Smeaton 300 logo.


Smeaton300 is a creative programme from arts organisation Foxglove, working with artists and scientists inspired by the work of the UK's first civil engineer – John Smeaton.

John Smeaton was born in Leeds in 1724 and dedicated his life to developing ways of working for the public good.

This year, the University of Leeds' Cultural Institute and School of Civil Engineering commemorate the 300th anniversary of his birth through a series of curated events.

Get involved

Activities will take place both on and off campus, drawing inspiration from John Smeaton's work across four themes:

  • Find our way home
  • Inspired by nature
  • For the public good
  • The art of engineering

Our year-long programme will feature an art exhibition in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, performances by the School of Music, events for families from our Public Engagement Team, a summer theatre project by Stage@Leeds, and more.

Who was John Smeaton?

The story of John Smeaton’s life begins and ends in Leeds, yet reaches around the globe and is still relevant today.

Born in the city in 1724, Smeaton was a self-taught engineer and inventor, recognised for coining the phrase “civil engineering”.

He researched and designed windmills, waterwheels, bridges, ports, canals, observatories, and energy sources. He is also known for stopping the London Bridge from falling down!

Smeaton is most famous for his work on the Eddystone Lighthouse in Plymouth – one of the most iconic lighthouses in the world.

He also believed in collaboration and sharing his learning for the public good. He decided to never patent his work, preferring to share his ideas and allow them to be improved by others.

300 years after his birth our world is still shaped by his pioneering projects.

Smeaton 300 logo

The Cultural Institute

The Cultural Institute at the University of Leeds has three main aims: increase pioneering research collaborations with creative sector partners, widen cultural engagement and participation and build the skills of our students.

We thrive on ideas from the creative and cultural sector and nurture partnership between arts professionals, researchers and students from all disciplines.


Foxglove is run by Jane Earnshaw and Abby Dix-Mason. They have been creating, commissioning and producing arts projects for over 20 years.

Between them, they have collaborated with artists and communities to produce work in parks, shopping centres, universities, swimming pools, museums, public spaces, bridges, castles, festivals, canals, playgrounds, libraries, schools, train stations and traditional arts venues.