with thanks to Russell Heath, Visitor Services Assistant

When you have a job that involves dealing with the public on a regular basis it can often be useful to have some extra or unusual information to share.

While the development of The Box has been underway, those of us who are part of the Visitor Services Team have been involved in a range of behind the scenes activities.

One of the tasks we’ve been focused on is improving the documentation and storage of our works on paper – items such as drawings, paintings and prints from our extensive art collection.

It’s certainly kept us busy and has involved carefully removing the works from their frames and, where possible, mounts. We’ve then stored them flat in new protective sleeves to better conserve them for future generations. We’ve also updated the relevant records on our database.

Photograph of a black and white drawing of a lighthouse in a storm

The engraving which has now been de-framed as part of our works on paper project

As part of the team doing this work, I was fortunate enough to de-frame an engraving by an artist called William Daniell RA. It’s a dramatic work that shows the Eddystone Lighthouse during a huge storm in November 1824. We also own the oil painting showing the same scene. The lighthouse that both works feature is Smeaton’s Tower.

The storm is well documented – a hurricane force wind and storm surge that hit the south coast of England on 22 November 1824 – particularly Devon and Dorset. I can only imagine how wild the conditions must have been out on the dangerous Eddystone Reef.

When I de-framed the work I discovered that it also contained a diary extract written by one of the lighthouse keepers who was working the night of the storm.

Part of my role involves working at Smeaton’s Tower so I’ve copied the extract out to show our visitors. Having this insight is really useful and will hopefully enhance their knowledge of the Tower’s history as well as their overall visitor experience.

'The Eddystone Lighthouse', by William Daniell (1769-1837)

The oil painting by Daniell showing the same dramatic scene

Here’s the extract so you can see it too. It’s taken from a letter from James Simmons, lightkeeper at the Eddystone, to John Authur Esq, Customs House, Plymouth and is dated 25 November, 1824:

“The storm was very severe from the evening of the 22nd and increased with the rising of the tide, at or about five o’clock in the morning of the 23rd. The sea was tremendous, and broke with such violence on the top and round the building, as to demolish, in an instant, five panes of the lantern glass, and sixteen cylinder glasses, the former of which is of unusual thickness.

The house shook with so much violence as to occasion considerable motion of the cylinder glasses fixed in the lamps, and at times the whole building appeared to jump as if resting on an elastic body. The water came from the top of the building in such quantities, that we were overwhelmed, and the sea made a breach from the top of the house to the bottom”.