We live on a shifting coastline which in the past has claimed many landmarks and dwellings – including most of the once thriving port of Dunwich. Now the sea is set to claim another slice of history as the owners of 228-year-old Orfordness lighthouse, which has been creeping closer to the sea due to years of coastal erosion, have confirmed it will be demolished.
Recent storms have compounded severe erosion of the beach beneath the Grade II-listed Lighthouse over the past years with the distance to the shoreline reduced from 20m (65ft) in 2005 to 10m (32ft) in 2015.
The recent damage caused by severe weather, including Storms Ciara and Dennis has meant Orfordness Lighthouse Trust, which looks after the building, have now taken the sad decision to have it demolished while some of its most iconic treasures can still be saved.
But East Suffolk Council do want to stress that this decision is not one that they themselves have forced upon the owners, and although their recent report said the building was in a dangerous condition – they only recommended an immediate action of demolishing the entrance porch and not the whole building.
The lighthouse was built in 1792 and decommissioned in June 2013, with electrical equipment and hazardous materials removed.
Volunteers from The Trust have spent five years shoring up the coastal defences with shingle sandbags to help preserve the vulnerable landmark and the surrounding buildings. However, a bunkhouse that stood next to the lighthouse for more than a century was destroyed by storms in October.
Following a site inspection last month, East Suffolk Building Control team advised the Orfordness Lighthouse Trust that the structure was in a dangerous condition due to exposed foundations on the entrance porch and a void between the base of these foundations and the ground. In order to remove this danger, the owners were advised to demolish the entrance porch and secure the access into the main lighthouse building.
Officers advised that the main lighthouse was a potentially dangerous structure and consideration should be given to its long-term future. However, officers did not feel the main lighthouse was in immediate danger and due to its remote location, it was not felt there were any safety risks to the public. Therefore, the Council did not issued a notice for its demolition.
The Lighthouse has obviously been at risk for some time and there was talk for a while of trying to move the lighthouse further inland – but the delicate eco system of Orfordness meant the large machinery needed could not get permission to go on site
OLT said “We have long known this day would come. In 2009 Trinity House determined (after a number of studies) that, for a raft of technical and regulatory reasons, their much loved lighthouse could not be maintained where she was nor could she be moved. They chose to decommission the lighthouse in June 2013, estimating that the building would survive only a short while before it succumbed to the sea.
This was the context in which Orfordness Lighthouse Trust took responsibility for the lighthouse. As a Trust we committed to defend Orfordness Lighthouse where it stood for as long as possible, and if possible to preserve the artefacts after that. We are proud that, through the application of the ‘shingle sausage’ defences, we kept the lighthouse standing for years longer than anyone envisaged.
We have enabled thousands of visitors, local and not so local, to visit the lighthouse and learn about this iconic feature of the Suffolk Coast. Orfordness Lighthouse has been used as a location for concerts, music videos, student films, television documentaries and even a few proposals of marriage. We have had great fun sharing the building and the history of the lighthouse with you and we know it has brought interest and a lot of joy to many people.”
No more visits will be permitted to the lighthouse.
Agreement has been reached with Anglian Demolition, from Attleborough, to carry out the demolition work in a way which enables the trust to preserve the key artefacts.
It is hoped a time lapse film of the demolition will be taken to preserve the memory for future generations.