Beachy Head Lighthouse

Beachy Head Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Beachy Head Lighthouse was built in 1902 to replace Belle Tout Lighthouse on the clifftop above.

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Belle Tout Lighthouse was built in 1834, but by 1896 it was standing dangerously close to the cliff edge due to erosion.  As a result, the new lighthouse was built at the base of the cliff in 1900, following which the clifftop light was decommissioned.

Beachy Head lighthouse was first lit on 27th September 1902 and designed by Sir Thomas Matthews.  During its construction, a lightvessel was positioned offshore.  It was located just over a mile east of Belle Tout and, at the time, was around 700 feet from the base of the cliff.

Beachy Head and cliff
Beachy Head Lighthouse with Belle Tout Lighthouse in the background
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Building the lighthouse was challenging. A steel wire attached to a clifftop platform ran down to the lighthouse, and the granite blocks were transferred down this line.  The stone was quarried from Cornish granite.  There are some incredible archive photos on The Keep website.

The tower had a curved tapering design with a stepped base to break the waves.  There are seven floors within the tower.

Base of lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Initially, the lighthouse was painted white with a black band to stand out from the white cliff face.  This was later changed to a broad red band.

The first order optic was manufactured by Chance Brothers, who installed the lantern housing the equipment. A Matthews-designed incandescent oil burner was used.  It was the first English lighthouse to be fitted with such equipment.

Beachy Head Lighthouse was extinguished during the Second World War.  It was, however, displayed on special commands when needed to guide aircraft home.

Lighthouse from seaward
Photo: Patrick Tubby

An electricity cable was relayed to the lighthouse in 1975, replacing the paraffin vapour burner and explosive fog gun. In 1999 a cliff fall severed the supply, and a temporary generator had to be used until the cables could be replaced.

Beachy Head Lighthouse was automated in 1983.

In 2010, following an Aids to Navigation review, Trinity House reduced the range of the light to 8 miles and discontinued the fog signal. In 2011, a new LED navigation light was installed on the external gallery and the optic was discontinued, though it is still in situ.

Close up of lantern
The shrouded optic and new LED lantern on the gallery
Photo: Patrick Tubby

After modernisation, Trinity House intended to no stop painting the lighthouse. However, a campaign Save the Stripes, was launched in October 2011, and following fundraising, the bands were repainted.

Trinity House announced the range would be increased following the demolition of Royal Sovereign Lighthouse.

Beachy Head Lighthouse is visible from the cliffs, though care must be taken not to get too close to the cliff edge.  Boat trips also operate out of Eastbourne Harbour, passing the lighthouse.

There is an exhibition at the nearby Beachy Head Countryside Centre, and Rob Wassell has written an excellent book The Story of the Beachy Head Lighthouse. His website is also a great resource.

Established: 1902
Engineer: Thomas Matthews
Tower Height: 33 metres
Light Character: Fl (2) W 20 s
Light Range: 16 miles
Elevation: 31 metres
Automated: 1983