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Old London Bridge, from a panorama of London by Claes Van Visscher, 1616.  Southwark Cathedral is in the foreground. The spiked heads of executed criminals can be seen above the Southwark gatehouse.  Picture Wikipedia.

THE erection of the old stone bridge across the Thames at London, was the most formidable enterprise of the kind undertaken in England during the Middle Ages.  It was a work of great magnitude and difficulty, in consequence of the rapid rise and fall of the tides in the river, but it was one of essential importance as connecting the fertile districts lying to the south of the Thames, directly with the population of the metropolis.

    As in all similar cases, the ferry (where the river could not be forded) preceded the bridge.  The Romans first established a trajectus on the Thames, thus connecting their station in London with their military road to Dover.  Dion Cassius makes mention of a bridge over the Thames at the time of the expedition of the Emperor Claudius in A.D. 44.  It may have been of boats, or it may have been constructed on piles, for the Romans frequently constructed bridges of this sort in order to maintain their communications.

    After the departure of the Romans the bridge ceased to exist, and the Saxons continued to pass across from one side of the river to the other by means of a ferry.  The name of one of the masters of the ancient ferry has descended to us in a tradition of a singular character. [p.70]  This was John Overy, the father of the foundress of St. Mary's church in Southwark.  The property in the ferry, with its revenues, having become the possession of the adjoining college of priests of St. Mary's, they determined on the bold enterprise of erecting a bridge of timber across the river.  The first mention of this structure is contained in the laws of Ethelred, where the tolls of vessels coming to Billingsgate ad pontem are fixed and defined.  William of Malmesbury states that, in 994, Sweyn, the Danish king, when sailing up the river to the attack of London, ran foul of the bridge with his ships, and in the contest which subsequently ensued between the Londoners on the north and the Danes on the south of the river, the bridge was destroyed.

    It seems, however, to have been repaired by the time that Canute sailed up the Thames with his fleet several years later; for, finding the bridge to be an obstacle in his way, he adopted the bold expedient of cutting a wide ditch or canal from near Dockhead, at Redriff, through the marshes on the south side of the river, westward to the lower end of Chelsea Reach, through which he drew his ships and completed the blockade of the city.  Not long after, in 1091, the timber-bridge was entirely swept away by a flood; but the provision of so great a convenience was found indispensable, and William Rufus levied a heavy tax for its rebuilding.

    Again, in 1097, a new timber-bridge rose upon the ruins of the old one; but fifty years later we find it destroyed by a fire which broke out in a tenement near London Stone, and burnt down all the houses eastward as far as Aldgate, and from thence to the south bank of the river, including the Bridge.  It was again patched up; but it was found so costly to maintain the wooden structure, and it ran so much risk from fire and floods, that it was eventually determined to build a bridge of stone upon nearly the same site; and the work was accordingly begun by one Peter, the chaplain of St. Mary's, Colechurch, in the Poultry, in the year 1176.

    One of the most important considerations in building a bridge across a deep and rapid river is the security of its foundations.  Comparatively few of the older bridges failed from the unskilful construction of their arches, but many were undermined and carried away by floods where the foundation of the piers was insecure.  The period at which Old London Bridge was built is so remote, and the records left of the mode of conducting the work are so meagre, that it is impossible, even were it desirable, to give any detailed account of the building.  Some writers have supposed that the whole course of the river was diverted in the line of Canute's canal above referred to, and that the bed of the Thames was thus laid dry to enable the foundations of the piers to be got in. [p.72]  This expedient has frequently been adopted in building bridges across streams of moderate size; but it is scarcely probable that it was employed in this case.  When the foundations of the old bridge were taken up, it was ascertained that strong elm piles had been driven deep into the bed of the river as closely as possible, and large blocks of stone were cast into the interior spaces.  Long planks, strongly bolted, were placed over the piles, and on these the bases of the piers were laid, the lowermost being bedded in pitch, whilst outside of all was placed the pile-work, called starlings, for the purpose of breaking the rush of the water and protecting the foundation piles.

    Another statement was long current—that London Bridge was built on wool-packs arising from the circumstance that a tax was levied by the King upon wool, skins, and leather, passing over the bridge, towards defraying the cost of its construction.  The bridge was in a measure regarded as a national work, and for more than two centuries after its erection, tribute continued to be levied upon the inhabitants of the counties nearest the metropolis for its maintenance and repair.  Liberal gifts and donations were also made with the same object, until at length the Bridge Estates yielded a large annual income.

    Not less than thirty-three years were occupied in the erection of this important structure.  It was begun in the reign of Henry II., carried on during that of Richard I., and finished in the eleventh year of King John, 1209.  Before then, however, the agčd priest, its architect, died, and he was buried in the crypt of the chapel which had by that time been erected over the centre pier.  At his death another priest, a Frenchman, called Isenbert, who had displayed much skill in constructing the bridges at Saintes and Rochelle, was recommended by the King as his successor.  But his appointment was not confirmed by the Mayor and citizens of London, who deputed three of their own body to superintend the finishing of the work—the chief difficulties connected with which had indeed already been surmounted.


    The bridge, when finished, was a remarkable and curious work.  That it possessed the elements of stability and strength was sufficiently proved by the fact that upon it the traffic of London was safely borne across the river for more than six hundred years.  But it was an unsightly mass of masonry, so far as the bridge was concerned; although the overhanging buildings, extending along both sides of the roadway, the chapel on the centre pier, and the adjoining drawbridge, served to give it an exceedingly picturesque appearance.  One of the houses adjoining the drawbridge was dignified with the name of Nonsuch House: it was said to have been constructed in Holland and brought over in pieces, when it was set up without mortar or iron, being held together solely by wooden pegs.

    The piers of the bridge were so close, and the arches so low, that at high water they resembled a long low series of culverts hardly deserving the name of arches.  The piers were of various dimensions, in some cases almost as thick as the spans of the arches which they supported were wide.  The structure might be compared to a very strong stone embankment built across the river, perforated by a number of small openings, through which the water rushed with tremendous force as the tide was rising or falling, the power thus produced being at a later period economised and employed in some of the arches to work water-engines.  The bridge had not less than twenty arches, including the drawbridge, some of them being too narrow to admit of the passage of boats of any kind.

    This great obstruction of the stream, at a point where the river is about the narrowest, had the effect of producing a series of cataracts at the rise and fall of each tide, so that what was called "the roar of the bridge" was heard a long way off.  The feat of "shooting the bridge" was in those days attended with considerable danger, and lives were frequently lost in the attempt.  Hence prudent passengers, who took a boat for down river, usually landed above the bridge and walked to the nearest wharf below, where they again embarked.  The more venturous risked "shooting the bridge," and thus boats were frequently swamped and their passengers drowned.  In 1428 John Mowbray, second Duke of Norfolk, when passing under one of the arches, ran his boat upon the pile-work, and had very nearly perished; but leaping on to one of the starlings, he was then hauled up to the bridge by ropes let down to him for the purpose.  The risk attending this operation of shooting the bridge explains the old proverb, that "London Bridge was made for wise men to go over, and fools to go under."

    Perhaps the most singular feature of the old bridge was its upper platform, consisting of two rows of houses with a narrow roadway between, the chapel and drawbridge, and the turreted battlements at either end.  The length of the roadway was 926 feet, and from end to end it was enclosed by the lofty timber-houses, which were held together by arches crossing overhead from one range to the other and thus keeping the whole in position.  The street was narrow, dark, and dangerous.  There were only three openings between the houses on either side, provided with balustrades, from which a view of the river and its shipping might be obtained, as well as of the rear of the houses themselves, which overhung the parapets and completely hid the arches from sight.


