History in Structure

Beachy Head Lighthouse

A Grade II Listed Building in Meads, East Sussex

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Latitude: 50.7338 / 50°44'1"N

Longitude: 0.2415 / 0°14'29"E

OS Eastings: 558274

OS Northings: 95078

OS Grid: TV582950

Mapcode National: GBR MVL.V5Y

Mapcode Global: FRA C7D4.MWH

Plus Code: 9F22P6MR+GH

Entry Name: Beachy Head Lighthouse

Listing Date: 4 August 2010

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1393889

English Heritage Legacy ID: 508294

ID on this website: 101393889

Location: Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN20

County: East Sussex

District: Eastbourne

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Eastbourne

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): East Sussex

Church of England Parish: Eastbourne St John,Meads

Church of England Diocese: Chichester

Tagged with: Lighthouse

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Beachy Head Lighthouse


Lighthouse. Completed in 1902, designed by Sir Thomas Matthews, engineer-in-chief for Trinity House. Albert Havelock Case was the resident engineer.

MATERIALS: constructed of Cornish granite blocks over a concealed concrete base with glazed and steel lantern and gallery with cast iron railings.

PLAN: tapering circular lighthouse of eight storeys over deep plinth with attached rectangular landing stage to north.

EXTERIOR: comprises a tapering column above the deep base, painted alternately red and white, comprising eight storeys above the base, corbelled out under the gallery which has cast iron railings and a glazed domed lantern. An integral granite landing stage with steps on the north side gives access to the beach at low tide. The height of the lighthouse from its lowest rock level to the top of the gallery is nearly 144 feet (43.9m). The diameter of the base at its foundation level is 47 feet (14.3m). the structure then tapers to 28 feet (8.5m) at ground floor entrance lobby level where the walls are almost 9 feet 2.7m) thick. The first three floors above the entrance lobby increase by about 10 inches (250mm)in diameter at each level and from the fourth floor level all the remaining rooms are 14 feet in diameter. The walls of the top floor are about 2 feet 6 inches thick (762mm) and are corbelled out to provide a 23 feet 6 inches (7.2m) diameter gallery. Access is by the landing stage and thence up a copper fixed ladder about 14 feet high on the north side to the entrance. This has an architrave with ogee head bearing the date 1902 and the crest and motto of Trinity House. A pair of panelled gun metal storm proof doors lead to a lobby with metal ventilation grille above an oak six-fielded panelled inner door. A tall opening above the entrance has a horizontal crane beam for hauling up provisions. Windows are cambered casements with metal hinges. The gallery has painted cast iron railings with circular principal posts with urn finials. The lantern has a reeded cast steel base with a special ventilation system to prevent condensation on the lantern panes with low four-panelled door on the eastern side, large diamond-shaped panes with cast iron steel glazing bars covered with gun metal cappings and steel dome topped by a drum ventilator surmounted by an arrow-shaped wind vane and lightning conductor rod.

INTERIOR: a steep iron geometrical staircase on the outer wall leads to all floors. The entrance floor contains a WC with original curved door with chamfered panels. The first floor, originally oil room, also has an original curved door. The third floor, originally a store room, is still used for this purpose. The fourth floor living room retains a curved door and original curved panelling. The fifth floor bedroom retains the original three bunk beds constructed to fit the rounded shape of the walls, and therefore known as banana bunks, with storage cupboards above and below and oak plank panelling. The sixth floor service room has a built-in curved oak cupboard with upper glazed doors and lower panelled doors and a wall plaque reading: "THIS LIGHTHOUSE WAS ERECTED BY THE CORPORATION OF TRINITY HOUSE IN THE YEAR 1902. REAR ADMIRAL H.R.H THE PRINCE OF WALES K.C., MASTER CAPTAIN SIR GEORGE RAWLINSON VYVYAN, K.C.M.G. DEPUTY MASTER, T. MATTHEWS, ENGINEER-IN-CHIEF. A. HAVELOCK CASE RESIDENT ENGINEER." The lantern had a Douglass designed first order dioptric apparatus (replaced in the late C20) but the original metal annular tray on pedestal in which it floated, containing about 900 pounds of mercury, survives. The original clockwork drive mechanism survives, consisting of a 480 pound weight suspended from the mechanism by a steel wire, descending inside a hollow iron stanchion positioned below the optics pedestal base. When in service the weight was required to be rewound to its original starting position every four hours and has a gauge to show the position of the weight and a warning bell advising when the weight needed to be brought back to the top of the tower. The walls of the lantern have metal letters indicating the points of the compass.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 22 February 2022 to reformat the text to current standards


