Harwich Low Lighthouse


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019326

Date first listed: 03-Oct-1975

Date of most recent amendment: 11-Feb-2000


Ordnance survey map of Harwich Low Lighthouse
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Tendring (District Authority)

Parish: Harwich

National Grid Reference: TM 26284 32328


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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 Low Lighthouse is a fine example of early 19th century lighthouse construction, reflecting the period prior to the adoption of a single lighthouse authority and the resulting tendency towards uniformity of design. Although this is one of the lesser known works of John Rennie the Elder (who is more famous for his designs for the Waterloo, Southwark and London Bridges), the Low Lighthouse is a well considered structure which serves to further illustrate his versatility and skill in providing ornate solutions to practical engineering problems.

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 therefore mark a significant development in the sequence of navigation aids required for this historically important deep water harbour. With their memorable designs, the lighthouses remain well regarded features (and landmarks) of the Harwich coastline, a fact recognised by their inclusion in the Harwich Maritime Heritage Trail.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a brick built lighthouse situated on the eastern (seaward) shore of the Harwich peninsula, at the northern end of the Esplanade and the south east corner of Harwich Green.

The Low Lighthouse, a Grade II Listed Building, was constructed in 1818 as one of a pair providing leading lights for the safe approach to Harwich Harbour. The second lighthouse (termed the High Lighthouse as its lamp room was raised to be visible above the roof of the low light) stands approximately 200m to the north west (landward) and is the subject of a separate scheduling.

The central tower of the Low Lighthouse is constructed in yellow stock brick (painted white) to a tapering decagonal design. It rises to approximately 13.5m and contains three floors and a cellar. Internal stairways (replaced in the 1970s) link the rooms and lead to the lamp chamber at the top, which is covered by a stone `tent' roof with lotus finial and the vent shaft for the original oil lamp (long since removed). The lamp room windows, which take up most of the south western elevation at this level, are also modern replacements, designed for clear views across the harbour mouth. A modern timber balcony with tubular metal handrail surrounds the lamp room and a scaling ladder leads to the roof to allow exterior maintenance. The balcony is accessible through a door in the north west wall of the lamp room which, judged by the prominent hood mould above, may be an enlargement of an original window facing the High Lighthouse, perhaps to provide a single light keeper with assurance of a functioning lower lamp. The lower rooms have simple square windows set on the sight line between the two lighthouses, again with prominent stone surrounds. The entrance is to the landward side on the ground floor.

The two lighthouses were commissioned by General Rebow and built by John Rennie the Elder, who was held in high esteem for his work on numerous dockyards, harbours, bridges and canals. The Low Lighthouse was built to Rennie's own plans; the other 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 following an Act of 1836. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1854 transferred the authority for all coastal lights to the Board of Trade, with Trinity House responsible for the administration of those in England and Wales.

Shifting sand banks in the harbour approaches rendered the Harwich Lights increasingly hazardous to navigate by toward the middle of the 19th century, (when they became known as the `misleading lights') and in 1863 they were replaced by new leading lights set on prefabricated iron frameworks at Dovercourt, some 2km further down the coast. By this time the Low Lighthouse had become a favourite landmark along the route used for seafront constitutionals. The canopy around the lower section of the tower was added in the late 19th century to provide walkers with shelter. The low pitched roof is felt over rafters and boards, supported on iron posts and compartmentalised to the rear with radiating brick walls. The lighthouse remained the property of Trinity House and developed from a lookout point to a pilot station in the years after World War II. The balcony, lamp room windows and most of the internal fittings date from this period. In the early 1980s, in response to the increasing traffic at the ports of Felixstowe and Parkeston Quay, the pilot station was removed to a new purpose built structure further up the peninsula. The lighthouse was relinquished by Trinity House, passed into the care of Tendring District Council and was adapted by the Harwich Society to serve as a Maritime Museum. Brick walls which enclose the canopy on the landward side were subsequently added by the Society to increase storage and display areas.

The modern brick walls and iron doorway added by the Harwich Society, all plumbing and electrical systems and all display items, cases and boards are excluded from the scheduling, 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.


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

Legacy System number: 29438

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Concise Dictionary of National Biography, (1995)
Carlyn Hughes, B, The History of Harwich Harbour, (1939)
Medlycott, M, Harwich: Historic Town Assessment Report, (1998)
609-1/3/107, List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, Harwich, (1964)
Conversation with curator, Rutter, A, Hawich Pilot Station, (1999)
Discussion with curator, Rutter, A, Low Lighthouse shelter, (1999)
PRN 58, Gilman, P, Harwich Low Lighthouse, (1988)

End of official listing