    On the centre pier was the chapel with its tower, and at the ends of the bridge were the gatehouses, on which the grim heads of traitors and unfortunate partisans were stuck upon poles until a comparatively recent period.  Hentzner, a German traveller, counted above thirty heads displayed upon them as late as the year 1598.

    The drawbridge was another curious feature.  It occupied the fourteenth arch from the north end, and provided an opening of about thirty feet.  It was used for purposes of defence as well as to provide for the passage of masted ships.  When Jack Cade was told of the army marching against him, Shakespeare makes him say, "Let's go fight with them; but first go and set London Bridge on fire."  But Cade's project having failed, his head was taken off and placed upon a pole, amongst those of other traitors, over the southern gatehouse, with his face looking towards Kent.

    The bridge was also used as a place of public punishment.  Persons found guilty of practising witchcraft were compelled to do penance there.  No less a personage than Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, was exposed upon the bridge in 1440, for the alleged crime of witchcraft.

    The bridge had a long history and many vicissitudes.  It had scarcely been completed ere the timber-houses upon it were consumed by a fire, and the bridge was thus at once stripped of its cumbrous load.  But, as the revenues required for its maintenance and repair were in a great measure derived from the rental of the houses, which let for high sums, they were shortly after erected in even more cumbersome forms than before, and were for a long time principally inhabited by pin-and needle-makers.

    At a very early period the bridge showed signs of weakness.  Before it had stood a hundred years, a patent was issued by Edward I., authorising its speedy repair, in order "to prevent its sudden fall and the destruction of innumerable people dwelling thereon."  Tolls were authorised to be taken—for every man crossing, a farthing; for every horseman, a penny; for every pack carried on a horse, one half-penny.  There was not a word of vehicles, which did not as yet exist.  The repairs done to the structure do not seem to have been of much effect; for in 1281 five of the arches, with the buildings over them, were carried away by a flood following a thaw, and the repairs had to be begun again on a more extensive scale than before.  At a subsequent period Stowe's gate, tower, and arches, at the Southwark side, fell into the river.

    After repeated patching, the bridge nevertheless continued to hang together for several centuries longer.  It witnessed the processions of priests, the jousting of knights, the march of Kentish rebels, the triumphal march of Henry V. into the City after the battle of Agincourt, the funeral procession of the same monarch when borne to his royal tomb in Westminster Abbey, and the entrance to the metropolis of his successor after being crowned King of France at Notre Dame.  Generation after generation of toiling men and women passed over the bridge, wearing its tracks deep with their feet, and sometimes moistening them with their tears.  Still the old bridge stood on, almost down to our own day; for we shall find in the lives of Smeaton and Rennie, that these eminent engineers, amongst others, were called upon from time to time to direct its repair; until at last the old structure, which had served its purpose so long, was condemned and taken down, and the magnificent New London Bridge was erected in its stead.

    It was long before any second bridge was built over the Thames near London.  The advantages derived from the current of traffic passing through the City from a district extending for fifty or sixty miles on all sides of London, were felt to be of such importance that the citizens would not readily part with them.  Bridges were regarded as the best feeders of towns and cities, and wherever one was erected, all the avenues by which it was approached became speedily converted into streets of valuable houses.  At the two ends of the Thames Bridge were London and Southwark; at Tyne Bridge, Newcastle and Gateshead; and at the Medway Bridge, Rochester and Strood.  But London was extending westward with such rapid strides, and the population of Westminster as well as Lambeth had so much increased, that the provision of an additional bridge for those districts came to be regarded as a matter of absolute necessity.

    An attempt was made with this object in the reign of Charles II., but the project was vigorously resisted by the citizens of London.  They waited upon his Majesty in state, and implored him to oppose the measure; and, on his compliance with the petition, their expression of gratitude towards him was as great as if he had delivered the City from a famine, or a plague, or a great fire, or some such overwhelming calamity.  It is not improbable that the citizens secured his Majesty's support by the offer of money, which he very much wanted at the time; for we find from the records of the Common Council, of date the 25th October, 1664, that upon advancing by way of loan, the sum of Ł100,000 to Charles II., the citizens took occasion to thank his Majesty in the following terms for preventing the erection of the new bridge at Westminster:—

"And withal to represent unto his Majesty the City's great sense and apprehension of, and most humble thanks for, the great instance of his Majesty's good and favour towards them expressed in preventing of the new bridge proposed to be built over the river of Thames betwixt Lambeth and Westminster, which, as is conceived, would have been of dangerous consequence to the state of this city." [p.79]

    A few years later, in 1671, a similar project was attempted, and a bill was brought into the House of Commons to enable a bridge to be erected over the Thames as far west as Putney.  But the Corporation of London was again up in arms, protesting against the establishment of any bridge which should enable the traffic to pass from one side of the river to the other without going through the City.  The debate on the subject is exceedingly curious, as read by the light of the present day.  Mr. Love declared the opinion of the Lord Mayor to be, "that if carts were to go over the proposed new bridge, London would be destroyed."  Sir William Thompson opposed it because it "would make the skirts of London too big for the body," besides producing sands and shelves in the river, and affecting the below-bridge navigation, which would cause the ships to lie as low down as Woolwich; whilst Mr. Boscawen opposed the bill, because, if conceded, there might be a claim set up for even a third bridge, at Lambeth, or some other point. [p.80]  The bill was thrown out on these grounds by a majority of 67 to 54; and for nearly a hundred years more, London had no second bridge, notwithstanding that the old structure was so narrow that there was not room on it for two carts to pass each other!  Since that time, however, twelve bridges have been thrown across the river between Putney and the City, and London is not yet destroyed!  Indeed the cry still is for more bridges.

    The second bridge was built in 1738-50, nearly opposite the palace of Westminster.  During the many centuries that had elapsed since old London Bridge had been erected, the science of bridge-building had made but little progress in England.  The principal structures were of wood.  Trees, merely squared, were laid side by side, at right angles with the stream, supported on perpendicular piles, the roadway being planked over and covered with gravel.  Old Battersea Bridge was an example of the primitive structures by means of which many of our wide rivers long continued to be crossed.  Few were built of stone, and these, of a comparatively rude kind, were principally situated upon the main lines of road; but they were usually liable to be swept away by the first heavy flood.  During the period referred to, however, the science of construction had made great progress in France, and from the practice of French engineers our best models continued for some time longer to be drawn.  Hence, when the sanction of Parliament was at length obtained for a second bridge to be built across the Thames, Labelye, the French engineer, a native of Switzerland, was employed to design and execute the work.

    It will have been observed that the chief difficulty with the early bridge-builders was, in securing proper foundations for their piers.  A common practice was to sink baskets of small dimensions, full of stones, in the bed of the river, and on these, when raised above water, the foundations were laid.  But where the bottom was composed of loose, shifting material, such as sand, it will be obvious that a firm basis could scarcely be secured by such a method. The plan adopted by Labelye, though considered an improvement at the time, was even inferior to the method employed by Peter of Colchurch in founding the piers of old London Bridge in the thirteenth century.  For, clumsy though the latter structure was, it stood more than six hundred years, whilst Westminster Bridge had not been erected a century before it exhibited signs of giving way; and it is already destroyed.


Westminster Bridge around 1750.  Picture Wikipedia.

