring extensive repairs after withstanding its first punishing North Atlantic winter, the lighthouse was substantially redesigned before its official completion in 1699. 

Although Winstanley believed that the lighthouse could withstand "the greatest storm that ever was," it was destroyed during the historic Great Storm of 1703. Nevertheless, Winstanley had proved it was not just necessary but also possible and vitally important to build a lighthouse on this treacherous site, despite the extreme difficulties and dangers. A series of lighthouses have been erected in the same place since then, all of them safeguarding the lives of maritime travelers for more than three centuries.



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