LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

Henry Winstanley and the Eddystone Lighthouse

by Adam Hart Davis and Emily Troscianko

This book is about Henry Winstanley the man whose life (and death) became intractably linked with the first Eddystone Lighthouse.

The Eddystone rocks – an outcrop of slippery, sloping gneiss that barely pokes above sea level, even at low tide – have claimed thousands of lives in the English Channel. When Winstanley, already an accomplished architect, lost a ship of his own there, and decided to build a lighthouse, everyone thought he was mad. And perhaps he was: the rocks are 14 miles south of Plymouth – a six-hour haul (by rowing boat) in each direction – and they experience such bad weather, the workmen often had to turn back without even being able to land. It took two months just to pick-axe the anchor holes (after which they had to break for winter). Construction took two and a half years in total.

This books explores not only the rocks, the lighthouse, and Winstanley’s life, but also England’s political and social background of the events leading up to the calamitous storm of November 1703.

I enjoyed the writing – the book was easy to read, and the descriptions of the lighthouse’s construction fascinating. There was one jarring section (presumably written by Troscianko), which included the line “Adam should know because he has done it,” and this came out of the blue in an otherwise non-personal narrative.

This was an engaging book, packed full of a wide range of information. I enjoyed it.


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