    Labelye's method of founding his piers was as follows.  He had a sufficient number of large caissons, or water-tight chests, prepared on shore, of such form as to fit close alongside of each other.  They were then floated on rafts over the spots destined for the piers, where they were permanently sunk.  The top of each caisson, when sunk, being above high-water mark, the masonry was commenced within it, and carried up to a level with the stream, when the timber sides were removed and the pier was left resting firmly on the bottom grating.  The foundations were then protected by sheet-piling, that is by a row of timbers driven firmly side by side into the earth all round the piers.

    Westminster Bridge was originally intended for a wooden bridge, but the design was subsequently altered to one of stone, Labelye considering it necessary to have a great weight of masonry in order to keep his caissons at the proper level.  To add to this weight, the engineer added a lofty parapet, which Grosley a French traveller, gravely asserted was placed there for the purpose of preventing the Londoners from committing suicide!

    Not many years after Westminster Bridge had been opened, the London Common Council, in order to facilitate the passage of traffic across the Thames as near to the centre of the City as possible, applied to Parliament for powers to construct a bridge at Blackfriars; and the requisite Act having been passed, the works were commenced in 1760, and finished in 1769.  The architect and engineer of Blackfriars Bridge was Robert Mylne; and a noble piece of masonry it was.  The principal new feature in this structure was the elliptical arch, [p.83] which Mr. Mylne was the first to introduce into England.

    The innovation gave rise to a lively controversy at the time, in which Dr. Johnson took part,—in opposition to Mr. Mylne, and in support of his friend Gwyn, who was the designer of a rival plan.  Boswell, in his 'Life of Johnson,' defends the design of Mylne, and adds, "it is well known that not only has Blackfriars Bridge never sunk either in its foundation or in its arches, which were so much the subject of contest, but any injuries which it has suffered from the effects of severe frosts, have been already, in some measure, repaired with sounder stone, and every necessary renewal can be completed at a moderate expense."

    This was written in 1791, only twenty years after the bridge had been opened; and, though it may have been true then, it is so no longer.  When the numerous heavy piers of old London Bridge which acted as a dam across the river—had been removed, the low-water mark above-bridge fell five feet.  The velocity of the unimpeded tide, sweeping up and down the Thames twice in every twenty-four hours, and the consequent increased scour along the bed of the river, soon began to grind away the foundations both of Blackfriars and Westminster Bridges; and they exhibited the unsightly appearance of numerous props and centerings to prevent the further subsidence of their foundations.  Hence Labelye's bridge at Westminster, and Mylne's bridge at Blackfriars, have since been pulled down, in order to make room for newer bridges.


Blackfriars Bridge under construction, 1764.  Picture Wikipedia.

    Robert Mylne, the engineer above referred to, was the descendant of a long line of Scotch masons and architects.  The originator of the family was an Aberdeen man, who erected some of the principal churches and towers in that city, some three hundred years ago.  His son was master mason to James VI.; he built a bridge over the Tay at Perth, which was swept away by a spate; and executed many other works, which were more successful.  His son, and son's son, were also master masons.  The latter rebuilt the cross at Perth, which had been destroyed in Oliver Cromwell's time for the purpose of building the Citadel.  The cross has since been demolished as a hindrance to traffic.

    Robert Mylne, the architect who built Blackfriars Bridge, was lineally descended from the master mason of James VI.  In his youthhood he travelled abroad, and joined the Academy of St. Luke at Rome.  He remained there five years, and received the chief prize in the highest class of architecture.  After the building of Blackfriars Bridge, he was appointed surveyor of St. Paul's Cathedral; and at his death he was buried by the side of Sir Christopher Wren.

    Mr. Mylne also held the office of engineer to the New River Company, in which he was succeeded by his son, and afterwards by his "son's son."




THE difficulties encountered by the early bridge builders cannot be better illustrated than by a brief history of the life of William Edwards, architect of Pont-y-Prydd—a remarkable work erected at Newbridge, in South Wales, about the middle of last century.

    Edwards was born in 1719, in a small farmhouse in the parish of Eglwysilan, in Glamorganshire.  His father died when William was only two years old; but his mother, who was an industrious, well-doing woman, kept on the farm, and piously and virtuously brought up her family.  William's literary culture was confined to Welsh, which he could read and write from his early youth; but as he grew older he also learnt to read and write English, though more imperfectly.  He had the character of being obstinate, stubborn, and self-willed in his boyhood,—qualities which, under the guidance of virtue and piety, became developed into inflexible courage and resolution in his manhood.  Until eighteen years of age he was regarded as a wild, headstrong fellow, with little promise of good in him; but he was gradually tamed and disciplined by hard work, and as he grew older he became thoughtful and sedate even beyond his years.

    Edwards's first ordinary employment was common farm-work; but at the same time he was a diligent self-educator, taking lessons in arithmetic from a neighbour in the evenings.  It happened that, in the ordinary course of affairs, he had occasion to repair the dry-stone walls about the farm.  He took particular pleasure in this kind of work, and very soon became remarkably handy at it; but he always longed to do better.  Some masons having come into the neighbourhood to build a smithy, Edwards would occasionally leave his farm-work and take his stand in the field where the masons were employed, eagerly watching them while they worked.  He admired the way in which they handled their tools and prepared the stones for the building.  One thing that he particularly noted was the way in which they dressed the rough blocks by means of the pointed end of the mason's hammer.  He tried to do the same, but failed, his hammer-point not being steeled.  He then inquired and ascertained the cause of his failure, and went to a smith and had a steeled point added to his hammer.  With this he succeeded in dressing his stones much more neatly and quickly than he had been able to do before.

    Practice and application, and the desire to excel, even in dry-stone wall building, inevitably carry a man onward; and Edwards soon became so expert in this sort of work, that he was extensively employed in repairing and building dry-stone walls for the neighbouring farmers.  His walls were observed to be so neat, so firm, and so serviceable, that he was everywhere in request, and his earnings were regularly added to the common stock of his mother and brothers, who carried on the business of the farm.  He began to consider himself fitted for something better than continuing this rough sort of work; and he thought that, instead of being a mere builder of dry-stone walls, he might even undertake to become a builder of houses.

    An opportunity occurred of erecting a little workshop for a neighbour, and Edwards acquitted himself so well, that he gained much praise for his skill.  Thus proving his ability in small things, he was shortly entrusted with the execution of works of greater importance.  He had scarcely reached the age of twenty-one when he was employed to build an iron forge at Cardiff, and while carrying on the work he lodged with a blind man, named Rosser, by trade a baker.  Rosser knew the English language, which as yet Edwards did not; and, what was more, the blind man could teach it to others.  The young mason determined to take lessons of his landlord; and such was his assiduity and perseverance during his leisure hours, that he very shortly contrived to master the new language.

    When he had completed his contract, which he did to the entire satisfaction of his employers, he regularly entered upon the business of a house-builder on a considerable scale, and very shortly there was not a building of any magnitude or importance in the neighbourhood—whether it were a mansion, a mill, or an iron forge—which he was not willing as well as competent to undertake.

    During his leisure he took great pleasure in studying the ruins of Caerphilly Castle, near to where he lived. This castle was once the largest in the kingdom, next to Windsor, and its ruins are still of great extent, covering an area of about thirty acres.  Its walls are of prodigious thickness, and its leaning tower has stood for centuries, inclining as much as eleven feet out of the perpendicular, held together principally by the strength of its cement.  This old castle was the college in which Edwards studied the principles of masonry; and he himself was accustomed to say that he had derived more advantage from wandering about the ruins, observing the methods adopted by the ancient builders, the manner in which they had hewed, dressed, and set their stones, than from all the other instruction he received.  It was while employed in erecting a mill in his own parish that he first applied the knowledge he had gained by studying the ruins of Caerphilly, in the construction of an arch.  The mill was finished to admiration, and professional builders pronounced Edwards's arch to be an excellent piece of masonry.


