Hunstanton Lighthouse is located on the clifftop overlooking The Wash, in West Norfolk.
Around 1272 a chapel was built on the cliffs overlooking St Edmund’s Point. It quickly became an established seamark pinpointing the entrance to The Wash. After many years, the old chapel fell into decay. A conventional lighthouse superseded the chapel and became known to sailors as “The Chapel Light”.
In 1663 a syndicate of Lynn merchants proposed a lighthouse to indicate the entrance to The Wash. By 3rd June 1665, a pair of lighthouse towers had been established beside the old chapel on Hunstanton cliff. These towers were first lit in October 1665, originally from a coal-fired light and a front light illuminated by candles. The two lights formed a pair of leading lights that would guide ships safely through a passage between Sunk Sand and the Stubborn Sand.
The front light was discontinued in the first half of the 18th century due to changes in the coastline. In 1777 a devastating fire occurred, and the remaining tower was destroyed and had to be rebuilt. This new tower stood upon Hunstanton cliff and was built of timber. A brilliant new light was displayed for the first time in 1778. Ezekiel Walker installed a number of reflectors with an oil lamp.
On 21st February 1828, Lynn Well Lightvessel was established at the head of the Long Sand, in the mouth of The Wash. This brought about significant improvements to the lighting of the estuary.
By 1832 lighting improvements were made to the lighthouse. The leaseholder Samuel Lane was granted an extension to maintain the lighthouse and continue to collect the tolls. When he died in April 1835, ownership was transferred to his son Frederick. He sought permission from Trinity House to change the reflectors shining over the Roaring Middle Sand to red.
In August 1836, Trinity House purchased the lease and made plans to replace the timber lighthouse, which had now been standing for 60 years.
The new light housed Argand lamps and polished reflectors. The red reflectors facing the Roaring Middle Sand were maintained. However, the remaining arc of its coverage displayed a fixed white light, exhibited for the first time in September 1840.
In the late 19th century, the lighthouse was painted with two broad red bands. From 1872 through to 1907, a chain of floating lights rendered the presence of a light on the cliff at Hunstanton superfluous.
During the First World War, the lighthouse was used as an Admiralty Wireless Station. The station was rumoured to be intercepting German messages and breaking their codes.
Early in 1921, Trinity House announced its intention to discontinue the light. It was displayed for the last time on the night of 29th September 1921.
On Thursday 5th January 1922, at Hunstanton Town Hall, the lighthouse property was sold at auction for £1,300. It was purchased by the owner of the Hunstanton Estate, Mr Charles Alfred le Strange. Trinity House removed the lantern and its lighting equipment.
Between the two World Wars, the decapitated tower stood unused, whilst the ancillary premises were used as a café and tea rooms. At the Second World War outbreak in 1939, the former lighthouse was commandeered by the military authorities. It was used as an observation post and gunnery control and resulted in a brickwork extension above the gallery. Shortly after the War, the lighthouse was acquired by Hunstanton Urban District Council. They leased it, firstly as a commercial enterprise, probably tea rooms, and later as living accommodation.
In 1964 the former lighthouse was put up for sale and purchased by a private bidder. Extensive alterations were carried out, and in 1965 one of the keepers’ cottages was demolished. Additions were made to the remaining cottage. The tall chimney stacks, trademarks of Trinity House dwellings were also removed.