John Smeaton FRS (8th June 1724—28th October 1792) was born and died in the family house in the Austhorpe area of the parish of Whitkirk. He attended Leeds Grammar School, leaving at 16 to work in his father’s law practice. He gave that up and became an apprentice to a mathematical instrument maker, setting up his own business around 1750. John Smeaton was given the accolade of “The Father of Civil Engineering in Britain”.
His most famous work was the design and construction of a stone lighthouse to stand on the dangerous Eddystone rocks, an extensive reef in the English Channel approximately 13 miles south west of Plymouth. This was the third lighthouse to have stood on the Eddystone, the first having been washed away during a storm in 1703 and the second destroyed by fire in 1755. “Smeaton’s Tower” was completed in 1759 and was operational for 118 years, famously depicted on the back of the old penny coin, just behind Britannia. When it was eventually replaced in 1882 by a new lighthouse, “Smeaton’s Tower” was dismantled and rebuilt on Plymouth Hoe as a memorial. The re-erected tower on the Hoe is now a tourist attraction.
John Smeaton died after suffering a stroke whilst walking in the gardens at his family home in Austhorpe, and was buried at Whitkirk. On the North wall of the Church, above the altar, there is a stone memorial to John Smeaton and his wife which is inscribed as follows:
Sacred to the Memory
of John Smeaton F.R.S.
A Man, whom God had endowed with the most extraordinary Abilities,
which he indefatigably exerted for the benefit of Mankind, in works of Science and philosophical research;
More especially as an Engineer and a Mechanic. His principal work,
The Edystone Light-house, erected on a Rock in the open Sea,
(Where one had been washed away by the violence of a storm, And another had
been consumed by the rage of fire) Secure in its own stability, and in the wise
precautions for its safety, seems not unlikely to convey to distant Ages,
As it does to every nation of the Globe, The name of its Constructor.
He was born at Austhorpe, June 8th 1724,
And departed this Life October 28th 1792.
Also Sacred to the Memory of
Ann the Wife of the said John Smeaton F.R.S.
Who died January 17th 1784.
Their two surviving daughters
Duly imprest with sentiments of love and respect
For the kindest and tenderest of Parents,
Pay this tribute to their Memories.
An image of Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse continues to be used by Austhorpe Primary School – located next to the site where John Smeaton’s house once stood – as part of their school badge.