    Employment now flowed in upon him, and when any work of more than ordinary difficulty was proposed, application was usually made to William Edwards.  Hence, in 1746, when it was proposed to throw a bridge over the river Taff, he was employed to build it; and though he was only twenty-seven years old, and had not yet built any bridge, he had the courage at once to undertake the work.  The bridge was built of three arches, in a style superior to anything of the kind that had been erected in the neighbourhood; the stones were excellently dressed and closely jointed; the arches were light and elegant, and supposed to be sufficiently substantial for the duty they had to perform, and as a whole the erection was much admired, and greatly added to the fame of its builder.

    It would appear, however, that Edwards had not sufficiently provided for the passage of the floods, which in certain seasons rush down from the Brecknock Beacon mountains with great impetuosity.  Above Newbridge several rivers of considerable capacity, such as the Crue, the Bargold Taff, and the Cynon, besides numberless brooks descending rapidly from the high grounds, contribute to swell the torrent so as to render it almost irresistible.  The piers of Edwards's new bridge unfortunately proved a serious obstruction in the way of a heavy flood which swept down the valley about two years and a half after the bridge had been completed.  Trees were torn up by the roots and carried down the stream, lodging athwart the piers, where brushwood, haystacks and field-gates, becoming firmly stuck amongst their branches, choked up their arches and fairly dammed the torrent.  The waters rapidly accumulated above the bridge and rose to the parapets; the sides of the valley being steep, left no room for their escape, and the tremendous force finally swept away arches and piers together, carrying the materials far down the river.

    This destruction of his first bridge was doubtless a terrible blow to the builder, who was bound in sureties to maintain it for a period of seven years.  But worse even than the loss of his time and labour was the failure of his design, the most distressing of all things to the man who takes a proper pride in his calling.  He resolved, however, to fulfil his contract, and began the building of a second bridge of only one arch, to avoid the defect which had proved the ruin of the first.

    This second bridge, without piers, was a much more difficult work than the first, in consequence of the wide span of the arch, which was not less than 140 feet, the segment of a circle of 170 feet in diameter.  No such extensive span had yet been attempted in England; and even on the Continent, where the science of bridge-building was much better understood, the only bridges of larger span were of ancient construction, chiefly Roman.  Michael Angelo's beautiful bridge of the Rialto, at Venice, was the largest span attempted in modern times, and its width was only about 100 feet.

    The result of Edwards's daring experiment proved its extreme difficulty.  He succeeded in finishing the arch, but had not added the parapets, when the tremendous pressure of the masonry over the haunches forced them down, the light crown of the bridge sprang up, the key stones were forced out, and a second time the labour of Edwards was lost, and his masonry lay a ruin at the bottom of the river.  Yet not altogether lost: for by failure he learnt experience, dearly bought though it had been.

    The undaunted man determined to try again.  Twice he had failed, yet he was not utterly defeated in his resources.  He would try a new expedient, and he believed he should eventually succeed.  Fortunately his friends believed in him too, for they generously came forward and helped him with the means of building his third bridge, which proved a complete success.  The courage and skill of Edwards were crowned at last.


    The plan which he adopted of more equally balancing the work and relieving the severe thrust upon the haunches, was to introduce three cylindrical holes or tunnels in the masonry at those parts of the bridge.  The same plan is found to have been adopted in some of the ancient bridges, and Perronet, the great French engineer, not only formed such tunnels over the haunches, but occasionally in the piers themselves.  Where Edwards gained his information as to the expedient, or whether he had gathered it from his own bitter experience, is not known; but it answered his purpose.  Three cylindrical holes were built over each haunch—the lowest and outermost nine feet in diameter, the next six feet, and the highest and innermost three feet.  The arch, the same in width as that which fell four years before, was finished in 1755, and the beautiful "rainbow bridge" lightly spans the Taff at Newbridge to this day.

    The singular inflexibility of purpose displayed by our engineer in grappling with and overcoming the difficulties encountered by him in the erection of his first bridge, became the subject of general interest throughout Wales.  When it was finished and opened for public traffic, and the news spread abroad that the extraordinary arch of Pont-y-Prydd at last stood firm as the rocks on which it rested, strangers flocked from all parts to view it, and the Welsh people, as was natural, became proud of their countryman. Employment flowed in upon him, and he went on building bridge after bridge in all parts of South Wales.

    Among the more important of the later works of Edwards were the large and handsome bridge over the river Usk, at the town of Usk, in Monmouthshire; one, of three arches, over the river Tame, near Swansea; another, of one arch of 95 feet span, over the same river near Morriston; a third, with an arch of 8o feet, at Pont-cer-Tame, several miles higher up; and Bettws and Llandovery Bridges, in the county of Caermarthen, the latter of 84 feet span. He also built Aberavon Bridge, in Glamorganshire, with an arch of 7o feet span; and Glasbury Bridge, of four arches, over the Wye, near Hay, in Brecknockshire, which was afterwards carried away by one of the floods so common in the district.


The Usk Bridge over the River Usk: built in 1746-52 to a design by William Edwards.
© Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

    Edwards's strong judgment and keen observant faculties, ripened by experience, enabled him, as he grew older, to introduce many improvements in his bridges.  He flattened his arches, so as to render the passage of vehicles over them more easy than in the case of Pont-y-Prydd, the steepness on either side of which was found to be so great an obstacle, that it was afterwards found necessary to supersede its use by a more level bridge erected on modern principles.  Hence his later works presented a considerable improvement in this respect upon his earlier ones; and while he continued to be equally careful in providing ample water-way under the arching, and to erect his bridges with a view to the greatest possible durability, he took increasing pains to provide a more capacious and level roadway over them, and to render them in all ways more easy and convenient for public use.

    Besides his numerous bridges, Edwards continued, during the remainder of his long life, to erect smelting-houses, forges, and buildings of various kinds for purposes of manufacture.  Nor did his building business exclusively occupy his time, for, in addition to his profession of building engineer, he carried on the business of a farmer until the close of his life.  Not even on Sundays did he cease from his labours.  The Sabbath was no day of rest for him, but his labours then were all labours of love.

    In 1750 he became an ordained preacher amongst the Independents.  Shortly after, he was chosen minister of the congregation to which he belonged, and he continued to hold the office for about forty years, until his death.  He occasionally preached in the neighbouring meeting-houses: amongst others, in that of Mr. Rees, the father of Abraham Rees, editor of the well-known 'Encyclopedia.'  This meeting-house was one of the numerous buildings erected by Edwards himself.

    He always preached in Welsh, and his discourses are said to have been simple, sensible, and full of loving-kindness.  His fellow-countryman Malkin [p.96] says of him, that, though a Calvinist, he was one of a very liberal description; indeed, he carried his charity so far that many persons suspected he had changed his opinions, and for that reason spoke very unhandsomely of him.  As he grew older he became increasingly charitable, and tolerant of other men's views, avoiding points of doctrinal difference, but urging and enforcing that the love of God and of our neighbour is the aim and end of all religion.  Holding it to be the duty of every religious society to contribute liberally of their means to the support of their ministry, he regularly took the stipulated salary which his congregation allowed to their preachers, but distributed the whole of it amongst the poorer members of his church, often adding to it largely from his own means.