Beachy Head was historically notorious for its dangerous currents; a shelf of hard rock with jagged projections between Birling Gap and Eastbourne was, and still is, a maritime danger. Although the first official record of a petition for a navigation light near Beachy Head appeared in 1691 in the Parliamentary Papers of the Lords of the Privy Council for Trade and the Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond were requested to investigate the need for a light, nothing was done officially until much later.

In 1825, Trinity House instructed their consultant engineer James Walker and his partner John Burges to produce a lighthouse for Beachy Head. They reported that the ideal location was at Belle Tout, on the top of the cliffs, and the lighthouse was built in 1828. Unfortunately the Belle Tout lighthouse was built on a major geological fault and, after a series of landslides in the later C19 and a number of shipwrecks caused by the light proving very susceptible to being obscured by fog, it became necessary to build a new lighthouse. Experiments showed that a light nearer the surface of the water, reflected against the chalk cliffs, provided a better light than at the top of the cliffs. It was therefore decided to build the new lighthouse out from the base of the cliffs on the foreshore below the high water mark. Trinity House abandoned Belle Tout in 1899 and, until the new lighthouse was built in 1902, positioned a light-vessel off Beachy Head with its own fog siren apparatus.

Sir Thomas Matthews, engineer-in-chief for Trinity House, designed the new Beachy Head lighthouse and specified that it was to be built about one and a quarter miles to the east of the Belle Tout lighthouse and approximately 700 feet out from the base of the chalk cliff. Albert Havelock Case was appointed as its resident engineer. Because of the height of the cliffs and the tides a cable way was set up on the top of the cliff to provide an uninterrupted delivery of equipment and materials down to the site. A coffer dam was erected to facilitate building the foundations of the tower and a concrete base laid over the excavated chalk foundation. The tower was constructed of 3,660 tons of Cornish granite from the De Lank quarries near Bodmin, Cornwall, shaped on site, each one weighing between one to two tons. The blocks were sent by rail to Eastbourne Station, were unloaded onto trailers to the cliff top and from there loaded by crane onto the cable way. The lighthouse was designed with an 1800-gallon water tank and coal store in the deep plinth, a room at entrance level with the sole WC, and, in ascending order, an oil room, crane room to haul up provisions, store room for provisions, living room with cast iron range, bedroom, service room and finally the lantern. Following two years of construction Beachy Head Lighthouse was lit for the first time on 2 October 1902. The three keepers kept four watches every 24 hours and were kept busy winding the clock, lighting the lamp and pumping up the oil.

About 1921 the light source was modernised, in 1974 the lighthouse was converted from oil to electricity and in June 1982 Beachy Head Lighthouse ceased to be manned and became automatically operated by remote control from North Foreland Lighthouse.

Reasons for Listing

Beachy Head Lighthouse, completed in 1902 and designed by Sir Thomas Matthews, engineer-in chief of Trinity House, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: it compares favourably with listed lighthouses constructed in the first decade of the C20, it features an elegant tapering shape, and is constructed of more costly granite.
* Technological interest: it was a more substantial engineering feat than many other contemporary lighthouses because of the operational requirement for it to be built on the foreshore. This required a coffer dam in order to build the foundations and building materials to be delivered from the top of the cliffs by a cable way.
* Degree of intactness: the lighthouse has been little altered although some navigational equipment has been replaced and updated over the years. Original internal features include the staircase, curved doors, built-in cupboards and bunk beds, the metal annular tray in the lantern and the clockwork drive mechanism.
* Group value: it groups visually with the former lighthouse Belle Tout (Grade II) and together these two buildings demonstrate the architectural and navigational history of navigational aids on this dangerous and well-known part of the coast between 1831 and the present day.

External Links

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