Harwich High Lighthouse
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
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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 26116 32437
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 Harwich High Lighthouse is a fine example of early 19th century lighthouse construction, reflecting the period prior to the regulation of all such structures by a single authority and the resulting tendency towards uniformity of design.
The lighthouse is the work of two eminent architects of the period, and although less famous than some of their other works (Waterloo, Southwark and London Bridges by Rennie; Dartmoor and Maidstone Prisons by Alexander) the High Lighthouse is a well considered structure which serves to further illustrate versatility and skill in providing ornate solutions to practical engineering problems. Alexander's only other lighthouse, on Lundy Island, was replaced in 1897.
The twin structures (the High and Low Lights) were built to replace earlier leading lights: the upper light mounted on the town gate and the lower (candle) light set in a variety of wooden structures on the foreshore (one of the latter is depicted in a painting by John Constable). These first truly permanent lighthouses at Harwich mark a significant development in the sequence of navigation aids required for this important deep water harbour. With their impressive designs, the lighthouses are memorable features (and landmarks) of the Harwich coastline - a fact recognised by their inclusion in the Harwich Maritime Heritage Trail.
The monument includes a brick built lighthouse situated towards the south
eastern corner of the historic town of Harwich, just beyond Harwich Green at
the junction of West Street and St Helen's Street.
The High Lighthouse, a Listed Building Grade II*, was constructed in 1818 as one of a pair of leading lights signalling the safe approach to Harwich Harbour. The second lighthouse (termed the Low Lighthouse since its lamp room was set lower to be visible beneath the High Light) stands on the shore of the Harwich peninsula approximately 200m to the south east and is the subject of a separate scheduling.
The nine sided High Lighthouse is constructed in a mixture of stock brick and purpose-made angle bricks (both of the same yellow fabric) and tapers upwards to a height of approximately 14m. It contains seven floors linked by a wooden staircase which forms a spiral round the inner face of the tower. The lamp room at the top has three recessed window panes (which take up most of the seaward elevation at this level) and is surmounted by a stone `tent' roof braced with iron bars and topped by a lotus finial containing the flue for the oil lamp. The lamp assembly has long since been removed, although the iron supports from the roof remain in place and a series of studs in the rear wall indicate the position of the original reflectors. The air intake for the lamp also remains in place, an arrangement of metal pipes connecting vents in the outer wall to a central canister attached to the ceiling of the room below the lamp chamber. The opening between the canister and the lamp (through the floor of the lamp room) has, however, been sealed.
The six lower rooms in the tower served for accommodation and storage. Several have fireplaces linked to flues which curve through the thickness of the wall to join a brick chimney stack rising from the fifth floor level on the west side. Original panelling survives in most of the rooms, providing the inner wall of the stairwell and allowing fitted cupboards in the recesses beneath the rising stairs. The rooms and the stairwell are illuminated by small rectangular windows with stone surrounds and hoods, set in a symmetrical arrangement on the three seaward elevations and with less regularity elsewhere. Two such windows on the seaward side of the fourth floor evidently replaced three larger openings, the blocked arches of which remain visible above the projecting stone canopy. This room is thought to have been the original lamp chamber, transferred to the top shortly after completion in order to provide better guidance for ships at sea. A lower series of vents in the outer wall indicate that the system of air ducts was originally installed below the third floor ceiling, and later moved upwards to serve the repositioned lamp.
The main entrance to the lighthouse, at first floor level on the south east side, retains the original oak door and cantilevered stone threshold, approached from the north by a flight of stone steps with a wrought iron handrail and forked balusters. The steps are supported by an outer wall of brick and ashlar which also encloses a small storage chamber with a single external doorway beneath the head of the flight. A set of double doors (also thought to be original) at ground level on the north side provides access to the brick vaulted basement. This room, probably used to store oil and other supplies, is split into two levels linked by a central flight of stone steps. The single basement window, set beneath the first floor entrance, is blocked. The two lighthouses were commissioned by General Rebow and built by John Rennie the Elder, an architect held in high esteem for his work on numerous dockyards, harbours, bridges and canals. The Low Lighthouse was built to Rennie's own design, and the High Lighthouse is a comparable design by Daniel Asher Alexander, Architect and Surveyor to the London Docks and Trinity House. As with all lighthouses, the Harwich lights came under the direct control of Trinity House in 1836, and then under the authority of the Board of Trade (with administration by Trinity House) following the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854.
Shifting sand banks in the harbour mouth made these Harwich lights increasingly hazardous to navigate by towards the middle of the 19th century, (when they became known as the `misleading lights') and in 1863 they were replaced by a pair set on prefabricated iron frameworks at Dovercourt, some 2km further down the coast. The High Lighthouse remained under the control of Trinity House for a further 100 years, during which time it served a variety of uses including rented accommodation. In the 1960s it passed into the care of Tendring District Council and in the late 1980s, following a further period as a rented dwelling, was adapted to house a television and wireless museum.
Modern additions to the structure, such as the iron railings surrounding the base and the guard rails in the lamp chamber are excluded from the scheduling, together with all modern plumbing and electrical systems and all display items, although the ground beneath and the structures to which these features 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
Concise Dictionary of National Biography, (1995)
Carlyn Hughes, B, The History of Harwich Harbour, (1939)
609-1/3/107, HBMC, List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, Harwich, (1964)
PRN 58, Gilman, P, Harwich High 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