    This worthy engineer died at the advanced age of seventy, respected and beloved by men of all parties; and he was buried in the churchyard of his native parish of Eglwysilan, amidst the graves of his children.  Three of his sons were, like their father, eminent bridge-builders: David having constructed the fine five-arched bridge over the Usk at Newport, as well as the bridges at Llandilo, Edwinsford, Pontloyrig, Bedwas, and other places.  Indeed, William Edwards may be said to have fairly inaugurated the revival of the art of bridge-building in England.  After his time, it was taken up by Smeaton, Rennie, and Telford, and its progress will accordingly be described in connection with the lives and works of those distinguished engineers.





THE engineer of the Eddystone Lighthouse was Brindley's junior by only eight years.  They frequently met in consultation upon important engineering undertakings; sometimes Smeaton advising that Brindley should be called in, and Brindley, on his part, recommending Smeaton.  They were, in fact, during their lifetime, the leading men in their profession; and at Brindley's death Smeaton succeeded to much of his business as consulting engineer in connection with the construction of canals and of public works generally.

    Smeaton had the great advantage over Brindley of a good education and bringing up.  He had not, like the Macclesfield millwright, to force his way up through the obstructions of poverty, toil, and parental neglect; but was led gently by the hand from his earliest years, and carefully trained and cultured after the best methods then known.  But Smeaton, not less than Brindley, was impelled to the career on which he entered, by a like innate genius for construction, which displayed itself at a very early age; and, being permitted to follow his own bent, his force of character and strong natural ability, diligently cultivated by study and experience, eventually carried him to the very highest eminence as an engineer.

    John Smeaton was born at Austhorpe Lodge, near Leeds, on the 8th of June, 1724, his father being a respectable attorney practising in that town.  The house in which the future engineer was born was built by his grandfather John Smeaton, who is described on the tablet to his memory erected in the neighbouring parish church of Whitkirk, as "late of York."


    Leeds was then a place of small importance, compared with what it is now.  The principal streets were those still known as Briggate, leading to the bridge; Kirkgate, leading to the parish church; and Swinegate, leading to the old castle.  Beyond those streets lay a wide extent of open fields.  Boar Lane, now nearly the centre of the town, was a kind of airy suburb, in which the principal merchants resided; and the back of the houses in the upper part of Briggate, now the main street, looked into the country, [p.102] or to "the Park," on which Park Square, Park Row, and Park Lane (now containing the new Town Hall), have since been built.  There were also green fields, with pleasant footpaths, between the parish church and the river Aire, through certain gardens, then, as now, named "The Calls," though the gardens exist no longer.

    The clothing trade of the town was then so small that the cloth market was held in the open air upon the bridge, where the cloth was exposed for sale on the parapets.  The homely entertainment of the clothiers at that day was a "brigend shot," consisting of a noggin of porridge and a pot of ale, followed by a twopenny trencher of meat.  Down to the year 1730, the bridge was so narrow that only one cart could pass over it at a time.  But the number of wheeled vehicles then in use was so small that the inconvenience was scarcely felt.  The whole of the cloth was brought to market on men's and horses' backs. [p.103-1]  Coals were in like manner carried from the pits on horseback, the stated weight of a "horse-pack" being eighteen stone, or equal to two hundredweight and a quarter. [p.103-2]  In the rural districts of Yorkshire, manure was also carried a-field on horses' backs, and sometimes on women's backs, while the men sat at home knitting. [p.104-1]  The cloth-packs were carried by the "bell-horses," or packhorses; and this mode of conveyance continued until towards the end of last century.  Scatcherd says the pack-horses only ceased to travel about the year 1794.



    The Leeds men, it seems, were not considered so "quick" as those of Bradford, then a much smaller place, and comparatively of the dimensions of a village.  It was long before the Leeds people provided themselves with a market for their cloth.  The first was on Mill Hill, afterwards removed to the Calls; and finally, in 1757, they erected a large hall for the market in the Park, now known as the Coloured Cloth Hall.  But even then the place remained comparatively rural as regards its extent and its surrounding country.

    Smeaton was greatly favoured in his home and his family.  He received his first education at his mother's knees; and when not occupied with his lessons he led the life of a healthy, happy country boy.  Austhorpe was then quite in the country, the only houses in the neighbourhood being those of the little hamlet of Whitkirk, with the large old mansion of Temple Newsam, surrounded by its noble park and woods, close at hand.  Young Smeaton was not much given to boyish sports, and early displayed a thoughtfulness beyond his years.  Most children are naturally fond of building up miniature fabrics, and perhaps still more so of pulling them down.  But little Smeaton seemed to have a more than ordinary love of contrivance, and that mainly for its own sake.  He was never so happy as when put in possession of any cutting-tool, by which he could make his little imitations of houses, pumps, and windmills.  Even while a boy in petticoats, he was continually dividing circles and squares, and the only playthings in which he seemed to take any real pleasure, were the models of things that would "work."

    When any carpenters or masons were employed in the neighbourhood of his father's house, the inquisitive boy was sure to be amongst them, watching the men, and observing how they handled their tools.  He would also bother the workpeople with questions, many of which they could not answer, nor even understand.  His life-long friend, Mr. Holmes, [p.105] who knew him in his youth, has related that having one day observed some millwrights at work, he was seen shortly after, to the great alarm of his family, fixing something like a windmill on the top of his father's barn.  On another occasion, when watching some workmen fixing a pump in the village, he was so lucky as to procure from them a piece of bored pipe, which he succeeded in fashioning into a working pump that actually raised water.  His odd cleverness, however, does not seem to have been appreciated; and it is told of him that amongst the other boys he was known as "Fooely Smeaton;" for, though forward enough in putting questions to the workpeople, among boys of his own age he was remarkably shy, and, as they thought, stupid.

    At a proper age the boy was sent to school at Leeds.  The town then possessed, as it still does, the great advantage of an excellent Free Grammar School, founded by the benefactions of Catholics in early times, afterwards greatly augmented by the endowment of one John Harrison, a native of the town, about the period of the Reformation.  At this school Smeaton is supposed to have received the best part of his school instruction, and it is said that his progress in geometry and arithmetic was very decided, but, as before, the chief part of his education was conducted at home, amongst his tools and his model machines.  There he was incessantly busy whenever he had a spare moment.

    Indeed, his mechanical ingenuity sometimes led him to play tricks which involved him in trouble.  Thus, it happened that some mechanics came into the neighbourhood to erect a "fire-engine,"—as the steam-engine was then called—for the purpose of pumping water from the Garforth coal-mines; and Smeaton made daily visits to them for the purpose of watching their operations.  Carefully observing their methods, he proceeded to make a miniature engine at home, provided with pumps and other apparatus, and he even succeeded in getting it set to work before the colliery engine was ready.  He first tried its powers upon one of the fish-ponds in front of the house at Austhorpe, which he succeeded in pumping completely dry, and thereby killed all the fish in the pond, very much to the surprise as well as the annoyance of his father.

    But his father seems to have been indulgent, if he was not proud of his boy, for he provided him with a workshop in an outhouse, where he hammered, filed, and chiselled, very much to his heart's content.  Working on in this way, young Smeaton contrived, by the time he had reached his fifteenth year, to make a turning-lathe, on which he turned wood and ivory, and made presents of little boxes and other articles to his various friends.  He also learned to work in metals, which he fused and forged himself; and by the age of eighteen, he could handle tools with the expertness of any regular smith or joiner.

