John Smeaton

In the north aisle of the nave of Westminster Abbey is a memorial stone to civil engineer John Smeaton. The Purbeck marble stone includes a bronze inlay of Smeaton's most famous work, the third Eddystone lighthouse completed in 1759. It was unveiled on 7th November 1994 by Noel Ordman, President of the Smeatonian Society in the presence of various relatives of the Smeaton family. Miss Fiona Munro, a direct descendant of the Smeatons, laid a wreath. The inscription reads:


He was born in the parish of Whitkirk near Leeds in Yorkshire, the only surviving son of William Smeaton and his wife Mary (Stones). His family came from York where his great grandfather John was a watchmaker. Grandfather John moved to Leeds and built the family home of Austhorpe lodge near Whitkirk. After education at Leeds Grammar School young John studied in London and in 1748 set up as an instrument maker in London. Early successes included the perfecting of a mariner's compass, which was adopted by the Royal Navy. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society at the early age of 28. In 1756 he married Ann Jenkinson and they had three daughters Ann (who married John Brooke in 1780), Mary (who married Jeremiah Dixon, later mayor of Leeds) and Hannah (who died young). In his will he also mentioned an illegitimate son John Reynolds. He made many scientific investigations relating to instruments, astronomy and mechanics and designed numerous bridges (including those at Perth and Banff), harbours, canals, water and wind mills and steam engines. He founded the Society of Civil Engineers, known after his death as the Smeatonian Society (precursor of the Institution of Civil Engineers). He died of a stroke on 28th October 1792 and is buried at Whitkirk.

Further reading and information

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

"John Smeaton F.R.S." by Professor A.W. Skempton, 1981

His daughters erected a memorial to him in Whitkirk church

Library of the Institution of Civil Engineers


28th October 1792


7th November 1994





Memorial Type


Material Type

Marble; bronze

John Smeaton
John Smeaton by George Romney, after Rhodes

© National Portrait Gallery, London [Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 3.0]

John Smeaton
John Smeaton memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster