The moving of Belle Tout lighthouse

See some historical and recent images of Belle Tout in the Postcard Section.

Additional information can be found on the pages of the contractor for the move Abbe Pynford Plc with a written account and an animation of the move and on BBC Online.


The Argus 16-07-1998

by Alex Watts
The countdown to the ultimate cliffhanger for the most famous lighthouse in Sussex is under way. Leaseholders Mark and Louise Roberts will find out next Thursday whether they have won their lottery bid to save historic Belle Tout at Birling Gap, near Eastbourne, from falling into the sea.
If successful, it would be the first time in the world that a lighthouse has been shifted, lock, stock and barrel. The South Downs Lighthouse Trust, the chanty overseeing the bold plans, has launched a 250,000 rescue operation to move the threestorey lighthouse more than 50ft back from the crumbling cliff edge. Years of chalk falls have left the 164-year-old landmark perilously close to crashing into the sea. When it was built on the 280ft cliffs it was more than lOOft from the edge. Now it is just 30ft.
Australian-born businessman Mark, 33, who moved into the lighthouse with his 29-year-old wife Louise in December 1996, is used to living on the edge. He said: "This funding is crucial for the survival of Belle Tout. Without it, the lighthouse is likely to fall into the sea.
"We are fighting a race against time. It's like a war between us and nature and we are trying to retreat quicker than she advances." A spokeswoman for Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society said: "I've heard of moving buildings before, but never lighthouses. Something should be done to preserve it and we wish them the best of luck."
Mark wants to turn the lighthouse into a museum. It will be open to the public for the first time on September 12 and 13 as part of Heritage Open Days 98, co-ordinated by the Civic Trust with funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Belle Tout, which was the setting for the BBC series The Life And Loves Of A She Devil starring Dennis Waterman and Julie T. Wallace, was last used as a working lighthouse in 1902. Cliff erosion and thick sea mists meant the light was obscured at times, so it was succeeded by the Beachy Head Lighthouse.

Lighthouse that's a mobile home

The Argus 04-09-1998

Work will start next week to prevent an historic lighthouse failing into the sea. The Belle Tout lighthouse at Beachy Head has to be moved 50 feet inland to save it from coastal erosion in the first such operation in the world. But first the land behind must be excavated in case work is carried out on to p of archaeological remains. The Duke of Gloucester will turn the first piece of soil on Wednesday.
The foundation of the 600-tonne granite lighthouse will be lifted on to huge tracks and slid away from the cliff face. It will be moved on to a foundation built at the new location and will take between two and six hours to move. The project will cost 250,000 and has been paid for by the South Downs Light house Trust, a charity set up to preserve Belle Tout. When the lighthouse has moved, work will begin on a museum showing its history.
Belle Tout opened in 1834, but had a working life of only 64 years because its light was hard to see on foggy days. It had a brief spell as a tea room before becoming a luxury house once visited by King George V. Mark Roberts, who lives in. the lighthouse, said: "It is a wonderful lighthouse, the only one with full-time residents in England."

Race to save family's teetering lighthouse

The Argus 16-11-1998

A BATTLE continued today to stop a famous Sussex clifftop lighthouse crashing 350ft into the sea. The family living in converted Belle Tout Lighthouse, near Eastbourne, had to flee their home when 30ft of cliff dramatically crumbled away.
The rock fall left the lighthouse at Birling Gap just 12ft from the cliff edge. Urgent work was under way today in preparation for moving Belle Tout, famous as the location for the BBC drama The Life and Loves of a She-Devil.
Australian-born Mark Roberts, 33, who lives there with wife Louise, 29, and nine-month-old daughter Haven, said: "She's sitting right on the edge and further cracks are developing. "When the cliff collapsed it was a very eerie feeling. It was our worst nightmare come true. We have worked for two years and to hear the cliff crashing into the sea was terrible. "We got the baby, jumped into the car and drove away as quickly as we possibly could." He added: "It has now become a total race against time. We either move the lighthouse or Mother Nature will claim her."
There have been two major landfalls at Birling Gap in the past six weeks. The 165-year-old lighthouse, now a B&B, was to due be moved 50ft inland this summer because of the risk. But work will now start in February.
Before it moves, the land behind Belle Tout has to be excavated, in case transporting the 600-tonne granite structure on rollers damages historical remains. Workmen were today digging new inland foundations. Environment Agency spokesman Ray Kemp said: "Global warming means the whole Sussex coastline is going to be increasingly under threat."

Pulling power of 93 year-old

The Eastbourne Herald 19-03-1999

OPERATION Belle Tout provided a welcome homecoming for 93-year old former resident Joy Cullinan. She took centre stage gathering almost as much attention as the lighthouse itself. The bubbly Mrs Cullinan lived at Belle Tout from 1955-1980. On Wednesday at 9.l5am, her big moment came. She was handed the honour of pulling the lever which started Belle Tout moving.
Afterwards, she told how it may never have come about if it hadn't been for her family. She said, 'Eastbourne had it on their hands for about 10 years after the war. There were always accidents and kids climbing over it. They were on the point of demolishing it.' Instead, Mrs Cullinan's family took over in 1955, on the condition they built living quarters.
Thanks to an aspiring architect in the family, they actually designed them too. Mrs Cullinan's son Edward did the honours aged just 18-years-old. In 1963 her husband died, but Mrs Cullinan couldn't bear to leave the lighthouse. Around 15 of her family, which includes four children, 13 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren, joined her on Wednesday. Granddaughter Joanna Owen, 37, recalled her Belle Tout visits. She said, 'We used to come every school holiday. We used to have a great time up here.' On one occasion in the 1970s, she arrived to find no sign of her grandmother. She said, 'We couldn't find her anywhere then we saw she had climbed down the cliff a little way.' Mrs Owen said, 'I really must thank the Herald. I have had a friend sending me cuttings for the last two years to tell me what has been happening.'

From The Guardian 26-01-1999