    "In the year 1742," says his friend, Mr. Holmes, "I spent a month at his father's house; and being intended myself for a mechanical employment, and a few years younger than he was, I could not but view his works with astonishment.  He forged his iron and steel, and melted his metal.  He had tools of every sort for working in wood, ivory, and metals.  He had made a lathe, by which he cut a perpetual screw in brass,—a thing little known at that day, and which, I believe, was the invention of Mr. Henry Hindley, of York, with whom I served my apprenticeship.  Mr. Hindley was a man of the most communicative disposition, a great lover of mechanics, and of the most fertile genius.  Mr. Smeaton soon became acquainted with him, and spent many a night at Mr. Hindley's house till daylight, conversing on these subjects."





YOUNG SMEATON left school in his sixteenth year, and from that time he was employed in his father's office, copying legal documents, and passing through the necessary preliminary training to fit him to follow the profession of an attorney.  Mr. Smeaton, having a good connection in his native town, naturally desired that his only son should succeed him.  But the youth took no pleasure in Law: his heart was in his workshop with his tools.  Though he mechanically travelled to the office daily, worked assiduously at his desk, and then travelled back again to Austhorpe, he every day felt more and more the irksomeness of his employment.

    Partly to wean him from his mechanical pursuits at home, which often engrossed his attention half the night, and partly to give him the best legal education which it was in his power to bestow, Mr. Smeaton sent his son to London towards the end of the year 1742; and for a short time he occupied himself, in conformity with his parent's wishes, in attending the Courts in Westminster Hall.  But at length he could not repress his strong desire to pursue some mechanical occupation, and in a firm but respectful memorial to his father, he fully set forth his views as to the particular calling which he wished to follow, in preference to the profession of the law.

    The father's heart was touched, and probably also his good sense was influenced, by the son's earnest appeal; and he wrote back, giving his assent, though not without his strong expression of regret as to the course which his son desired to adopt.  No doubt he thought that in giving up the position of a member of a learned and lucrative profession, and descending to the level of a mechanical workman, his son was performing an act of great folly; for there was no such thing then as the profession of a civil engineer.  Almost the only mechanical work of importance done at that time was executed by millwrights and others, at labourers' wages, as we have already seen in the Life of Brindley.  The educated classes eschewed mechanical callings, which were neither regarded as honourable nor remunerative; and that Smeaton should have felt so strongly impelled to depart from the usual course and enter upon such a line of occupation, must be attributed entirely to his innate love of construction, or, as he himself expressed it to his father, the "bent of his genius."

    When he received his father's letter, the young man experienced the joy of a prisoner on hearing of his reprieve, and he lost no time in exercising his new-found liberty.  He sought out for himself a philosophical instrument maker, who could give him instruction in the business he proposed to follow, and entered into his service,—his father being at the expense of his maintenance.  In due course of time, he was enabled to earn sufficient wages to maintain himself; but his father continued to assist him liberally on every occasion when money was required either for purposes of instruction or of business.

    Young Smeaton did not live a mere workman's life.  He frequented the society of educated men, and was a regular attendant of the meetings of the Royal Society.  In 1750, he lodged in Great Turnstile, a passage leading from the south side of Holborn to the east side of Lincoln's Inn Fields; and shortly after, when he commenced business as mathematical instrument maker on his own account, he lodged in Furnival's Inn Court, from which his earlier papers read before the Royal Society were dated.

    During the same year in which he began business, and when he was only twenty-six, he read a communication before the Royal Society, descriptive of his own and Dr. Gowin Knight's improvements in the mariner's compass.  In the year following (1751) we find him engaged in a boat on the Serpentine river, performing experiments with a machine of his invention, for the purpose of measuring the way of a ship at sea.  With the same object he made a voyage down the Thames, in a small sailing vessel, to several leagues beyond the Nore; and he afterwards made a short cruise in the 'Fortune' sloop of war, testing his instruments by the way.

    His attention as yet seems to have been confined chiefly to the improvement of mathematical instruments used for purposes of navigation or astronomical observation.  In the year 1752, however, he enlarged the range of his experiments; for we find him, in April, reading a paper before the Royal Society, descriptive of some improvements which he had contrived in the air-pump. [p.112]  On the 11th of June following, he read another paper, descriptive of an improvement which he had made in ship-tackle by the construction of pulleys, by means of which one man might easily raise a ton weight; and on the 9th of November, he read a third paper, descriptive of M. De Moura's experiments on Savary's steam-engine.

    In the course of the same year he was busily occupied in performing a series of experiments, on which his admirable paper was founded, read before the same Society, and for which he received their Gold Medal in 1759—entitled "An Experimental Inquiry concerning the Natural Powers of Water and Wind to turn Mills and other Machines depending on a Circular Motion."  This paper was very carefully elaborated, and is justly regarded as the most masterly report that has ever been published on the subject.

    To accomplish all this, and at the same time to carry on his business, necessarily involved great application and industry.  Indeed, Smeaton was throughout his life an indefatigable student,—bent, above all things, on self-improvement.  One of his maxims was, that "the abilities of the individual are a debt due to the common stock of public happiness;" and the steadfastness with which he devoted himself to useful work, in which at the same time he found his own happiness, shows that this maxim was no mere lip-utterance on his part, but formed the very mainspring of his life.  From an early period he carefully laid out his time with a view to getting the most good out of it.  So much was set apart for study, so much for practical experiments, so much for business, and so much for rest and relaxation.

    We infer that Smeaton could not have done much business as a philosophical instrument maker, from the considerable portion of his time which he devoted to study and experiments.  Probably he already felt that, in the course of the development of English industry, a field was opening before him of a more important character than any that was likely to present itself in the mathematical instrument line.  He accordingly seems early to have turned his attention to engineering, and, amongst other branches of study, he devoted several hours daily to the acquisition of French, in order that he might be able to read for himself the works on that science which were then only to be found in that and the Italian language.  He had, however, a further object in studying French, which was to enable him to make a journey which he contemplated into the Low Countries, for the purpose of inspecting the great canal works of the foreign engineers.

    Accordingly, in 1754, he set out for Holland, and traversed that country and Belgium, travelling mostly on foot and in treckschuyts, or canal boats, both for the sake of economy, and that he might more closely inspect the engineering works of the districts through which he passed.  He there found himself in a country which had been, as it were, raked out of the very sea,—for which Nature had done so little, and skill and industry so much.

    From Rotterdam he went by Delft and the Hague to Amsterdam, and as far north as Helder, narrowly inspecting the vast dykes raised round the land to secure it against the clutches of the sea, from which it had been originally won.  At Amsterdam he was astonished at the amount of harbour and dock accommodation, existing at a time when London as yet possessed no conveniences of the sort,—though indeed it always had its magnificent Thames.  Passing round the country by Utrecht, he proceeded to the great sea-sluices at Brill and Helvoetsluys, by means of which the inland waters discharged themselves, at the same time that the sea-waters were securely dammed out.

    Seventeen years later, he made use of the experience which he had acquired in the course of his careful inspection of these great works, in illustrating and enforcing the recommendations contained in his elaborate report on the best means of improving Dover Harbour.  He made careful memoranda during his journey, to which he was often accustomed to refer, and they proved of great practical value to him in the course of his subsequent extensive employment as a canal and harbour engineer.

