Beachy Head

Beachy Head Lighthouse
Beachy Head
Current Version Built:
Height (ft):
Sir Thomas Matthews
Trinity House

Beachy Head is the southernmost extremity of the cliff-lined coastline between Seaford and Eastbourne, and is the tallest chalk cliff in the UK, at a height of 162 metres. A light was built atop the Belle Toute headland just over a mile west of Beachy Head in 1832 but was plagued by issues regarding its position and height; being atop the cliffs meant that it was frequently obscured by fog, and at close range it’s light could be obscured by the cliffs themselves.

By the turn of the 20th century a new lighthouse was needed. Advances in lighthouse construction methods and lighting technology meant that it was now much more feasible to build a much more effective light at the base of the cliffs.

Designed by Sir Thomas Matthews, work on the new tower sited at the base of Beachy Head commenced in 1900, with construction of a coffer dam and a large pile platform complete with a steam crane located in one corner. An aerial tramway between the platform and the clifftop was built to lower materials, tools and even workers to the worksite. The tower was assembled over the next two years and was made up of 3660 tons of Cornish Granite blocks, each dovetailed to lock together to give the tower strength.

The old belle tout lighthouse remained in service throughout the construction of Beachy Head lighthouse, but a fixed red light was shown from the site of the new tower at the same time.

Beachy Head lighthouse was completed in 1902 and was lit for the first time on October 2nd of that year, at which time Belle Tout light was finally decommissioned, with Trinity House selling the old lighthouse the following year.

Beachy Head lighthouse was Sir Thomas Matthew's only offshore wave-washed lighthouse, and the last major rock lighthouse to be built in Britain.

The iconic tower stands 43 metres in height and is painted white with a single red stripe across its middle. The gallery, railings, lantern and roof are also painted red. The lighthouse contains a huge first order Fresnel lens, which prior to decommissioning gave 2 White Flashes Every 20 Seconds was visible for over 20 nautical miles.

The white light was only operated by Parafin for 18 years before being converted to electricity in 1920. A jib for the use of explosives as a fog signal was installed on the lanterns roof in 1902 and remained in service until the 1980s, when it was replaced by a simpler and safer electric horn giving a 6 second blast every 30 seconds - this has now been discontinued and no fog signal is operational at Beachy Head.

The light was automated in 1983 and the keepers left on 28th June of that year.

In 2011 Trinity House announced their intention to discontinue the light at Beachy Head, citing that the area was covered well by the Royal Sovereign light platform. A public backlash and opposition from local fishermen meant that Trinity House offered a compromise, retiring the original lens and replacing it with a simple LED light on the gallery railing, reducing the lighthouse's range to only 8 nautical miles.

Around the same time the lighthouse was starting to look rather shabby; the paintwork was faded and weathered and had begun to peel in areas. Trinity House had made clear that they intended to allow the iconic tower to revert to its natural stone finish over time, as they argued that GPS had meant that the red and white daymark was no longer required for navigational purposes and they could not justify the cost of a repaint, however on October 14th 2011 the Beachy Head Lighthouse 'Save Our Stripes' campaign was set up to help raise funds to repaint it. The campaign successfully raised the £45,000 required to repaint the tower and on November 14th 2011, Crown Paints agreed to provide all the required paint for the job, free of charge.

In 2018 the control system and solar panels were upgraded - like all other Trinity House lights, it is remotely monitored from Harwich, Essex.