There have been a number of lighthouses at Orfordness over the years. The first were built in 1637 serving as High and Low lighthouses to guide vessels through the narrow channels offshore.
The early Low Lights were moved back; the fifth Low Light was washed away in 1730, its replacement burned down in 1731, and the seventh light was burned down the following year.
The original High Light, built in 1637 had a framework tower with a coal-fired light. A masonry tower located further back than its predecessor was built in 1720.
However the erosion along the coastline continued, and when William Wilkins’ tower of 1792 was built it acted as a High Light to work with the 1720 tower, which then became the Low Light.
In 1868 two optics were installed, replacing previous oil lamps with reflectors. The High Light received a first-order optic, and it is thought that the Low Light had a smaller optic.
A photo taken around 1880 shows the Low Light as being painted red with a vertical white stripe, and it is probable that the High Light would have had a similar livery. Two lighthouse keepers cottages were also in evidence at the time.
The two lights at Orford continued as fixed white and red lights, with red sectors indicating the shallower waters. In 1888 improvements to the High Light took place, and the character was changed from fixed red and white to an occulting light, with a 3-second eclipse every 40 seconds. Fixed subsidiary lights further down the tower shone over the sandbanks offshore.
Orfordness Lighthouse was automated in 1959. Previously it had been a family station with Principal and Assistant Keepers and their families living in the adjacent cottages. In 1938, with the looming threat of War, and increased militarisation on the Ness, the lighthouse was reclassified as a rock station.
The two cottages were unusually linked to the tower via a door on the first floor. In 1959, following automation, the seaward cottage was demolished, and the west cottage was demolished in 1965.
In 2010, following a review of Aids to Navigation, Trinity House announced that Orfordness Lighthouse would be discontinued. In June 2013 the lighthouse was decommissioned.
To compensate for the loss of the light at Orfordness, the range of light at Southwold Lighthouse to the north was increased in December 2012.
The optic was subsequently removed and relocated in 2015 to the headquarters of the International Maritime Organisation, London.
The tower was sold to the Orfordness Lighthouse Trust who sought to preserve the lighthouse and its artefacts as long as possible. Additional defences in the shingle bank were added in front of the tower allowing open days to follow between 2014 and 2019.
In October 2019 a severe storm hit the Ness and the engineer’s bungalow and concrete plinth around the base of the tower were undermined. It became apparent that the artefacts inside the tower needed to be removed as possible before erosion took over.
By the following January the foundations of the tower itself were exposed and in February the bungalow and store were demolished.
Demolition work was due to start over the summer of 2020, but the Coronavirus pandemic drew a halt to proceedings. However, in July 2020 the contractors arrive to demolish the tower.
As many of the historical artefacts have been saved as possible, and it is hoped to preserve these and to establish a visitor centre.