    Shortly after his return to England in 1755, an opportunity occurred for the exercise of that genius in construction which Smeaton had so carefully disciplined and cultivated; and it proved the turning point in his fortunes, as well as the great event of his professional life.




THE Eddystone forms the crest of an extensive reef of rocks which rise up in deep water about fourteen miles S.S.W. of Plymouth Harbour.  Being well out at sea, the rocks are nearly in a line with Lizard Head and Start Point; and besides being in the way of ships bound for Plymouth Sound, they lie in the very direction of vessels coasting up and down the English Channel.  At low water, several long low reefs of gneiss are visible, jagged and black but at high water they are almost completely submerged.  Lying in a sloping manner towards the south-west quarter, from which the heaviest seas come, the waves in stormy weather come tumbling up the slope and break over their crest with tremendous violence.  The water boils and eddies amongst the reefs, and hence the name which they have borne from the earliest times of the Eddystone Rock.

    It may readily be imagined that this reef, whilst unprotected by any beacon, was a source of great danger to the mariner.  Many a ship coming in from the Atlantic was dashed to pieces there, almost within sight of land, and all that came ashore was only dead bodies and floating wreck.  To avoid this terrible rock, the navigator was accustomed to give it as wide a berth as possible, and homeward-bound ships accordingly entered the Channel on a much more southern parallel of latitude than they now do.  In his solicitude to avoid the one danger, the sailor too often ran foul of another; and hence the numerous wrecks which formerly occurred along the French coast, more particularly upon the dangerous rocks which surround the Islands of Jersey, Guernsey, and Alderney.

    We have already described the rude expedients adopted in early times to light up certain of the more dangerous parts of the coast, and referred to the privilege granted to private persons who erected lighthouses, of levying tolls on passing shipping. [p.116]  It was long before any private adventurer was found ready to undertake so daring an enterprise as the erection of a lighthouse on the Eddystone, where only a little crest of rock was visible at high water, scarcely capable of affording foothold for a structure of the very narrowest basis.

    At length, however, in 1696, Mr. Henry Winstanley (a mercer and country gentleman), of Littlebury, in the county of Essex, obtained the necessary powers to erect a lighthouse on the Eddystone, and to levy tolls from passing vessels.  That gentleman seems to have possessed a curious mechanical genius, which first displayed itself in devising sundry practical jokes for the entertainment of his guests.  Smeaton tells us that in one room there lay an old slipper, which, if a kick was given it, immediately raised a ghost from the floor; in another, the visitor sat down upon a chair, which suddenly threw out two arms and held him a fast prisoner; while, in the garden, if he sought the shelter of an arbour and sat down upon a particular seat, he was straightway set afloat into the middle of the adjoining canal. [p.117-1]  These tricks must have rendered the house at Littlebury a somewhat exciting residence for the uninitiated guest.  The amateur inventor exercised the same genius to a certain extent for the entertainment of the inhabitants of the metropolis, and at Hyde Park Corner he erected a variety of jets d'eau, known by the name of Winstanley's Waterworks, which he exhibited at stated times at a shilling a-head. [p.117-2]


    This whimsicality of the man in some measure accounts for the oddity of the wooden building erected by him on the Eddystone rock; and it is matter of surprise that it should have stood the severe weather of the English Channel for several seasons.  The building was begun in the year 1696, and finished in four years.  It must necessarily have been a work attended with great difficulty as well as danger, as operations could only be carried on during fine weather, when the sea was comparatively smooth.  The first summer was wholly spent in making twelve holes in the rock, and fastening twelve irons in them by which to hold fast the superstructure.  "Even in summer," Winstanley says, "the weather would at times prove so bad, that for ten or fourteen days together the sea would be so raging about these rocks, caused by outwinds and the running of the ground seas coming from the main ocean, that although the weather should seem and be most calm in other places, yet here it would mount and fly more than two hundred feet, as has been so found since there was lodgment on the place, and therefore all our works were constantly buried at those times, and exposed to the mercy of the seas."

    The second summer was spent in making a solid pillar, twelve feet high and fourteen feet in diameter, on which to build the lighthouse.  In the third year, all the upper work was erected to the vane, which was eighty feet above the foundation.  In the midsummer of that year Winstanley ventured to take up his lodging with the workmen in the lighthouse; but a storm arose, and eleven days passed before any boats could come near them.  During that period the sea washed in upon Winstanley and his companions, wetting all their clothing and provisions, and carrying off many of their materials.  By the time the boats could land, the party were reduced almost to their last crust; but happily, the building stood, apparently firm.  Finally, the light was exhibited on the summit of the building on the 14th of November, 1698.

    The fourth year was occupied in strengthening the building round the foundations, making all solid nearly to a height of twenty feet, and also in raising the upper part of the lighthouse forty feet, to keep it well out of the wash of the sea.  This timber erection, when finished, somewhat resembled a Chinese pagoda, with open galleries and numerous fantastic projections.  The main gallery under the light was so wide and open, that an old gentleman who remembered both Winstanley and his lighthouse, afterwards told Smeaton, that it was "possible for a six-oared boat to be lifted up on a wave, and driven clear through the open gallery into the sea on the other side."  In the perspective print of the lighthouse, published by the architect after its erection, he complacently represented himself as fishing out of the kitchen-window!

    When Winstanley had brought his work to completion, he is said to have expressed himself so satisfied as to its strength, that he only wished he might be there in the fiercest storm that ever blew.  In this wish he was not disappointed, though the result was entirely the reverse of the builder's anticipations.  In November, 1703, Winstanley went off to the lighthouse to superintend some repairs which had become necessary, and he was still in the place with the lightkeepers, when, on the night of the 26th, a storm of unparalleled fury burst along the coast.  As day broke on the morning of the 27th, people on shore anxiously looked in the direction of the rock to see if Winstanley's structure had withstood the fury of the gale; but not a vestige of it remained.  The lighthouse and its builder had been swept completely away.

    The building had, in fact, been deficient in every element of stability, and its form was such as to render it peculiarly liable to damage from the violence both of wind and water.  "Nevertheless," as Smeaton generously observes, "it was no small degree of heroic merit in Winstanley to undertake a piece of work which had before been deemed impracticable, and, by the success which attended his endeavours, to show mankind that the erection of such a building was not in itself a thing of that kind."  He may, indeed, be said to have paved the way for the more successful enterprise of Smeaton himself; and his failure was not without its influence in inducing that great mechanic to exercise the care which he did, in devising a structure that should withstand the most violent force of the sea on the south coast.  Shortly after Winstanley's lighthouse had been swept away, the 'Winchelsea,' a richly-laden homeward-bound Virginiaman, was wrecked on the Eddystone rock, and almost every soul on board perished; so that the erection of a lighthouse upon the dangerous reef remained as much a necessity as ever.

    A new architect was not long in making his appearance.  He did not, however, come from the class of architects, or builders, or even of mechanics: and, as for the class of engineers, it had not yet sprung into existence.  The projector of the next lighthouse for the Eddystone was again a London mercer, who kept a silk-shop on Ludgate Hill.  John Rudyerd—for such was his name—was, however, a man of unquestionable genius, and possessed of much force of character.  He was the son of a Cornish labourer whom nobody would employ,—his character was so bad; and the rest of the family were no better, being looked upon in their neighbourhood as "a worthless set of ragged beggars."  John seems to have been the one sound chick in the whole brood.  He had a naturally clear head and honest heart, and succeeded in withstanding the bad example of his family.  When his brothers went out a-pilfering, he refused to accompany them, and hence they regarded him as sullen and obstinate.  They ill-used him, and he ran away.  Fortunately he succeeded in getting into the service of a gentleman at Plymouth, who saw something promising in his appearance.  The boy conducted himself so well in the capacity of a servant, that he was allowed to learn reading, writing, and accounts; and he proved so quick and intelligent, that his kind master eventually placed him in a situation where his talents could have better scope for exercise than in his service, and he succeeded in thus laying the foundation of the young man's future success in life.

