Smeaton’s legacy inspiring civil engineers of the future

Children in Plymouth are being inspired to pursue a career in civil engineering in celebration of the designer of Plymouth’s most famous landmark.

Saturday 8 June 2024 marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of British civil engineer John Smeaton who designed the third Eddystone Lighthouse which is now better known as Smeaton’s Tower, having been rebuilt on Plymouth Hoe in 1882.

Throughout June, Building Plymouth is inviting local primary school children to visit the famous lighthouse, where they will meet real-life, modern civil engineers and learn more about John Smeaton. Known as the ‘father of civil engineering’, he left a huge legacy with his design of bridges, harbours and lighthouses.

Working in partnership with The Box, Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the University of Plymouth, school groups will be hosted at Smeaton’s Tower with the aim of inspiring the children to understand more about the city’s major civil engineering projects both past and present, and to learn about the importance of the role and career pathways into civil engineering.

Leading on the event, Emma Hewitt, Skills Lead at Plymouth City Council said: “We recognise that John Smeaton’s anniversary presents the perfect opportunity for us to celebrate our beloved Smeaton’s Tower and to raise the profile of careers in civil engineering. Through Building Plymouth, we are working hard together to inspire children and young people to consider how they could play a part in building the world around us, and to showcase the importance of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) skills. Creating this opportunity for children to meet real-life civil engineers onsite at Plymouth’s most famous landmark will help raise career aspirations, and hopefully attract our future budding engineers! With civil engineers in the top 10 of current job vacancies in Plymouth and over 42,000 extra construction workers needed across the Southwest region by 2028, we certainly have a lot to do to attract the future skilled workforce especially with the major infrastructure projects underway.”

Victoria Pomery, CEO at The Box said: “At The Box, Plymouth’s museum, gallery and archive, we use our collections and exhibitions to connect the future with the past, and we’re proud to also care for a landmark building that does the same. Smeaton was an incredible individual who continues to be an inspiration today. His creativity, skill and productivity brought enormous benefits to society and his iconic lighthouse on the Hoe, which is now one of Plymouth’s most well-known visitor attractions, combines artistic flair with science. This exciting schools project enables young people to learn from what he once achieved to develop important skills for their future.”

Miranda Housden, Regional Director of Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) South West said: “John Smeaton was one of the great innovators of the 18th century and an early pioneer in showing how civil engineers can solve seemingly insurmountable problems for the benefit of society. Today, civil engineers use creative problem solving to tackle challenges from climate change to rural isolation. We need thinkers like Smeaton for the future, with a range of skills and backgrounds, so we’re hoping to inspire Plymouth children to become the civil engineers of tomorrow.”

Professor Alison Raby, Fellow of the ICE and Head of the COAST Engineering Research Group at the University of Plymouth said: “Innovations in rock lighthouse design, first demonstrated on the Eddystone lighthouse, can be traced back to the ingenuity of John Smeaton. His creativity in using interlocking blocks, and his majestic tapering tower design should inspire future generations of civil engineers. We are delighted to be working in partnership to celebrate his anniversary, in the same year that we commissioned our new engineering facilities in the Babbage Building at the University of Plymouth.”

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