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Harwich Low Lighthouse

A Scheduled Monument in Harwich, Essex

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.9434 / 51°56'36"N

Longitude: 1.291 / 1°17'27"E

OS Eastings: 626284.42493

OS Northings: 232328.083071

OS Grid: TM262323

Mapcode National: GBR VQR.378

Mapcode Global: VHLCG.BFB1

Entry Name: Harwich Low Lighthouse

Scheduled Date: 3 October 1975

Last Amended: 11 February 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019326

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29438

County: Essex

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

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.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

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.

Source: Historic England

Sources

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)
Other
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)

Source: Historic England

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