Saturday, December 27, 2008

Things you Don't Expect - Orientalism and Lighthouses

I have an abiding interest in buildings in Britain (or anywhere in Europe really) influenced by Chinese or Oriental architecture – mostly follies or pagodas like the one at Kew or Chinese inspired gardens such as you find all over the place. Then reading the Economist’s Christmas Double Issue I came across an interesting piece on the history of the Fastnet Lighthouse in northern Ireland. The article also mentioned that the first Eddystone Lighthouse, near Plymouth had been an Oriental inspired design. This caught me short – Chinois lighthouses!! And it seems to be true – see the picture.

Apparently the architect of the first Eddystone Lighthouse was the eccentric Henry Winstanley. Amazingly during construction while he was out at Eddystone (9 miles off shore from Plymouth) a French privateer took Winstanley prisoner, causing Louis XIV to order his release with the words "France is at war with England, not with humanity".

The light was lit in 1698- though sadly it was completely destroyed in the Great Storm of 1703. Winstanley was at the lighthouse doing repairs – his body was never found. Sorry, I’m also not sure why he went for an orientalist design.

I’m glad the Economist put me on to that – though sadly they also report that all the UK’s lighthouses are now fully automated and so lighthousemen (and/or women) don’t exist anymore which is very sad – what a great job that would be, I’d have given my right arm to be a lighthouseman.


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