Winstanley Walk

Henry Winstanley, former Clerk of Works to Charles II, well known joker, showman and eccentric, was the first man to construct a lighthouse on the Eddystone. Winstanley had enjoyed a strange career, notable for a variety of inventions, contraptions and illustrations produced to advertise his many attractions. One – Winstanley’s Waterworks, a kind of theatrical attraction employing trick effects using water, in fountains, spouts and with fire – was a major Piccadily draw for more than thirty years. His enterprises earned him a small fortune and by 1695 the 51-year-old entrepreneur had added five ships to his list of assets.

In August 1695 one of those ships was lost on the Eddystone Reef. Winstanley was not happy. He was even less happy a few months later when news reached him that a second of his ships, the Constant, had also come to grief on those red rocks. He journeyed to Plymouth and found that while there was a proposal to build a lighthouse already on the table, with royal assent, no-one had come forward to design it. So the flamboyant Winstanley decided to do it himself.

Three years later his Heath Robinson style contraption was lit for the first time and over the next five years there was no loss on the reef. Winstanley, although not without detractors, was a hero. He sought to answer his critics and fulfill a personal wish by spending a night on the Eddystone during a great storm. He got his wish on 26 November 1703. The storm was said to be the worst that had ever visited these shores. Hundreds of thousands of trees were lost, church roofs were stripped, houses blown down and eight thousand lives lost, including Winstanley’s as his beloved lighthouse was swept away by the raging sea.