Most visitors to Plymouth will have seen Smeatons Lighthouse on the Hoe, and many will have climbed its spiralling steps to the top, there to gaze at a distant finger on the horizon - the present Eddystone Light. Both are brilliant feats of engineering in their own right, Smeatons Lighthouse having had the distinction of being dismantled stone by stone after a 123- year stint on the Eddystone before being rebuilt on Plymouth Hoe as a permanent memorial.
That happened in 1882, the year James Douglass tower took over the duty of providing a light on the reef, which it has carried out to the present day.
Less well-known, but of more interest to divers perhaps, are the first two Eddystone lighthouses, built at the turn of the 17th century. Today their remains still litter the gullies of the reef they once marked.
The first, built by Henry Winstanley, was blown bodily into the sea in 1703 after only five years service; the second, John Rudyerds tower, was burnt to a cinder some 52 years later.
Given the extraordinary technological sophistication of modern times, it takes a leap of imagination to appreciate the scale of the problems faced by Henry Winstanley when he began work on the first Eddystone Light - a building of his own design - in the summer of 1696. To begin with, he was no architect. An engraver, inventor, illusionist, and ship-owner, he was in the lighthouse business for one reason only: two of his ships had been wrecked on the Eddystone and he was determined to lose no more.
His first problem was the reef itself. Of all the rocks in its three jagged ridges, the only one high enough to remain exposed at high tide, and which might serve as a base for a tower, was the wrong shape. It stuck out of the water like a right-angled triangle. Barely ten paces wide at its broadest, it sloped into the sea at an angle of 30*. It was hardly the ideal foundation for a tower. Then there was the difficulty of getting small sailing vessels loaded with heavy stone blocks and workmen to and from the Eddystone on a regular basis. In 1696 this was a major operation in itself, without then having to find a way to land them on that sloping, sea-swept rock to build a tower.
Add to this the limited working time available (about three hours each tide), the absolute requirement for perfect weather, the lack of any power other than brute force, the fact that nothing could be left on the rock between working sessions unless permanently secured, and the lack of anything resembling quick-drying waterproof cement, and one begins to appreciate just a few of the difficulties involved.
Despite this, it took Winstanley only three working seasons to construct a l0m tower, which first showed a light on 14 November 1698. Strengthened and almost doubled in height the following year, this lighthouse turned the Eddystone into a wreck-free zone for the first time in its history. It was the 17th century equivalent of putting a man on the moon or building the Channel tunnel. A self-assured, extravagant and somewhat flamboyant man, Henry Winstanley later boasted that his one wish was to be in his famous lighthouse during the greatest storm that ever was. In a merciless twist of fate, he was granted this wish and paid for it with his life.
On the night of 26 November 1703, he happened to be in his lighthouse supervising repair work when the greatest storm in living memory devastated the whole of southern England. In the morning all that remained of his tower were a few twisted stumps of iron protruding from the sloping rock.
With the lighthouse gone, only two days passed before the Eddystone claimed its first victim in five years. Homeward bound with a cargo of tobacco, the merchantman Winchelsea piled into the reef and sank. There were only two survivors.
The next man to pit his wits against the rock was an equally unlikely candidate: a London silk merchant, John Rudyerd. Of humble Cornish origin, he was a self-made man and something of an amateur scientist. Having perhaps acquired some knowledge of boats in his youth, he applied shipbuilding techniques to the urgent task of constructing a new lighthouse.
Using alternate circular courses of oak timbers and granite blocks around a central oak mast, his idea was that the finished tower would sway and flex like a tree, and not be blown over. As a final refinement he sheathed the building with vertical planks, scarf-jointed and caulked with pitch, like the hull of a ship. This offered a perfectly smooth surface to the elements. Unlike Winstanleys tower, there would be no flat surfaces upon which the sea and wind could act. With a finished height of 21m, Rudyerds tower became fully operational in 1709, the brilliance of his design demonstrated by the fact that it withstood everything the sea could throw at it for 46 years. In the end it was fire, not water, that brought it down.
On a December night in 1755, the lantern somehow caught fire. Fanned by half a gale, the blaze quickly took hold on the upper wooden structure and forced the keepers to seek shelter on the rocks below. One of them, 94-year- old Henry Hall, happened to look up just as the melting lead roof collapsed into the blaze, showering the area with molten metal.
One lump dropped straight into his mouth and seared its way through to his stomach. Though in agonising pain, he survived and was eventually rescued along with his two colleagues by a Cawsand fishing boat.
Twelve days later he died, allowing his doctor to locate and remove a 7oz lump of lead from his stomach. This object became the subject of much medical interest, and has since found its way to the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh!
The tower burned for five days, spitting molten metal into the sea and sending an oily pall of smoke into the sky over the Eddystone. By the time it had burned itself out, all that remained was a tottering heap of blackened granite blocks which were flung into the sea by the next winter gale.
Of John Rudyerds end nothing is known. Having completed his tower and admired the result, he disappeared into history and was never heard of again.
To find the remains of these lighthouses today, you need good measures of fine weather and patience. Nearly 300 years of West Country storms have dispersed the debris widely across an area of deep kelp-covered gullies.
In just such a gully, not far from the famous sloping rock on which both towers were built, we found the first traces. Having dug out boulders, stones, shingle and sand to reach bedrock, we found several gobbets of lead which, from their shape and general appearance, had obviously been in a molten state when they entered the water. The biggest weighed only half an ounce less than the one that killed Henry Hall.
In digging for the lead we also uncovered fragments of thick greenish glass of various sizes, and very worn. While these could be the remains of nothing more glamorous than broken portholes, their profusion and proximity to the buried lead may mean that they came from the lantern of one of the towers.
More definite evidence lay not far away. Working our way down through the kelp, we soon discovered a large piece of dressed granite with a huge bronze rung embedded in one of its faces.
Our first thought was that it was from the stump of Smeatons tower (also built on Winstanleys sloping rock), but a later check showed the rungs on that stump to be quite different in shape and cross-section from the one we found. Also, Smeatons stones were cut in the form of interlocking dovetails to fasten solidly together.
We climbed the stump and checked the shapes in the top course for ourselves. Our block was a simple, plain piece of work, nothing like those made for John Smeaton.
Clearing the area of kelp, we also found a number of smaller granite blocks, a badly squashed and distorted ribbon of bronze (perhaps a lightning conductor), and a huge thick metal disc the size and shape of a millstone. This baffling object may have nothing to do with lighthouses, but it sits among the stones as if it belongs with them.
We raised two of the smaller granite blocks - identical in size and shape, weighing 62kg each - and took them back to Plymouth. Whether they are from Winstanleys tower or Rudyerds we shall never know, but we can be reasonably sure that they were cut from a West Country quarry long ago and taken out to the Eddystone as part of a lighthouse.

Below: all of the lighthouses built on the Eddystone reef. Left to right: Winstanleys one-year model of 1698; his more substantial version completed the following year; Rudyerds oak-cored, circular-section tower of 1709; John Smeatons long-lasting light of 1759, now on Plymouth Hoe; and the present lighthouse, built by James Douglass in 1882.