Video: What hidden treasures lie within Orfordness Lighthouse? Charitable trust opens the iconic landmark to the public before it’s taken by the sea
13:00 14 April 2014
For centuries it served as a beacon of security, offering safe passage for thousands of seafarers.
Now, as the sea it once guarded over grows perilously close, the end of Orfordness Lighthouse looms near.
But before the iconic landmark is lost to the waves, a final chance to view it in all its glory has been made possible.
Nicholas Gold, founding member of the Orfordness Lighthouse Trust, opened the building’s once hidden interior on Saturday for the first of many planned public visits.
“It’s one of the most fabulous and iconic features of the East Anglian coastline,” he said.
“People were saying it’s such a shame that it’s going to fall into the sea so I wanted to revere it in its final days.”
Built in 1792 by Lord Braybrooke, the lighthouse has enjoyed a fascinating history over its two centuries on the coast.
Once a hugely profitable source of revenue, charging a penny for every tonne of passing cargo, it became shrouded in secrecy from 1913, when the military arrived, closing much of the Ness to the public.
Although the National Trust has reopened the surrounding landscape, the lighthouse itself has remained off limits – until now.
“People have been knocking on my door saying what wonderful news it is,” said Mr Gold.
More than a dozen local residents were ferried across for the first public opening in more than a century.
As they climbed the winding staircase, examples of Victorian engineering were revealed, from the impressive optics, which once lay on a one-tonne bed of mercury, to the communication pipelines and finely crafted furnishings.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” said Andrew Curtis, a 74-year-old Orford resident.
“I would strongly advise other people to come here while the chance is there.
“It’s a unique building with lots of interesting Victorian artefacts, some lovely craftsmanship and is a real historic part of our heritage.”
From the top of the 30m tall lighthouse, where its powerful beam once shone 24 miles out to sea, visitors were rewarded with spectacular views of the Suffolk coastline.
“They are just incredible, stunning views of the isolated landscape,” said Mr Gold.
“In the 18th Century, a building of 100ft, right on the coastline, must have instantly become an iconic structure that struck a chord with mariners and landlubbers alike.”
Many of the visitors were shocked by the scale of the coastal erosion, which has left just seven metres between the base of the tower and the coast.
Though the Orfordness Lighthouse Trust, with the help of local fishermen, has since built new defences to slow the erosion, last winter’s storms had taken a brutal toll.
“It’s very obvious to see how fast the erosion has increased,” Guy Murray, 43, a repeat visitor to the Ness.
“The lighthouse is a very important part of the heritage of Suffolk and it’s going to be a great loss when it goes.”
Graeme Kay, another of the visitors, said it gave “pause for thought” to see “such a massive structure to be so vulnerable to the elements”.
“It will be like a gaping wound on the landscape when it collapses,” he added.
The Trust will be opening the lighthouse to schools, community groups and anyone else who expresses an interest.
It will also salvage as many of the artefacts as possible once nature takes its inevitable toll.
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