Aerial photo By Marinas.com More images available
Now a luxury B&B, but with a long history, and with spectacular views, from this position you can get a 360 degree view.
Now decommissioned, replaced by Beachy Head Lighthouse nearby, this landmark has been moved and is now converted into house. It has also been used in TV dramas and films.
The Belle Tout Lighthouse, which can also be spelled Belle Toute Lighthouse, is located at Beachy Head, East Sussex.
In 1999, the Grade II listed building was moved in one piece to prevent it from falling into the sea due to coastal erosion. As erosion continues it will need to be moved again. How far is was moved back varies from one report to another, but 50ft is a common distance to appear. In the future it will be moved back again.
During 2009 and early 2010 it has been converted into a B&B and the B& B opened its doors in March 2010.
Beachy Head saw numerous shipwrecks in the 17th and early 18th centuries and a petition to erect a lighthouse started around 1691. The calls were ignored for over 100 years until 'The Thames', an East Indiaman, crashed into the rocks of Beachy Head. The petition gained momentum with the support of a Captain of the Royal Navy, and Trinity House, the official lighthouse authority, agreed to attend to the matter. Having witnessed the incident himself, John 'Mad Jack' Fuller, MP for Sussex, used his influence and some of his personal wealth to fund the lighthouse construction.
The first Belle Tout lighthouse was a temporary wooden structure that started service on 1 October 1828. The construction of the permanent granite lighthouse began in 1829 and it became operational on 11 October 1834. Some sources list the builder or architect as James Walker. Its use of 30 oil lamps meant that the lighthouse would require 2 gallons of oil every hour.
Photos on an old postcard show it as a round tower as now, but with a single story keepers house with a normal pitched roof but very tall chimneys. It is sitting in the ground so that the lower different look at the bottom of later photos is in the ground. This puts the single floor of the light keepers house where the upper floor is now. If I can find a better version or have time to restore the card I have seen, I will add it here at some point.
Decommission and Sale
The lighthouse was not as successful as had been hoped, with two significant flaws leading to an alternative being sought.
The Belle Tout ceased operation in 1899, and the new Beachy Head Lighthouse came into service on the 2 October 1902. The new 31m tall lighthouse was built at the bottom of the cliffs around 165m from the cliff face.
Trinity House sold off the building in 1903, after which time it changed hands several times. One purchaser was Sir James Purves-Stewart, who constructed an access road and upgraded the building. At one time it was tea shop.
During the Second World War the building was left empty. It was badly damaged by Canadian artillery fire, although the lighthouse itself was not the target, the guns were firing at wooden silhouettes of tanks which ran up the hill along rails to the east of building. The trace of the railway track can still be seen.
After the local council took ownership in 1948, the decision was made to restore the lighthouse because of its historical significance. Building work was carried out under lease in 1956 and the lighthouse was brought up to date with modern amenities.
In 1986, the BBC purchased the lease to Belle Tout for the filming of the mini-series The Life and Loves of a She-Devil and a year later it featured in the James Bond film The Living Daylights.
From 1996 the lighthouse has been used as a family home and, in 2007, the building was put up for sale again. It now includes six bedrooms and large walled gardens, but the approach road remains mere inches from the cliff.. (more on this below).
The lighthouse was further immortalised in the song "Belle Tout" by British rock band Subterraneans, and in the movie B Monkey starring Asia Argento. The glass round room which once housed the light itself was featured on the popular BBC television show Changing Rooms, where it was re-designed by celebrity interior designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.
By 1999 the erosion of the cliffs was threatening the foundations of the building and drastic steps had to be taken to stop it from falling into the sea. On 17 March 1999 in a remarkable feat of engineering work the Belle Tout was moved 17 metres (56ft) away from the cliff face. The 850-ton lighthouse was moved using a pioneering system of hydraulic jacks which pushed the building along four steel-topped concrete beams that were constantly lubricated with grease. The site should now be safe for some years and has been designed to enable further moves as and when they are required.
Belle Toute Lighthouse Preservation Trust
The "Belle Toute Lighthouse Preservation Trust" was formed in 2007 to bring together a non-profit organisation that could raise the funds to purchase the lighthouse, so that it could be opened as a tourist attraction and Bed and Breakfast. The trust was wound up in May 2008, after the building was bought by another purchaser before they could raise the necessary funds.
Restoration and Conversion to a Bed and Breakfast
In January 2010, the lighthouse appeared on Channel 5 in a programme named Build a New Life in the Country. This showed how it was purchased in 2008 and converted into a luxury bed and breakfast. It had been bought for £500,000 and a further £700,000 was spent restoring it. The original access road was too close to the edge of the cliff, the payment of an easement fee to build a new road had to be negotiated with the local council.
The owners are reported as having saying that they think the lighthouse will have to be moved again within the next 20 years.
The photos here show a part of its development.
Photo by Paul Russon April 2005
Photo by Raymond Knapman July 2009 During conversion to a B&B.
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