March 2018 marks the 19th anniversary of Abbey Pynford moving the famous Belle Tout Lighthouse back from the edge of a cliff where it nearly met its end due to coastal erosion.
The history of Belle Tout
Due to many shipwrecks occurring in the area, a wooden lighthouse was constructed on the top of the cliffs of Beachy Head in 1928. This was successful in helping ships to avoid the coast, so much so that a more permanent lighthouse was commissioned to be known as Belle Tout. The Belle Tout Lighthouse was constructed in 1832 on the site of the previous wooden lighthouse on the top of the cliffs.
The constant corrosion of the cliffs reduced its effectiveness until it was decommissioned in 1902 to be replaced by another lighthouse built at the base of the cliff. From then on it had a very interesting history:
1903 – In 1903 it was sold by Trinity House and changed hands many times.
1923 – The lighthouse was purchased by Sir James Purves-Stewart, a surgeon and author.
1939-1945 – It was evacuated during the war and used for target practice by Canadian Troops, being damaged by shells.
1948 – It was taken over by the council due to its historical significance.
1956 – It was then leased out to Dr Edward Revill Cullinan who modernised the building including installing features such as septic tank, mains electricity and water.
1962 – The lease was then sold again and it changed hands many times.
1986 – In 1986 the BBC purchased it and used it in the making of Fay Weldon’s “Life and Loves of a She-Devil”.
1996 – It was purchased by Mark and Louise Roberts to convert to a family home.
1999 – Due to the constant corrosion fears that had blighted the lighthouse since its construction, Abbey Pynford were asked to help intervene and move the lighthouse.
How it was moved
Our Chairman, Paul Kiss, explains the process of moving the incredible structure to BBC News.
The lighthouse weighs 850 tons, so moving it to its new foundations was no easy task. Twenty-two hydraulic jacks were used to carefully lift the building onto four steel-toped concrete beams. The jacks were then used to push the lighthouse along the beams which were constantly greased to keep the building moving.
Belle Tout was successfully moved 17 metres (56 feet) back from the edge of the cliff but with the cliff continuing to erode the lighthouse will need to be moved again and with the current rate of erosion at 60cm each year this is likely to be in 25 years although it could be sooner.