The Dovercourt lighthouses and causeway


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Tendring (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TM 25376 30823

Reasons for Designation

Lighthouses have been used to aid shipping around Britain since Roman times, although only two of that date have been recognised. In the late Middle Ages (AD 1066-1540), lights were simple structures, usually a fire in an iron basket, or in a stone bowl called a cresset, placed on church towers. True lighthouses in purpose-built towers began to be built by the early 17th century. They were first fuelled by coal or wood, but oil lamps were in use from the 1780s, to be replaced later by gas or electric lamps. Other technological improvements were made during the 19th century, including the introduction of light reflectors, flashing lights, identification patterns and sound signals for fog. Over the same period, tower design was improved, including the provision of staff accommodation. Lighthouses are found around the whole coast of Britain and, since 1698, on offshore rocks and reefs. Numbers varied over time, and many were short-lived or frequently replaced. Lighthouses were relatively rare until the 17th century, relying on local or private initiatives. Few medieval examples survive in recognisable form. From 1676, Trinity House, which had been first established with limited duties in 1514, began to build lighthouses itself rather than merely licensing their use by others. In c.1875, around 100 major lighthouses existed, supported by many minor lights and lightships. By the 1970s Trinity House still maintained 90 major lights, with 30 manned light- vessels and c.700 light-buoys. A number of private lights also existed. All surviving Roman and medieval lighthouses and lights are nationally important. Post-medieval examples retaining early fabric or fittings to a significant extent are also considered likely to be of national importance.

The Dovercourt Lighthouses are believed to a unique example of this form of prefabricated structure, employing numerous technological advances of the time in terms of the materials and construction methods required for such an exposed location. Foremost among these is the early use of screw pile foundations, by which helix or screw bladed iron sections were driven deep into the soft ground in order to provide solid footings for the attached legs. The success of this operation is evident in the lack of any appreciable subsidence to this day.

As well as marking a milestone in the history of lighthouse design and in the sequence of navigation aids developed for this important deep water harbour, the Dovercourt Lights, with their memorable design, are a well regarded landscape feature (and landmark) on the Harwich coastline.


The monument includes two iron framed lighthouses set about 200m apart at either end of a stone causeway which projects into Dovercourt Bay from the sea wall opposite the Phoenix Hotel on Marine Parade.

The inner lighthouse, now situated on the beach immediately seaward of the modern sea defences, stands to a height of some 15m. It is supported on an arrangement of six tubular iron legs, cross braced and tied, which account for nearly two thirds of the overall height. The lighthouse structure above rests on a platform of iron joists reached by steps ascending through two flights and three landings around five sides of the tower's legs. In order to prevent unwanted access, the lower landing is gated and a ladder is required to reach from the first stage. The superstructure is divided into two storeys: the lightkeeper's chamber and the lamp room above. Both are hexagonal in plan to match the pattern of the legs; the lower room is faced with flat iron panels (painted black to match the frame) whilst the upper room clad in corrugated metal and painted white. The lightkeeper's chamber has rectangular, iron framed windows facing the shoreline to the south east and north east and a single glazed porthole facing to landward on the south west side. The lamp room is reached via an internal stair, and an external door in the south wall leads out to an encircling iron balcony. The lamp aperture takes up the entire seaward elevation. The windows are modern replacements, although they retain the angles of the three original frames (which are replicated in the roof line above). The roof itself is of a canopy design: lead covered with a central chimney pipe for the oil or gas lantern (long since removed) and a separate vent pipe for the heater in the lightkeeper's chamber. The chimney is surmounted by a weather vane which bears the date `1862' in stencil-cut numbers.

The outer lighthouse is similar in overall appearance, but shorter by about 4m and designed with four massive tubular legs (arranged in `V'shaped pairs) to support an octagonal superstructure. The access stairs also terminate with a gate some 2m from the base, but are less elaborate than those of the inner light, reaching the doorway on the southern side in a single flight. The construction of the two storey superstructure is comparable to the inner lighthouse, with matching internal stairs, balcony, window casements and lamp aperture. A single short chimney pipe protrudes from the centre of the leaded canopy roof.

The causeway between the two lighthouses begins with a short section of high wall (or groyne) composed of stone blocks, raised with concrete and set around iron piles. Steps at the seaward end of the wall lead down to the causeway proper which remains accessible for varying intervals during the intertidal period. The causeway measures some 150m in length and 4m in width, with a central avenue of stone flags set over a rubble core and retained to either side by sloping stone facings. The seaward end of the causeway terminates in a square platform (similarly constructed) beneath the outer light.

The lighthouses, commissioned by Trinity House in 1862 and completed in 1863, served to guide ships towards Harwich harbour (some 1.5km to the north) their different heights enabling the two lights to be aligned on approach. They replaced two late 18th century lighthouses at Harwich (the `Low' and `High' lighthouses) which had become unreliable due to shifting sand bars around the mouth of the Stour estuary. A comprehensive pattern of marker buoys in the harbour approach rendered the new lights obsolete in 1917. The lights escaped demolition, but gradually deteriorated through lack of routine maintenance. A major programme of restoration took place between 1983 and 1988.

The signs and noticeboards attached to the lighthouses and to the causeway are excluded from the scheduling, although the structures to which they are attached are included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Carlyn Hughes, B, The History of Harwich Harbour, (1939)
AM7 Ancient Monument Record Form, Sherlock, D, Essex 184: Dovercourt Lighthouses, (1975)
AM7 Ancient Monument Record Form, Sherlock, D, Essex 184: Dovercourt Lighthouses, (1975)
PRN 56, Gilman, P, Dovercourt Lower Lighthouse, (1988)
PRN 57, Gilman, P, Dovercourt Upper Lighthouse, (1988)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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