Orfordness Lighthouse Update:
Image CWH Media
• Demolition started
• Artefacts saved and history preserved
• Another chapter begins
One of East Anglia’s most iconic landmarks, Orfordness Lighthouse, despite the valiant efforts of a local group of volunteers, is finally having to admit defeat and is in the process of being demolished.
The encroaching North Sea has brought the life of this Grade 2 Listed building to an end after 228 years of safeguarding and providing a navigation mark for mariners. Following a detailed assessment and a review of all the options, it was concluded that for safety reasons alone, there was no acceptable alternative other than demolition.
A Brief History
This section of the coast has always been hazardous. In 1627 32 ships were wrecked in a single storm.
Over the years there have been 11 different lighthouses on Orford Ness. The earliest consisted of no more than wooden structures which burnt wood or coal. Apart from being vulnerable to pirates and the French (1707), many of these were washed away by the encroaching sea. The existing lighthouse was built in 1792 by Lord Braybrooke of Audley End and was lit by oil lamps.
The project wasn’t entirely altruistic. Passing cargo ships had to pay a fee every time they passed and, in today’s money, the revenue earned was about £ ½ million p.a. The fees were subsequently reduced with the Government sharing the revenue, until in 1836 the lighthouse was compulsorily acquired by Trinity House. They managed and improved the lighthouse until 2013. Initially the light came from wood, coal and then sperm whale oil. In 1959 the remaining light was converted and powered by electricity.
Until 1965 the lighthouse was manned by resident lighthouse keepers with their families living on site. Subsequently the light was controlled remotely by Trinity House from Harwich until June 2013, when the lighthouse was decommissioned because of the encroaching sea. It was then sold to Orfordness Lighthouse Company Limited with a view to the public being allowed access during its final years. This was achieved by setting up a registered charity, the Orfordness Lighthouse Trust.
Since 2013 many hundreds of visitors have had the opportunity to go up the lighthouse through the efforts of the Charity trustees and a core group of volunteers from Orford.
The demolition is being undertaken by Anglian Demolition from Attleborough, South of Norwich. This leading East Anglian firm has significant experience of dealing with projects of this magnitude.
The work involves saving as many of the historic artefacts as possible, including the original Braybrooke entrance plaque, items from the curved stairway, a magnificent wooden case to house the spare lamps and, most critically, the glazed lantern section at the top.
The works are likely to take a number of weeks and, quite apart from rescuing the key artefacts, will involve recycling most of the building’s components. In light of the sensitive and protected nature of the site, which is situated within a National Nature Reserve and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, particular care is being taken to avoid any unnecessary environmental damage.
Owing to the Covid situation, the Ness is unfortunately closed to visitors as social distancing cannot be achieved on the ferry passage over.
Upon completion of the demolition exercise, the lantern room and other artefacts will pass to the Orfordness Lighthouse Trust charity and when funds are available it is hoped that they will form the basis of a lighthouse memorial structure on land which has been earmarked on the other side of the Ness facing the Orford town quay.
Nicholas Gold, from Orfordness Lighthouse Company and a trustee of Orfordness Lighthouse Trust said:
“It is obviously a sad day. But the sea now washes against the base of the building and the entrance porch has been undermined. The cellar walls are exposed. For a number of years it was possible to hold concerts for supporters above the beach overlooking the sea. No longer. This last winter a couple of adjacent buildings, including a beautiful Victorian oil store, were taken by the sea and in recent months the lighthouse has become a hazard.”
“We have been incredibly fortunate. First, in the way that Trinity House allowed the lighthouse to be acquired and be looked after and visited by local people and others during its final years. Secondly, in having a fantastic group of local volunteers to make it happen and, thirdly, when it came to the demolition, in having the National Trust and a host of other agencies who were both co-operative and understanding during this difficult time.”
“Regrettably, we had little choice as the owner had to remove the risk of imminent injury. However, by demolishing it carefully, rather than letting it tumble into the sea, it should be possible to recover the main artefacts and preserve them for future generations.
“Light houses are magnificent symbols of man’s strength against the elements. The lighthouse has been a truly iconic landmark on the Orford and East Anglian skyline for generations. It would be a sadness to leave this stretch of the coastline naked for too long.
We have managed to secure a suitable site and all we need now is the funding for the building work.”
Nick Collinson, National Trust General Manager Suffolk & Essex Coast said
“Orford Ness Lighthouse has been an iconic landmark on this stretch of Suffolk’s coastline for centuries, and we are saddened to see it lost. Sitting on such a dynamic shingle spit, constantly changed by the sea, man’s presence here can often feel ephemeral. We are pleased to be working so closely with the Orford Ness Lighthouse team to ensure the building can be demolished safely and in a way that is appropriate to such a special place for wildlife and landscape.
