Lighthouses were designed to emit a light either through a series of lamps or lenses to serve as navigational aids to ships and boats as well as to mark dangerous coastlines and safe entries to harbours. Today there are four lighthouses that stand along the stretch of coast in Suffolk.
The history of Orfordness Lighthouse goes all the back to 1637 when a pair of wooden leading lights were constructed to aid in the navigation of safe passage for vessels. These lights stood for over one hundred years before they were replaced in 1780 by a pair of brick towers. However, coastal erosion brought the towers perilously close to the shore and actually collapsed the lower light. The landowner, Lord Braybrooke, foresaw this inevitably and built a new “high light” in 1792 in a different position and this is where the lighthouse stands today. The old high light then functioned as the “low light” until it fell into the sea due to erosion in 1887. Rather than rebuilt a low light, in 1888 red and green sector lights were installed in order to indicate port and starboard.
In 1914 further modernisations were made to the lighthouse with the installation of a revolving opic and an additional light with fixed lenses below the lantern so that the sector lights shone from the windows of the tower. The lighthouse was electrified in 1959 and in 1964 it became the first lighthouse to be monitored by telemetry from Harwich. The keepers were withdrawn from the lighthouse the following year and the lighthouse was decommissioned in 2013 due to the encroaching sea. The power of the light at Southwold Lighthouse was increased in order to help compensate for the closure of Orfordness Lighthouse. Despite efforts to save the lighthouse it is expected that it will survive for another seven or eight years before it falls into the sea.
You can read a more in depth history of Orfordness Lighthouse here.
Construction of Southwold Lighthouse began in 1887 and was completed in 1890. It stands at 31 metres tall and has 113 steps in a spiral staircase. Two keeper’s cottages were built beside the lighthouse rather than the living quarters being constructed within the lighthouse itself. The structure replaced three other lighthouses which had been condemned due to serious coastal erosion. The lantern used in the lighthouse was taken from Happisburgh low lighthouse on the Norfolk coast which was also demolished, and later rebuilt, due to coastal erosion. The light was powered by a six-wick argand oil burner but 6 days after the light was commissioned there was a fire in the lighthouse which destroyed the burner. In 1906 an oil-fired light replaced the burner which was in turn replaced in 1923 with a petroleum burner. The lighthouse was electrified and automated in 1938 and converted to battery operation in 2001. In 2005 Southwold and Pakefield were threatened with closure due to shipping companies using satellite navigation systems as opposed to relying on lighthouses, however both lighthouses were reprieved in 2009 following a review that found satellite navigation systems were not sufficiently reliable.
The lighthouse at Pakefield was commissioned by Trinity House and built in 1832 to assist vessels passing through the channel between two sandbanks into Lowestoft. The tower, which stands at 9 metres tall, and keeper’s accommodation were built within the Pakefield Hall estate and are situated on low cliffs which overlook the sea. The light was powered by argand lamps which produced a white light that could be seen for 9 nautical miles. The colour of the light was changed to red as some ships confused the white light with that of the light shining off the windows of nearby houses. The lighthouse was used until 1864 when it was decommissioned due to the channel having moved further south.
The lighthouse was abandoned until the 1920s when it was purchased by the owners of Pakefield Hall. The grounds were used as a campsite which would one day become a Pontis holiday camp. Prior to the Second World War the tower was used as an observation point in 1938 by the Royal Observer Corps who were checking for any possible sea or air invasion force. The roof and the lantern were removed from the lighthouse in order to improve visibility for this task. The tower was used throughout the war with Auxiliary Territorial Service personnel stationed at the site and the campsite was used as a transit camp. The lighthouse was attacked during an air raid in Lowestoft in 1943 and in 1944 a V-1 doodlebug was spotted heading towards the lighthouse only for the aircraft to crash into the sea at the base of nearby cliffs.
After the Second World War the lantern was reinstalled and the lighthouse was purchased by Pontins in 1958 and in the 1960s i was used as a darkroom by the camp’s official photographers and the resident photographer lived in the keeper’s house. The house has since been demolished and in 2000 the tower was renovated by voluntary workers from the Pakefield Coastwatch group. Today the lighthouse is used by the group as a coastal reconnaissance station.
Over the past few centuries there have been several lighthouses built in Lowestoft.
The first two were constructed in 1609 as a response to petitions from shipowners and merchants who lost cargo and vessels. The lighthouses were lit with tallow candles to give warning to passing vessels of the dangerous sandbanks around the coast. The lighthouses also navigated vessels through the Stamford Channel, an inshore passage which no longer exists today, but was used by smaller ships and boats.
These lighthouses were rebuilt twice more, in 1628 and in 1676. At the time of the second rebuilding one of the lighthouses was moved to the cliffs above the Denes to assist vessels further out to sea, dubbed the “High Light”. The remaining “Low Light” was discontinued in 1706 due to sea encroachment but was reestablished years later in 1730 as an oil light. The lighthouse was built so that it could be easily moved should sea encroachment again threaten its position. This lighthouse was discontinued in the August of 1973.
The lighthouse which stands today in Lowestoft, called the Lowestoft High Lighthouse, was built in 1874 on the site of the 1676 High Light with the intention of displaying an electric light. The existing tower was not deemed strong enough to bear the weight of the new equipment so a new tower was built. When the lighthouse opened paraffin oil was used instead and it was not electrified until 1936. The lighthouse was automated in 1975 and the light has a range of 23 nautical miles. The lighthouse, and its two cottages which were used by lighthouse keepers, is a Grade II listed building.
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