Photo with kind permission of Trinity House.
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POSITION 52° 05'.0 N 01° 34'.6 E
Location: Between Aldenburgh & Felixstowe - Suffolk Coast
No. on Admiralty list of lights: 2258
First official light established: 1635-1637
Designers/Builders: Alderman Gerald Gore
Original structure: Two timber sheds - candle burning lights
Height of structure: both approximately 12ft (3.66m)
Present lighthouse established: By Lord Braybrooke in 1792
Height of light above mean high water: (To Be Verified)
Visible range of light: 19 nautical miles
Orfordness Lighthouse, in Suffolk, is situated at the end of a 13 mile spit which runs parallel to the coast. The dangers of this area (swift tides, banks and shoals) although not immediately apparent have long been notorious. On one night alone, in 1627, thirty-two ships were cast up on Orfordness with scarcely a survivor amongst their crews.
In February, 1634 John Meldrum was granted a patent to build two temporary lights between Sizewell Bank and Aldeburgh Napes. These lights were soon disposed of by Meldrum, in favour of those he had at North and South Forelands. Meldrum's successor at Orfordness was Alderman Gore who, under a further patent granted during the reign of Charles II, constructed two timber towers to indicate a safe passage through the narrow gap between the Sizewell Bank and Aldeburgh Napes.
In 1648 Alderman Gore had allowed the widow Bradshaw to look after the lights upon the death of her husband. She was very inefficient and in his letter giving her notice one sentence read, "I did not think you would have been so careless but I excuse it because you are a woman". A statement that would be unlikely to be made today.
Sir Edward Turnour was the next owner and he strengthened his position by buying outright the land on which the lighthouse stood and also a large area of Lantern Marshes to give him access. After his death in 1676 his son, also named Edward became the owner. The lights were badly maintained at this time and he had many complaints from the masters of vessels passing the light.
In 1707, Britain was at war with France. On June 23rd the Orfordness Lighthouses were attacked by a French Privateer who severely damaged a lantern and stole various goods, including the keeper's beds.
The lighthouses came into the ownership of Henry Grey in 1720 who replaced the wooden lighthouses with brick towers at a cost of £1,180.
In 1792, Lord Braybrooke, who was the owner at this time, had a new brick tower built much further back which became the great light and the previous great light then became the small light. It is this tower, built in 1792 which remains to this day.
In 1836 under an Act of Parliament which gave Trinity House compulsory powers to levy out the private individuals who owned lighthouses, Trinity House paid the third Lord Braybrooke £13,414 for Orfordness Lighthouse.
In 1888 major alterations took place at the great light or high light as it was now known. The light was made occulting and red and green shades were fitted to form sector lights.
Further alterations were made in 1914 when a new revolving lens was installed, it is this lens which is still in operation. Three vertical circular lenses are mounted on a circular platform which floats on a trough of mercury. The lens revolves around the lamp at a speed which appears as a flash every five seconds. At the same time as this light was installed another light was brought into operation half way up the tower. This is the sector light which is a fixed light showing through red and green windows facing south east and a red window facing north east. These lenses and all other lenses fitted over the years were installed by the firm of Stone-Chance.
In 1959 the lighthouse was converted to electric power and the dwellings, which were attached on either side of the tower for the keepers, were demolished.
A standby generator was then installed, followed by remote control equipment. Time switches came into operation and on 6th July 1964 the station became fully automatic and under remote control from the Trinity House Depot at Harwich. On 20th September 1965 the keepers were withdrawn.
At this time the main navigation light was a 3KW 100V filament lamp. Recently new equipment has been installed and the lamp is now a 1KW 240V Mercury Vapour Discharge lamp.
So this lighthouse which was designed by the architect William Wilkins, the son of a Norwich plasterer and stucco worker, and built for Lord Braybrooke of Audley End is over 200 years old and has survived raids by privateers, storms, machine-gun fire and flying-bombs.