Neil Oliver explores the extraordinary story of building Britain's most famous lighthouse on the perilous Eddystone rocks.
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I love lighthouses.
In fact I'm an honorary member of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers.
And get this. I'm now on my way to visit the location of the world's first offshore lighthouse.
We've only got a very short weather window.
It's going to be pretty tricky to get out there.
That is fantastic!
Right on the horizon there, there's the faintest grey line just sticking up a few millimetres, as it were.
That is the Eddystone lighthouse.
It's all very well from our 21st-century perspective.
We know you can build lighthouses on rocks.
But put yourself in the shoes of people 300 years ago
when that idea was as outlandish as building a tower on the moon.
When this lighthouse was opened in 1882 it was hailed as a miracle of engineering, and so it was.
But believe it or not it's not that lighthouse I've come to see.
It's the ones that were here before it.
For centuries these rocks have sunk countless ships bound for Plymouth.
With the great interest in maritime trade in the late-17th century,
a way had to be found to protect ships from these foreboding rocks.
Today, the strong southeasterly winds are making the approach to the lighthouse a wee bit tricky.
But imagine having the nerve to build a lighthouse out here,
300 years ago with only flimsy wooden rowing boats
to transport tons of material and teams of builders.
The man who did have the nerve to try this was one Henry Winstanley.
He started building in 1696 and by 1699 he had completed his masterpiece.
It had a stone foundation but it was mostly a wooden structure.
Imagine a wooden tower out here in the face of these gales!
Winstanley's confidence in his tower was unshakeable.
He boasted, "I only wish that I may be in the lighthouse
"in circumstances that will test its strength to the utmost."
On the 26th November 1703, Winstanley's wish came true.
That night, the biggest recorded storm to hit Britain
devastated the entire country, claiming at least 8,000 lives.
When people came out to this rock to see how he had fared, there was not a trace.
Not of Winstanley, not of the lighthouse crew and not of the lighthouse.
All they found was some twisted metal.
Winstanley was gone.
His light had kept sailors safe for over four years,
but just two days after the lighthouse collapsed
a ship struck the rock and sank with the loss of all hands.
Another lighthouse was built, but it burnt down.
So, the maritime authorities commissioned Yorkshireman
John Smeaton to build a structure that would stand the test of time.
And its stump still remains here.
Now this was a huge step forward in lighthouse design.
These blocks of granite are dovetailed together.
They are like three-dimensional jigsaw pieces that all lock together.
It entered service in October 1759.
So effective was Smeaton's innovative design that it became the standard for lighthouses worldwide,
and is still a template for today's lighthouse builders.
Smeaton's lighthouse stood for 120 years before cracks appeared.
Not in the tower, but on the rock below it.
Such was the significance of Smeaton's lighthouse that the people of Plymouth paid for it
to be taken down block by block and rebuilt on Plymouth Hoe as a memorial to its designer.
It stands there today as Plymouth's most famous landmark,
a testament not only to Smeaton
but to all of the pioneering lighthouse builders
who gave their lives to save the lives of others.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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