Smeaton's Lighthouse, courtesy Plymouth City Council

Smeaton’s Lighthouse, courtesy Plymouth City Council


The Eddystone Rocks are a treacherous reef off the coast of England. Because the reef is submerged during high tides, it has been the site of many shipwrecks throughout history.

In 1698, the first lighthouse was built on the rocks, only to fall victim to the raging sea four years later. It was another five years before a new lighthouse, built in the same place, was lit. This lighthouse lasted until the lantern room caught fire, burning the structure to the ground.

In 1759, John Smeaton, a civil engineer, was hired to build a new lighthouse. Smeaton modeled his lighthouse in the shape of an oak tree, with the base being larger than the top, the first lighthouse to be designed in this manner. He also pioneered the technique of securing its granite blocks using dovetail joints and marble dowels. In addition, he developed the use of hydraulic lime, a concrete that sets under water. Consequently, Smeaton’s lighthouse outlasted its predecessors and stood for over one hundred years.

When the need for a new lighthouse arose, it was due to the erosion of the rock under the tower, and the need for a larger building to house the latest lighting equipment. When the new tower was built beside the old one in 1884, the nearby city of Plymouth had the Smeaton lighthouse taken down and rebuilt as a memorial on city property. The foundation, however, proved too difficult to dismantle, so the “stump” remained on the reef.

Smeaton’s lighthouse was more sturdy due to his engineering ability. But perhaps another clue to its longevity can be found in the upper storage room. Still visible to those who visit the lighthouse at Plymouth today is an original inscription which encircles the top  of the room. From Psalm 127, it reads, “Except the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it.” Perhaps Smeaton’s faith was as important to his success as the solid foundation of his lighthouse.

What kind of foundation are you building on? Your own strength or God’s?  Only one of them is permanent.

“He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.”    Isaiah 33:6