We know everyone has been desperate to hear how Orfordness Lighthouse is doing after a raft of storms from October onwards, not least Ciara and Dennis just passed.
Please forgive our reticence in updating you- we have been hard at work securing the future of the Lighthouse’s artefacts and have not been in a position to state a clear way forward until now.
Almost immediately after volunteers hosted a visit from the children of Orford CEVAP school in October 2019, a severe storm hit Orford Ness, taking away the engineers’ bungalow and the sea-side concrete plinth around the base of the lighthouse itself. Where days before the kids had joined hands and formed a ring around the lighthouse, much of the ground on which they had stood had been stripped away. It was clear to us then that the long-avoided time had come to dismantle the lighthouse if there was to be any hope of preserving any of the artefacts.
Months of negotiations ensued, not only to find a suitable demolition company that could work to our modest budget, but also to find a way forward with ten separate statutory and other bodies who all have an interest in the outcome of Orfordness Lighthouse’s fate and her immediate, highly protected environment. During that process East Suffolk Council determined that Orfordness Lighthouse is now unsafe and ordered that it be taken down.
We have long known this day would come. In 2009 Trinity House determined (after a number of studies) that, for a raft of technical and regulatory reasons, their much loved Lighthouse could not be maintained where she was nor could she be moved. They chose to decommission the Lighthouse in June 2013, estimating that the building would survive only a short while before it succumbed to the sea.
This was the context in which Orfordness Lighthouse Trust took responsibility for the Lighthouse. As a Trust we committed to defend Orfordness Lighthouse where it stood for as long as possible, and if possible to preserve the artefacts after that. We are proud that, through the application of the “shingle sausage” defences, we kept the Lighthouse standing for years longer than anyone envisaged.
We have enabled thousands of visitors, local and not so local, to visit the Llighthouse and learn about this iconic feature of the Suffolk Coast. Orfordness Lighthouse has been used as a location for concerts, music videos, student films, television documentaries and even a few proposals of marriage. We have had great fun sharing the building and the history of the lighthouse with you and we know it has brought interest and a lot of joy to many people.
We have been fortunate to secure an agreement with Anglian Demolition, a company from Attleborough, to carry out the demolition work in a way which enables the Trust to preserve the key artefacts. In the lull between storms Ciara and Dennis plant was brought to site to make preparations to dismantle the building, demolishing the undermined oil-store and place the debris temporarily in front of the lighthouse to protect it from storm Dennis. They also managed a temporary repair of the track down from Aldeburgh and prepare the beach to provide a stable platform for the crane from RJ Cranes that will take down the Lantern Room from the top of the Lighthouse and then begin to take apart the rest of the building. We don’t have exact dates for the demolition to begin as everything is weather dependent but the intention is it will be in the next few weeks.
We know there are a few questions left unanswered; we’ve updated you with all the certainties at this point. Please bear with us and we’ll update you as the programme develops.
This does mean that there will be no more visits to Orfordness Lighthouse. We have had lots of requests from individuals and journalists requesting private visits. At this time our only focus has had to be the safe dismantling of the building and the preservation of the artefacts. . Unfortunately we do not have the capacity to take any visitors to the Ness. This process will be filmed as a time-lapse by the demolition company and this will be made available. With good binoculars you’ll be able to see some of this from the land.
We shall keep you posted!
The Orfordness Lighthouse Team
The Bungalow has been seriously damaged by High Tides and strong winds
Following extremely High Tides and strong winds over the weekend of the 28th/29th September, the Bungalow just below the Lighthouse has been seriously undermined and much of it has collapsed.
It is the current intention of Orfordness Lighthouse Trust to fence off the collapsed building and to demolish it as soon as can be arranged. This is to prevent the building being a danger to curious visitors and can also serve as an extra defence to the Lighthouse structure and the Oil Store.
The bungalow was built in the late 19th Century as outhouses to the cottages that stood either side of the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse was automated and the cottages were demolished in the 1960s and thereafter the Bungalow served as a bunk house for visiting engineers.
The Bungalow has been undermined in the past and the Orfordness Lighthouse Trust has carried out remedial work to shore up the shingle underneath it. Now with almost no beach in front of the Lighthouse this was no longer feasible.
The structure of the Lighthouse itself is still sturdy. Internal examinations of brickwork in the cellar (including a diamond drill through the 2m thick foundations) have proved that the bricks that make up its strcuture have not been infiltrated by damp and nor does the building show any cracks that would suggest the Lighthouse has been undermined. The temporary defences (The Geo-Textile "sausages") put down year after year by Orfordness Lighthouse Trust have worked well. The overall level of the beach is far lower and high-water mark far beyond the promontory the Lighthouse sits on.
