great storm of 1703

img_5799img_5801As lighthouses go, Eddystone lighthouse is really quite different than most. The first Eddystone lighthouse was completed in 1699, and was the world’s first open ocean lighthouse, although the Cordouan lighthouse preceded it as the first offshore lighthouse. The Eddystone Lighthouse is on the dangerous Eddystone Rocks, 9 statute miles south of Rame Head, England, United Kingdom. While Rame Head is in Cornwall, the rocks are in Devon. Putting a lighthouse in the open ocean was a rather dangerous undertaking, but it was also an important lighthouse, because of the rocks it sat on. Without a lighthouse there, ships would run aground on the rocks.
The Eddystone lighthouse fell to disaster three times, and was rebuilt threes times. The first disaster came just four years later, when the Great Storm of 1703 took with it, the first Eddystone lighthouse. The first and second lighthouses were constructed of wood. This was the material available at the time. It was also the wooden construction that made the lighthouse susceptible to the distructive storm and the fire that destroyed the first and second lighthouses…the storm in 1703 and the fire in 1755. The third lighthouse is often called Smeaton’s lighthouse. It was recommended by the Royal Society, civil engineer John Smeaton and was modeled in the shape on an oak tree, and built of granite blocks. He pioneered hydraulic lime, a concrete that cured under water, and developed a technique of securing the granite blocks using dovetail joints and marble dowels. Construction started in 1756 at Millbay and the light was first lit on October 16, 1759. It was state of the art in img_5798img_5795its time. It stood until 1877, when the rocks eroded enough to cause the lighthouse to rock from side to side in the waves, so it was deemed unsafe. The fourth and current lighthouse was built in April of 1879, and was designed by James Douglass, using Robert Stevenson’s developments of Smeaton’s techniques. By April 1879 the new site, on the South Rock was being prepared during the 3½ hours between ebb and flood tide. This current lighthouse is shorter and has a flat top, that is used to land helicopters.

img_5789img_5787Back in the 1700s, there were no early warning systems for storms, and I suppose it wouldn’t matter anyway, at least not when it came to the Great Storm of 1703. The storm was a destructive extratropical cyclone that struck central and southern England on November 26, 1703, which would actually have been December 7, by today’s calendar. You see the dates all changed with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, which was originally developed in 1582, but not adopted by England until 1752. The storm brought with it high winds topping 80 miles per hour, which may not seem so extreme on dry land, but over water, it’s devastating. In fact, the wind was so bad, that it actually blew 2,000 chimney stacks over in London. It also blew over 4,000 oak trees down in New Forest. The winds blew ships hundreds of miles off course, and over 1,000 seamen lost their lives on the Goodwin Sands alone.

London suffered extensive damage. The lead roofing was blown off Westminster Abbey and Queen Anne had to seek shelter in a cellar at Saint James’s Palace to avoid collapsing chimneys and part of the roof. About 700 ships were heaped together in the Pool of London, which is the section of the Thames River downstream from the London Bridge. The ship HMS Vanguard was wrecked at Chatham. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s HMS Association was blown from Harwich to Gothenburg in Sweden before it could make its way back to England. Pinnacles were blown from the top of King’s College Chapel, in Cambridge. At sea, many ships were wrecked, some of which were returning from helping Archduke Charles, the claimed King of Spain, fight the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. These ships included HMS Stirling Castle, HMS Northumberland, HMS Mary and HMS Restoration, with about 1,500 seamen killed particularly on the Goodwin Sands. Between 8,000 and 15,000 lives were lost overall.

The Church of England declared that the vicious storm was God’s vengeance for the sins of the nation. Maybe this is where the img_5783img_5784rediculous saying, “act of God” was coined. In fact, Daniel Defoe thought it was a divine punishment for poor performance against Catholic armies in the War of the Spanish Succession. That makes the whole statement even more ridiculous. I suppose people have to explain away these wild occurrences somehow, and since they didn’t have the science to explain the storm, they blamed God for it.

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