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Latitude: 51.9444 / 51°56'40"N
Longitude: 1.2886 / 1°17'18"E
OS Eastings: 626116.041222
OS Northings: 232436.962
OS Grid: TM261324
Mapcode National: GBR VQR.2LY
Mapcode Global: VHLCG.9D27
Entry Name: Harwich High Lighthouse
Scheduled Date: 11 February 2000
Source: Historic England
Source ID: 1017201
English Heritage Legacy ID: 29439
Civil Parish: Harwich
Built-Up Area: Harwich
Traditional County: Essex
Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex
Church of England Parish: The Harwich Peninsula
Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford
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
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
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
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.
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.
Source: Historic England
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
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.
Source: Historic England
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)
Source: Historic England
Other nearby scheduled monuments