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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Dutch Lighthouse Society Tours English South Coast

By Wim Andriesse
Dutch Lighthouse Society

From 18 through 21 May 2017, the Dutch Lighthouse Society visited some of the lighthouses on the English south coast, in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, in order to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Fifty men and women strong, we went by bus, crossing the Channel by ferry from Calais to Dover. We stayed three nights at the Hadleigh Hotel in Eastbourne.

South Foreland Lighthouse
South Foreland
Having landed at Dover, we started our endeavour by walking the beautiful coastal footpath above the White Cliffs to the South Foreland Lighthouse. Here, we were warmly received by members of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers, our English sister organisation, who knowledgably informed us on the history, architecture and technical aspects of this lighthouse. It was designed by James Walker and completed in 1843, measuring 21m on top of cliffs that rise some 100m up from the sea. Reportedly it was the world’s first to be electrified, in 1859. South Foreland’s main purpose was to safeguard ships from running aground on the Goodwin Sands which stretch some 16 miles below the coastal cliffs. In one of the lighthouse keepers’ houses, Mrs Knotts, a descendent of the famed Knotts generation of lighthouse keepers, runs her tearoom with tasty home-made cakes. South Foreland is owned and maintained by the National Trust.

Hurst Castle and Hurst Point Lighthouse
Hurst Castle
On Friday 19 May, we drove through the New Forest and picturesque Lymington to Keyhaven to board the Solent Rose which brought us to Hurst Castle and Hurst Point Lighthouse. Again, we were enthusiastically welcomed by members/volunteers of the ALK, including current chairman Neil Hargreaves. We were treated to ‘personalised tours’ of the castle, and to an outstanding lunch of sandwiches and cakes in the Garrison Theatre in the castle grounds. The museum, which opened in 2009, with a second room being added in 2013, has a rich collection of models, lamps, plans and curiosa making a visit worthwhile. Hurst Castle was established in 1544 by King Henry VIII, to guard the western entrance to the harbours of Southampton and Portsmouth, the latter including the home base of the Royal Navy. Within the castle there are two low lights, from 1866 and 1911 respectively, which used to line up with the main high light, located outside the castle. As the Shingles Bank in the Solent kept shifting, the latter of the two low lights was built as a moveable steel construction. This, however, has never been put into practice. The metal tower, originally painted bright red, is now painted dull grey so as not to mislead seafarers’ eyes. The light, which is now owned by English Heritage, was discontinued in 1997. The older, brick low light is also the property of English Heritage, as is Hurst Castle itself.

The DLS/ALK group photo in Hurst Castle
Hurst Point Lighthouse
To us, Hurst Point Lighthouse was a photographic beauty, lying as it did under a superb blue and white cloudy sky. The white and green painted brick lighthouse dates from 1867, replacing an older high light from 1812. It stands at 26m, with a light character of Fl (4) WR 15s. The service floor below the main light supports a red, green and white sector light driven by a high-intensity projector. The lighthouse is not open to the public, but we all enjoyed seeing the old acetylene plant next to the lighthouse with its four impressive tanks, which provided gas to burn the light from 1922 to 1965.  Hurst Point Lighthouse is owned and managed by Trinity House.
St. Catherine’s Lighthouse
St Catherine’s Lighthouse
On our ‘Isle of Wight Day’ we were pleasantly surprised again to be so well-received by ALK colleagues. This time it was at St. Catherine’s Lighthouse near Niton Undercliffe. St. Catherine’s was designed by James Walker ─ whom we know from South Foreland ─ in 1838. The original lighthouse was built as a single 40m high stone tower. However, as its light was often obscured by orographic cloud, hence the height of the tower was reduced by 13m in 1875. The lighthouse consists of a bright white and green crenelated tower and is part of a small compound with a number of
The plum bob inside St. Catherine’s Lighthouse
light-keepers houses and offices. Some of these are rented out to the public; great for lighthouse buffs like us. The light character of St. Catherine’s is
Fl W 5s. The lighthouse is being threatened by subsidence, steadily pushing the structure seaward.  As an initial remedy, in 1932, another tower was built immediately alongside, and leant against, the main tower. This, however, was to little avail as evidenced by a plumb line hanging in the lighthouse (see photo).  St Catherine’s was constructed when it appeared that an earlier light ─ St. Catherine’s Oratory ─ positioned to the west and higher uphill, was too often hidden in orographic cloud. Unfortunately, our full travel schedule did not allow us to walk up to this so-called Pepperpot.

The Needles Lighthouse
The Needles
A little disappointment awaited our group at the Needles as it appeared a wedding party had hired the small boat that normally takes visitors from Alum Bay coloured sands out to sea to circle the Needles and its iconic lighthouse. Therefore we had to revert to walking the cliffs and view the Needles from above, at the Old Battery. A spectacular sight indeed, particularly since a Naval helicopter was busy flying up and down the tower. The helipad on top of the lighthouse was constructed in 1987. The Needles Lighthouse, 31m high, stands at the end of a series of limestone teeth rising from the ocean waters. It was constructed from granite in 1858. The light is at 24m above MHW, and its character is Oc (2) WRG 20s.  The original light used paraffin oil which, in 1946, was replaced by electricity from two diesel generators on the ground floor. Since 1994 the lighthouse has been connected to the national grid.  Like South Foreland and St. Catherine’s, the Needles was designed by James Walker.  It is being operated by Trinity House.

