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The story of one of the ten biggest buildings ever to be moved
The 850 ton Belle Tout Lighthouse sits on the cliff edge of Beachy Head. It's move back from the crumbling cliff edge brought it world-wide fame a few years ago. Now the full story is released by MyVoice as a colour hardback book by Elizabeth Wright.
In 1903, Trinity House sold off Belle Tout Lighthouse for £200.
In 2008 the building changed hands for £500,000.
David Shaw, the current owner, when he bought this piece of living history, said, ‘This was a purchase I made with my heart not with my head.’ It is a miracle Belle Tout is still standing, as this distinctive landmark on Beachy Head cliffs, in East Sussex, England, has survived de-commissioning, abandonment, being shot and shattered, reduced to a ruinous condition deemed only fit for demolition, and then, as the surrounding cliffs fell away, threatened with a watery grave 334 feet below.
Over a period of 20 years, author Elizabeth Wright has gathered together every scrap of available information on Belle Tout. The end result is an informative and fascinating book. This little lighthouse was actually the ‘Third Beachy Head Light,’ following on from Parson Darby’ lanterns, and ‘Mad’ Jack Fuller’s temporary wooden hut, each set up to warn passing sailing ships of the dangers of hidden reefs in an area known locally as the ‘Mariner’s Graveyard.’ Trinity house was eventually persuaded that a ‘proper’ lighthouse was urgently needed.
Built of Aberdeen granite blocks bought by barge and ox cart from Scotland to Sussex, Belle Tout’s warning light was first lit on 11th October 1834. But being wrongly sited, it never came up to expectations. De-commissioned, in 1903 it was sold off as a ‘private dwelling house,’ for £200, to local landowner, Carew Davis Gilbert.
There are in-depth chapters on each of Belle Tout’s owners, including the BBC, who used the building as a backdrop to film the four - part, award-winning series, ‘The Life and Loves of the She-Devil,’ starring Dennis Waterman and Patricia Hodge. Both the lighthouse and the grounds were given total makeovers, with occasional hold-ups from the erroneous ripping up of carefully planted flowers, falling trees, a cliff-hanging Rolls-Royce, exploding shells and naked women.
There was a King who came to visit, a duke who dug a piece of turf, and a makeover courtesy of BBC’s Changing Rooms. Included are the suicide and the ‘buy a brick’ financial scandal. The odd ghost has flitted through, and, during WW2, Belle Tout became a pop-shot target for bored Canadian troops sited on a nearby gunnery range.
But it was the incredible move that bought world wide fame to this lighthouse. Tottering on the edge of the crumbling cliffs, the only way to save Belle Tout was to pull all 850 tonnes of her back from this dangerous location. In a precise feat of engineering, and with media from all around the globe watching, the building was slowly slid 17 metres onto safer ground, and the owner, Louise Roberts said, ‘Not a single piece of glassware was broken.’
At the time of writing, Belle Tout is a top quality B&B. Owners David Shaw and wife Barbara spared no expense in the renovation, alterations and interior decoration. They had to cope with lengthy legalities and red tape when a new access road needed to be laid across council owned land, replacing the old track that was dangerously close to the crumbling cliff edge. A nightmare situation which, unresolved, could have destroyed their dreams.
'Belle Tout - the Little Lighthouse that Moved' can be ordered from all bookshops and is a hardback chock full of photos and drawings going back over a hundred years.