    We are not informed of the steps by which Rudyerd worked his way upward, until we find him called from his silk-mercer's shop to undertake the rebuilding of the Eddystone Lighthouse.  But it is probable that by this time he had become known for his mechanical skill in design, if not in construction, as well as for his thoroughly practical and reliable character as a man of business; and that for these reasons, amongst others, he was selected to conduct this difficult and responsible undertaking.

    After the lapse of about three years from the destruction of Winstanley's fabric, the Brethren of the Trinity, in 1706, obtained an Act of Parliament enabling them to rebuild the lighthouse, with power to grant a lease to the undertaker.  It was taken by one Captain Lovet for a period of ninety-nine years, and he it was that found out and employed Rudyerd.  His design of the new structure was simple but masterly.  He selected the form that offered the least possible resistance to the force of the winds and the waves, avoiding the open galleries and projections of his predecessor.  Instead of a polygon he chose a cone for the outline of his building, and he carried up the elevation in that form.  In the practical execution of the work he was assisted by two shipwrights from the King's yard at Woolwich, who worked with him during the whole time that he was occupied in the erection.

    The main defect of the lighthouse consisted in the faultiness of the material of which it was built; for, like Winstanley's, it was of wood.  The means employed to fix the work to its foundation proved quite efficient; dove-tailed holes were cut out of the rock, into which strong iron bolts or branches were keyed, [p.123] and the interstices were afterwards filled with molten pewter.  To these branches were firmly fixed a crown of squared oak balks, and across these a set of shorter balks, and so on, till a basement of solid wood was raised, the whole being firmly fitted and tied together with trenails and screw-bolts.  At the same time, to increase the weight and vertical pressure of the building, and thereby present a greater resistance to any disturbing external force, Rudyerd introduced numerous courses of Cornish moorstone, as well jointed as possible, and cramped with iron.  It is not necessary to follow the details of the construction further than to state, that outside the solid timber and stone courses strong upright timbers were fixed, and carried up as the work proceeded, binding the whole firmly together.

    Within these upright timbers the rooms of the lighthouse were formed, the floor of the lowest, the storeroom, being situated twenty-seven feet above the highest side of the rock.  The upper part of the building comprehended four rooms, one above another, chiefly formed by the upright outside timbers, scarfed that is, the ends overlapping, and firmly fastened together.  The whole building was, indeed, an admirable piece of ship-carpentry, excepting only the moorstone, which was merely introduced, as it were, by way of ballast.  The outer timbers were tightly caulked with oakum, like a ship, and the whole was payed over with pitch.  Upon the roof of the main column Rudyerd fixed his lantern, which was lit by candles, seventy feet above the highest side of the foundation, which was of a sloping form.  From its lowest side to the summit of the ball fixed on the top of the building was ninety-two feet, the timber-column resting on a base of twenty-three feet four inches.  "The whole building," says Smeaton, "consisted of a simple figure, being an elegant frustum of a cone, unbroken by any projecting ornament, or anything whereon the violence of the storms could lay hold."  The structure was completely finished in 1709, though the light was exhibited in the lantern as early as the 28th of July, 1706. [p.125]


    That the building erected by Rudyerd was on the whole well adapted for the purpose for which it was intended, was proved by the fact that it served as a lighthouse for ships navigating the English Channel, and withstood the fierce storms which rage along that part of the coast, for a period of nearly fifty years.  The lighthouse was at first attended by only two men, as their duty required no more.  During the night they kept watch by turns for four hours alternately, snuffing and renewing the candles.  It happened, however, that one of the keepers took ill and died, and only one man remained to do the work.  He hoisted the flag as a signal to those on land to come off to his assistance; but the sea was running so high at the time, that no boat could live in the vicinity of the rock; and the rough weather lasted for nearly a month.

    What was the surviving man to do with the dead body of his comrade?  The thought struck him that if he threw it into the sea, he might be charged with murder.  He determined, therefore, to keep the corpse in the lighthouse until a boat could come off from the shore.  One may imagine the horrors endured by the surviving lightkeeper during that long, dismal month.  At last the boat came off, but the weather was still so rough that a landing was only effected with the greatest difficulty.  By this time the effluvia rising from the corpse was overpowering; it filled the apartments of the lighthouse, and it was all that the men could do to get the body disposed of by throwing it into the sea.  The circumstance afterwards induced the proprietors to employ a third man to supply the place of a disabled or dead keeper. [p.126]

    The chief defect of Rudyerd's building, as we have already observed, consisted not in its form, but in the material of which it was composed.  It was combustible, and yet it could only be made useful as a lighthouse by the constant employment of fire in some shape.  Though the heat of the candles used in the lantern may not have been very great, still it was sufficient to produce great dryness and inflammability in the timbers lining the roof, and these being covered with a crust of soot, must have proved a source of constant danger.  The immediate cause of the accident by which the lighthouse was destroyed, was never ascertained.  All that is known is, that about two o'clock in the morning of the 2nd December, 1755, the lightkeeper on duty, going into the lantern to snuff the candles, found it full of smoke.

    The lighthouse was on fire!  In a few minutes the wooden fabric was in a blaze.  Water could not be brought up the tower by the men in sufficient quantities to be thrown with any effect upon the flames raging above their heads: the molten lead fell down upon the lightkeepers, into their very mouths, [p.127] and they fled from room to room, the fire following them down towards the basement on the rock.  From Cawsand and Rame Head the unusual glare of light proceeding from the Eddystone was seen in the early morning, and fishing-boats with men went off to the rock, though a fresh east wind was blowing.  By the time they reached it, the lightkeepers had not only been driven from all the rooms, but, to protect themselves from the molten lead and red-hot bolts and falling timbers, they had been compelled to take shelter under a ledge of the rock on its eastern side.  The surf was too high to enable the boats to effect a landing; but the men themselves, becoming conscious of their perilous situation, adopted the only means of escape which now remained.  By great efforts, a small boat had been got near enough to throw a coil of rope upon a projection of the rock, and the men had sufficient energy to lay hold of it, and one by one to fasten it round their bodies, and jump into the sea. They were thus towed on board the boats, and were shortly after landed at Plymouth, more dead than alive.

    And thus also was Rudyerd's timber lighthouse completely destroyed.  As the necessity, however, for protecting the navigation of the Channel by a light on the Eddystone was now greater than ever, in consequence of the increasing foreign as well as coasting trade of the kingdom, it was immediately determined by the proprietors to take the necessary steps for rebuilding it; and it was at this juncture that Smeaton was applied to.  As on the two previous occasions, when a mercer and country gentleman, and then a London silk-mercer had been called upon to undertake this difficult work, the person now applied to was not a builder, nor an architect, nor an engineer, but a mathematical instrument maker.  Mr. Smeaton had, however, by this time gained for himself so general an estimation amongst scientific men as a painstaking observer, an able mechanic, and one who would patiently master, and, if possible, overcome any amount of difficulties, that he was at once pointed out as the person of all others who was the most capable of satisfactorily rebuilding this important beacon on the south-western coast.


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