For several reasons, including the nature of the fabric of the Lighthouse itself, the protected land it stands on and the nature of the erosion, we have long known that preserving Orfordness Lighthouse where she stands was only a short term aim.
Because of the very mobile nature of the shingle we have always caveated that a bad storm with winds in a certain direction could threaten the structure. Every winter since 2013 this has been possible. We have in fact been quite lucky that big storms, like the Beast from the East, have actually deposited shingle on the beach. We don't know how long we'll continue to be so lucky! The collapse of the Bungalow is a timely reminder that the sea and weather can undermine our assumptions and expectations just as quickly as they have the Bungalow.
We have no intention of letting her “fall into the sea” and never have. It has always been the stated aim of Orfordness Lighthouse Trust to keep the building standing and open to visitors for as long as possible, then to preserve the artefacts after that. We communicated recently that the lack of beach in front of the Lighthouse means that we can add no more temporary defences and therefore that dismantling the Lighthouse would have to happen sooner rather than later.
We are very proud to have taken hundreds (if not thousands!) of visitors to Orfordness Lighthouse over the past 6 years and have been supported by kind donations by our visitors and supporters near and far.
We shall keep you up to date with our progress and plans over the coming months, as well as how the Lighthouse is doing over the winter.
Our last visit of 2019 is already fully booked but if you’d like to stay in touch with us please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can add you to our mailing list.
How is the Lighthouse 2019?
A question we Trustees of Orfordness Lighthouse are asked so frequently!
The winter of 2018/2019 has thankfully not been quite as severe as last Winter, but it still had its moments. The beach in front of the lighthouse has retreated so much over the year that every high tide is in contact with the defences, and so has an effect. This effect is sometimes positive, bringing a bit more shingle up on the tide. But more often it is negative, taking shingle away and further undermining the Victorian water tanks and the bungalow cottage. The beach is now so narrow and steep in front of the lighthouse that we have not been able to add to the defences this year. There simply is not enough shingle to fill the rubble sacks, and no stable platform on which to place the "sausage rolls".
So it is the beginning of the end. This year while having the lighthouse open to visitors we will be planning its the dismantlement and the saving of the artifacts. Sad yes, but through generous donations and hard work by volunteers we have kept her open to 100s of visitors when it was predicted it would be in a ruinous state by 2015/16 when decommissioned in 2013.
Orfordness Lighthouse Trust remains committed to keeping the Lighthouse standing where it is for as long as possible, and remaining alive to the constant threat of the sea. It remains our intention to dismantle the Lighthouse and rebuild a replica elsewhere on the Ness. If you want to hear more about this plan, we'd recommend coming on one of our Open Days and we'll be glad to tell you more about it.
How Do We Book to Visit?
To book your places on any of the visits please email us at email@example.com with the number in your party and your preferred date. If you could include your name in the subject line, that would be very helpful, thank you. You can find a link to our email address at the bottom of this message.
Full details on how the visits run are listed on the Visits Page of our website here. We will also send a house keeping email the day before the visit with last-minute house keeping (which will mainly be about the weather!)
2019 VISIT DATES:
*There may be a further visit in October, TBC subject to demand and volunteer availability*
Find the link to email us below... we look forward to welcoming you!
How is the Lighthouse? March 2018
A question we Trustees of Orfordness Lighthouse are asked so frequently!
The winter of 2017/2018 has been quite fierce with frequent Easterly winds combined with high tides. The very cold weather and strong winds in late February/early March took a fair bite at the defences but they did their job and the structure of the Lighthouse stands strong. Sadly one of the exposed Victorian water tanks has now collapsed and the 1960's bungalow has been further undermined, but our main concern is the building itself and she is just fine and looking forward to welcoming visitors in 2018 shortly after Easter.
The effectiveness of the defences is very clear - the Lighthouse itself now stands on its own little peninsula, with the high water mark of the rest of the beach now behind the Lighthouse. Had we not placed the defences, it is certain that the Lighthouse would have already been undermined.
Orfordness Lighthouse Trust remains committed to keeping the Lighthouse standing where it is for as long as possible, and remaining alive to the constant threat of the sea. When the time comes, barring a very significant change of circumstances, we intend to dismantle the Lighthouse and rebuild a replica elsewhere on the Ness.
If you want to hear more about this plan, we'd recommend coming on one of our Summer Open Days and we'll be glad to tell you more about it.
An application to install defences for the lighthouse was considered and approved by Suffolk Coastal District Council. Public support was vital to convince the council to approve the plan.