The Project

Smeaton300 is a creative events programme by Foxglove (Abby Dix-Mason and Jane Earnshaw)  inspired by the work of Leeds born John Smeaton, the UK’s first Civil Engineer. The Smeaton300 programme begins with Leeds 2023 Year of Culture and continues into 2024.

We began researching John Smeaton’s famous Eddystone Lighthouse back in 2017 and, ever since that moment, the work of John Smeaton has continued to capture our imaginations and many others along the way.

There are some great headlines that can be shared about John Smeaton’s work as an engineer. He stopped London Bridge from falling down! He’s name checked in NASA’s history of flight! He built the most iconic wave washed lighthouse in the world! But when you take a bit more time to find out about his story you’ll find another set of headlines that are less show-stopping but equally important. He believed in collaboration and sharing what he’d learned to create a happier world. He recognised his achievements were a stepping stone for future engineers and he knew that he was always building on the work of others that had gone before him.

John Smeaton’s work developed into the new Civil Engineering profession to create works for the public good. Smeaton300 takes his legacy as a jumping off point to help us understand how engineering in it’s broader sense has shaped our world today and what it means for our future.

Our four Smeaton300 themes are here to inspire anyone with an interest in engineering, art and science to develop new ideas for the programme in 2024.

Inspired By Nature

The world famous Eddystone Lighthouse was inspired by the sweeping curve of the oak tree and throughout his career John Smeaton looked to harness the power of the elements, working with water, wind and air. He was awarded the Copley Medal for his work on windmills and waterwheels, the original renewable off-grid technology. If John Smeaton were alive today, there is little doubt he would be applying his talents to addressing climate change.

For The Public Good

The term Civil Engineering was coined by John Smeaton to create works for the public good. He was an ethical employer who treated his lighthouse workers fairly, providing sick pay and medical costs for anyone injured at work. He resisted patenting his designs and had no interest in personal profit or excessive wealth. Instead, John Smeaton was driven to apply his engineering skills for the public good. Despite those best intentions his work fuelled the progress of the Industrial Revolution inadvertently impacting the world around us. There are modern day parallels here with the creation of the World Wide Web and the present threats posed by artificial intelligence.

The Art of Engineering

Lifelong collaborations with fellow scientists, craftspeople, writers, artists and draughtsmen were key to the development of Smeaton’s work. The Art of Engineering theme is a way of exploring the partnerships between engineers, artists, scientists and designers that are all around us. Think of the hidden engineering skills that go into the design of theatre sets, large scale carnival costumes and 3D sculptures. Or the way that engineering creates beautiful landmarks with it’s bridges, aqueducts, lighthouses and canals.

Find Our Way Home

Smeaton made our world infinitely more navigable with his work on bridges, waterways and lighthouses as well as making scientific instruments for navigation and astronomy. This strand is a prompt to explore the significance of civil engineering in navigation, mapping and migration and how it has changed our perception of home on a global scale.

Smeaton300 has been developed by Abby Dix-Mason and Jane Earnshaw from Foxglove. The programme begins in 2023, Leeds Year of Culture and completes during the tricentenary of John Smeaton’s birth in 2024.