Henry Winstanley’s great lighthouse engraving

Wednesday 15 August 2012

I have a few nice old prints of lighthouses, but none as wonderful as the one I just acquired. It’s from a copper plate engraved by Henry Winstanley (1644-1703)​—​an English engraver, mer­chant, and entrepreneur.

The engraving shows the lighthouse Winstanley built, with very great difficulty, on the Eddystone Rocks near Plymouth. The work started in 1696, and the lighthouse was finished and lit in 1698. Winstanley was not satisfied​—​he enlarged and streng­thened the structure in 1899, and my engraving shows it in this improved form. The picture is surrounded by notes that set out the history of the project, and the intricate details of the design.

A piece of text at the top right of the plate (on the left hand page of the open book) adds this sad appendix:

The Light House thus built, Stood untill that Dreadfull Storm, of the 27th of November 1703: which destroyed both it and its Ingenious Projector Henry Winstanly Gent.

Many delightfull Curiousityes of his Invention Severall Drawings and Engravings of Copper Plates, he has left which are Preserved.

This Fatall Peice which was his last Work, may Serve for his Monument the House being his Tomb the Sea his Grave.

This is a very large print, more than a metre from top to bottom​—​too big to fit on a single sheet of the hand-made paper of the time, so four sheets were glued together before printing. I can see where it has been folded in half, then in half again, and bound into a book or a cover.

The fine detail and large size of the print make it difficult to digitise and reproduce in this blog. I have photographed the print in eight overlapping shots and stitched them together to make a composite image 11628 pixels high and 8484 pixels across​—​its not bad for a first attempt, and will do for now. I downsized it to 4000 pixels wide, zoomified it, and you can see it here:

Edystone Light-house, drawn and engraved by Henry Winstanley, c1699 with note added to record the destruction of the structure (and the death of Winstanley) in 1703. The print measures 1012 × 721 mm.

Henry Winstanley’s Eddystone lighthouse of 1696-1699 was the first lighthouse to be built on a wave-swept rock. It was followed by a succession of other famous towers on the same site​—​the next one was designed by John Rudyerd (first lit in 1709); the next by John Smeaton (1759); and the last by James Douglass (1882). The 1882 tower is still in use, and the 1759 tower was dismantled and re-​erected on the mainland at Plymouth as a memorial to its designer John Smeaton​—​I’ll add these two to my must see list.

filed under Lighthouses + Prints

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