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Beachy Head
Photo with kind permission of Trinity House.

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POSITION 50 44'.0 N  00 14'.50 W
Location:   Off East Sussex coast, near Eastbourne
No. On Admiralty List of Lights:  0840
Present Tower Built:  1902
Tower Composition:  Granite
Height of Tower: 144 ft (43.9 m)
Designer & Resident Engineer: 
Sir Thomas Matthews & Albert Havelock Case
Focal Height of Light:  103 ft (31.4 m) above mean high water
First Lit:  25th February 1902
Light Characteristic: white group flashing every 20 seconds
Visible Range on clear night: nominal 25-27 nautical miles
Radar Beacon: Morse 'BH' on vessel's radar display 
Automated: June 1982

It is said that as early as 1670 a light shone to guide passing vessels from the top of the cliffs at Beachy Head, the 295 ft (90 m) high seaward termination of the Sussex Downs.

An official light was first proposed by a Thomas Offley in 1691. However this application to the Lords of the Privy Council for Trade, to King William III and Queen Mary, was rejected on the grounds that a light would be a guide to their enemies at a time of war.

In 1705 Parson Jonathan Darby exhibited a lantern light from one of the smugglers cave entrances, carved out of the chalk headland. However many criticised this Parson. Some called him 'a man of God' , with other people stating ' some wicked libellers have asserted that Mr. Darby made this excavation in order to escape his wife's shrewish tongue.'

When Parson Darby died in 1729 the epitaph added to his grave stone read simply 'Sailors Friend.'

In 1828 James Walker erected Belle Toute Lighthouse, a 46ft (14 m) high circular tower, on the headland. This remained in operation till 1899 when it was abandoned due to being frequently shrouded in mist and threatened with collapse because of recurrent falls of chalk from the cliff.

On the 18th March 1999 this historical lighthouse was saved from being lost over the edge of the cliff because of severe erosion and moved 50 ft (15.24 m) further inland. It was literally lifted by hydraulic jacks and slid along greased sheets of steel. This operation cost 250,000 with the majority of the funds raised by its present owners Mark and Louise Roberts.

In 1902 under the direction of
Sir Thomas Matthews, the Trinity House Engineer-in-Chief, the present lighthouse was brought into service, sited about 541 ft (165 m) seawards from the base of the cliffs. It took two years to complete and involved building a coffer-dam and a cableway from the top of the cliffs to carry materials down to the site. 3,660 tons of Cornish granite were used in the construction of the tower.

Beachy Head lighthouse was automated and demanned in June 1983. It is monitored 24 hours a day from the Trinity House Operations Control Centre at Harwich in Essex.

Beachy Head
by Martin Boyle