Grade II listed Orfordness Lighthouse at risk from the sea

Southwold beach houses on the coast of Suffolk near Orfordness Lighthouse
1887 Southwold Lighthouse, built in the centre of the historic town of Southwold along the coast from nearby Orfordness Lighthouse

An impressive Grade II Listed decommissioned lighthouse, built on Orford Ness on the Suffolk coastline, now stands on its own peninsula and is at risk of falling into the sea. 

Once a remote and uninhabited spit of land, where over 30 ships were lost in just one great storm in 1627, wooden lights were built in the area in 1637 to protect seafarers from the dangers. These were replaced in 1780 by a pair of brick built towers. One of the towers collapsed just twelve years later, due to shore erosion. Orfordness Lighthouse as we see it today was built in a new position in 1792 and modernised in 1914. It remained in use for 99 years and was finally decommissioned in 2013 – due to the encroaching sea – and Southwold Lighthouse now compensates for its loss with increased light power.

Volunteers at Orfordness are fighting to save the 18th century lighthouse as it sits on the shrinking shingle area of the coast. It now lies only ten metres away from the sea and the gap has halved in just four years.

The National Trust declined to take the building on when it was offered to them free, saying that the building should be one of ‘controlled ruination’, so the Orfordness Lighthouse Company was formed. Trustees have set up an urgent appeal for repairs as any future storms or strong winds will further erode the area and cause damage to the building.

Mr Nicholas Gold, from the Lighthouse Trust, said that if the work wasn’t carried out within a few weeks “the lighthouse will in all likelihood not be standing in a year’s time. It is perilously close to falling in the sea”.

It is hoped the appeal will raise enough cash to build better sea defences and to shore up the beach with bags of shingle. Mr Gold bought the lighthouse in 2013 from the lighthouse authority Trinity House and the Ordfordness Lighthouse Trust has already spent £20,000 bolstering the seas defences over the past two years. A long term solution such as building a steel wall around the front of the lighthouse buildings would cost around £190,000 and would last approximately 20 years.

Marine Archaeologist, Stuart Bacon, is pessimistic, saying: “I think anything done to try to protect the lighthouse will be an absolute waste of time, unless you spend millions of pounds on rock defences right away along the edge of Orfordness, which will not happen and I am sure the National Trust would not want this as it would spoil the natural environment. If you put steel pilings in, the sea would go round it and the lighthouse would become an island and still be lost.” Now retired, Mr Bacon was director of the Suffolk Underwater Studies, and the organisation’s records and exhibits have passed to the Orfordness Lighthouse Trust.

Whatever action is taken, ultimately the lighthouse will fall into the sea at some point. So, another consideration may be to move the building entirely. Mr Bacon thinks this is the best answer, effectively moving the lighthouse backwards away from the edge to protect the building for longer .  He said the plan had been successful further along the south coast, but did not know how much the relocation would cost.

The beach around the lighthouse is owned by the Lighthouse Trust and is on an important nature reserve owned by the National Trust.

With a similar issue in Dunwich, the Trust bought 36 acres of nearby farmland to allow roll-back when erosion happened, but Orfordness is more difficult as it has the Alde and Ore rivers to contend with as well as the sea.

Mr Bacon said: “We are working as a collective with the Alde and Ore Partnership as well as the Lighthouse Trust and others, as these issues cannot be dealt with in isolation.”

There is more information and details on how to visit the lighthouse at Orfordness Lighthouse Trust.

When buying a new property in Suffolk or elsewhere in England or Wales, always have an independent building survey carried out by an independent Chartered Surveyor. Contact Property Surveying to get in touch with your local independent qualified Chartered Surveyor.


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