Beachy Head Lighthouse
Beachy Head and Belle Tout Lighthouses
Beachy Head at sunset: boy, were we lucky! From the limestone cliffs, high above the sea, we were offered a marvellous view of the small, red and white lighthouse ─ 33m high, light at 31m, some 162m down from the South Downs. The tower stands some 165m seawards from the base of the cliffs beneath us. Beachy Head, designed by Sir Thomas Matthews, is from 1902, and built of granite and concrete. We learned that a cableway was constructed to transport materials from the cliffs down to the lighthouse base, including over 3660 tons of Cornish granite. The original light was a Matthews-designed incandescent oil burner. In 1920 it was electrified using diesel generators and in 1975 the tower was connected to the mains. The light character is Fl (2) 20s. For 80 years Beachy Head was manned by three lighthouse keepers, until in 1983 when the light was automated.

Belle Tout Lighthouse
Some 500m west of the Beachy Head viewpoint we saw Belle Tout Lighthouse, its predecessor, high on the South Downs. As a matter of fact, this location, some 150m above HSL, was too high for the light to be of use during the frequently occurring orographic cloud in the area. Therefore, Belle Tout, having been built in 1834, was decommissioned by Trinity House in 1902. Moreover, steady erosion of the cliffs undermined this national heritage monument and, in 1999, it was moved some 15m inland in its entirety. Belle Tout, a popular location in many films e.g. James Bond’s “The Living Daylights” and TV series, now houses a Bed & Breakfast facility. The stone tower is 14m high.

The Old Lighthouse at Dungeness
The Dungeness Lighthouses
On Sunday morning, having enjoyed our last English Breakfast of this trip, we embarked on a sunny ride through Sussex and Kent (Hastings, Rye and Romney Marsh) to the rather desolate surroundings of Dungeness. Here, amidst a landscape of gravelly shingle ridges, the Old Dungeness Lighthouse stood stark black and 46m high, against an immaculate blue sky. This Old Lighthouse is from 1904. In fact it is the fourth lighthouse at this location, the first light having been erected in 1615. Renewals were necessary because of the ever-expanding shingle ridge coastline. Lighthouse keepers’ premises are in the form of a roundhouse next to the Old Dungeness tower. 

The Sector light inside the Old Lighthouse

They were constructed in 1792 along with the third Dungeness Lighthouse (1792-1904). Inside the tower is a nice souvenir shop that, with this Sunday’s 50 extra visitors, quickly ran out of miniature Dungeness Lighthouses. On the third floor a set of beautiful sector lights is being displayed (see photo). The Dungeness Lighthouse is now privately owned, and open to the public.

The Old Lighthouse at Dungeness
The new Lighthouse at Dungeness

Due to the construction of a nuclear power station nearby, the Old Dungeness Lighthouse had to be abandoned in 1961. A new lighthouse was then opened some 500m eastward on the headland. This round black and white lighthouse stands 40m tall and has a character of Fl 10s. The new tower was constructed of precast concrete rings, each 1.5m high, fitted one above the other. The black and white bands were impregnated upon pouring the concrete. A fog signal that originally was installed directly beneath the lights at 38m was replaced in 2000 by a set of amplifiers on the lower floor. The new lighthouse was automated in 1991. The tower is floodlit at night, to enhance visibility for mariners in the Channel and for migrating birds. The new lighthouse is operated by Trinity House and not open to the public.

As an add-on, the Dutch lighthouse enthusiasts all enjoyed watching the Southern Maid, a narrow-gauged passenger steam train from 1927, plying its touristic trade along the 20km track between Hythe and Dungeness.

What did we learn?
In addition to the new lighthouses that we now can add to our bucket lists, members of the Dutch Lighthouse Society have learned with much interest about the way lighthouses in the UK are being maintained and operated by Trinity House, a charity dedicated to safeguarding shipping and seafarers, with a statutory duty as the General Lighthouse Authority to deliver navigation services. Through port levies, Trinity House is being paid for by ships calling in at British ports.

Next, we observed that private initiatives abound in the UK to maintain lighthouses that have been disposed of by Trinity House. Both English Heritage and the National Trust are active in preserving lighthouses and keeping them open to the public. Moreover, a number of private persons and foundations are devoting financial and manpower resources to the upkeep of lighthouses, lightships and other aids to navigation. Renting out former lighthouse keepers’ premises appears to be successful.

Also, we are charmed by the Lighthouse Passport that, as we noticed, is being issued by the Association of Lighthouse Keepers. Passport holders may get it stamped upon visiting lighthouses and in that way, it serves to keep interest in lighthouses alive, not in the least among children and youth.

Lastly, we would like to thank all ALK members and other volunteers that led us around ‘their’ lighthouses, entertainingly providing us with invaluable insights and information. We are also indebted to the World Lighthouse Society to include this report in its Newsletter. 

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