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Belle Tout Lighthouse

Beachy Head, Eastbourne, Sussex

Featured Location Guide

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 cliff-top location caused problems when sea mists obscured the light, significantly reducing the distance that it would reach.

  • Vessels that sailed too closely to the rocks would not be able to see the light because it was blocked by the edge of the cliff, however, the cliffs of Beachy Head suffered intense coastal erosion over the years and the rocky area started to be covered by the light.

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.

Coastal Erosion

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.

You can read the Observer report on the sale of the lighthouse in March 2008 here and report of the buyers plans published in the local paper, the Argus, here.

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 B& B opened its doors in March 2010, click here for information on the B&B

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 right Christine Mathews

Aug 2005

Image below Patrick Guelle showing the old base the lighthouse was moved from as it was in 2003, on the edge of the cliff.

See Larger Image


Information for this guide came from Wikipedia, with additional information from other sources including Trinity House. Additional history and old photos are available on the B&B history page.

See also Beachy Head lighthouse   which is nearby and replaced this one.


Photo by Raymond Knapman  July 2009  During conversion to a B&B.

Lighthouse information Grid


Belle Tout Lighthouse, nr Beachy Head, Eastbourne, Sussex

Current status:

Not in Use, not used since 1899 as a lighthouse.

Now converted to a B&B

Geographic Position:

50 44′ 17.52″ N, 0 12′ 52.2″ E

Grid Reference:


Ceremonial County:



14m tall  cliff top tower.

Round stone tower with lantern and gallery attached to modern 2 storey residence. Tower unpainted, lantern painted white

Map Link:

Multimap   Get-a-map

Aerial photo:

Marinas.com   Google satellite view.

Other photos:

Geograph     Photo    photo

photo  showing the lighthouse on cliff edge before being moved

Originally built:


Current lighthouse built:


Height of Tower:

14 metres (47ft) on top of 90 metre tall cliff

Height of light above mean sea level:


Character of light:


Character of fog signal:


Range of light:

When it was functioning 20 miles

Owned / run by:

Now privately owned and run as a B&B

The Belle Tout Lighthouse Company Limited 

Belle Tout Lighthouse

Beachy Head


East Sussex

BN20 0AE

Getting there:

See maps Located off Beachy Head Road about 6km (3.5 mi) southwest of Eastbourne.


Easily seen from cliff top walks


Belle Tout B&B (Tel 01323 423185)

Website of the trust set up to save the lighthouse but since shut

Other Useful Websites:


Other Relevant pages:

For more articles, lists and other information see the Lighthouses Section

Lighthouse Map of England and Wales

Featured List of Lighthouses - England and Wales  

List of Minor Lighthouses and Lights - England and Wales

Beachy Head Lighthouse  


You can stay in this B&B see above

Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Grid or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Keith Park   Section:  Lighthouses Section Key:
Page Ref: Belle_Tout_lighthouse Topic: Lighthouses Last Updated: 06/2010


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