Q & A
Questions and Answers about the Belle Toute Lighthouse,
Beachy Head, East Sussex
How old is the Belle Tout Lighthouse?
They started building Belle Tout in 1832 and it came
into operation in 1834.
Who designed the Belle Tout Lighthouse?
Belle Tout was designed by William Hallett and James
Walker in 1831. Construction commenced in 1832.
Why is Tout sometimes spelt Toute and other times
It appears to be a historical corruption in the spelling
of the name or an alternative interpretation of the
The original spelling appears to be Tout although at
some point in the late 1800's and used well into the
1900's Toute is used. This could be a misspelling, or
maybe someone thought it 'looked' better in the name, or
perhaps they believed it to be the feminine singular of
the French for 'all'.
If it is a misspelling, this used to occur quite easily
due to mispronunciation or misinterpretation. My name,
Wassell, has transformed over the years as you get
Wassall, Wassel, Wassal, Wasel, etc.
Where does the name Belle Tout come from?
Some people believe it is French, as in 'All Beautiful',
just as Beachy Head is believed to have come from
Beauchef (1274 reference) and then Beaucheif (1317
reference), then becoming Beachy Head (1724 reference
However, more likely the origin is Celtic taken from 'Bael'
the 'God of War' and 'Tout' for 'lookout'.
When was the old Belle Tout Lighthouse decommissioned?
Belle Tout was decommissioned in 1902 when the new
lighthouse at the base of the cliffs came into
Why did they stop using the old lighthouse?
There were two reasons. Cliff erosion which reduced the
effectiveness of the light from the lighthouse and cliff
How did cliff erosion affect the effectiveness of the
When Belle Tout was built, it was a certain distance
from the edge of the cliff. This meant that if ships
sailed too close to the shore, the light would be
obscured by the top of the cliff. They could then recede
to a safe distance when the light was visible once more.
As the cliff eroded, so to did the angle of obscurity,
which meant that the ships would be too close to the
This image shows the angle of obscurity, too close
and the light is obscured
When did they move the lighthouse?
The lighthouse was moved by Abbey Pynford in 1999.
How far did they move the lighthouse back?
The lighthouse was moved 17m or 56 feet.
How fast is the chalk cliff at Beachy Head eroding?
The cliff is eroding at a rate of an average of 60cm per
year. You can read more about
Will the Belle Tout Lighthouse need to be moved again?
Yes, definitely although when, we're not yet sure. Due
to the unpredictable nature of cliff falls and coastal
erosion it could be anywhere between 20 and 40 years.
However, if the rate continues at 60cm per year we can
estimate that Belle Tout will be at the edge of the
cliff in 25 years.
Its important that there is enough room to be able to
work in front of the lighthouse on footings for the
hydraulic rams, therefore it is more likely to require
moving in 18-20 years from now.
How easily can the Belle Tout Lighthouse be moved again?
In fact, relatively easily. In 1999, when Abbey Pynford
moved it, they built huge concrete runners underneath
the lighthouse. This allowed the building to be slid
backwards into position on the new lower-ground floor
story that was built in the garden.
Its perfectly possible for another story (or two) to be
built towards the rear of the garden and for Belle Tout
to be moved backwards to be positioned on top. This will
increase the distance a further 15-30m dependent on
I understand that Belle Tout has been in many films?
Yes, its appeared in films, TV programmes and even a
song, called 'Belle Tout' by the Subterraneans from
their 2006 album 'Soul Mass Transit'.
It appeared in Quadrophenia in 1979.
Very famously, it was the main protagonists cliff-top
love nest in The Life and Loves of a She-Devil when the
BBC owned it in 1986 and made extensive temporary
alternations to the building.
It also made an appearance in James Bond's The Living
Daylights with Timothy Dalton in 1987. Doubling for
Gibraltar, the secret agent's Land Rover goes over the
edge of the 'rock' and he escapes from the back by
More recently, it appears in Brighton Rock, filmed in
2010. It was filmed in and around the Brighton and
Beachy Head area and they they recreate a working
lighthouse with lantern.
This location and especially the impressive chalk cliffs
have been used for Foyles War, Green Wing, Keith Barry,
Little Britain, Mitchell and Webb, Scrapheap Challenge
and Top Gear.
In 2011, (Series 17, Episode 1), Top Gear celebrated the
50th anniversary of the E-Type Jaguar by organising a
cliff-top ensemble of E-Types. This was visible from
Belle Tout, just on the next hill along to the East.
The South Downs have also been used to film scenes from
Harry Potter, Pearl Harbour, Band of Brothers, Wimbledon
and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
What happened to the original light apparatus or optic?
At the moment, we're not sure.
The original mechanism and the optic is something that
we're still trying to track down - as and when we find out,
we'll let you know.
Who owns the Belle Tout Lighthouse?
The Belle Tout Lighthouse is owned by David and Barbara
Shaw. They bought Belle Tout in 2008, spent nearly two years
renovating it and opened as a bed and breakfast in 2010.
Is Belle Tout open as a visitor attraction?
The Belle Tout Lighthouse is not a visitor attraction, as
such, it is a 'unique bed & breakfast' that you can stay at.
When staying, you have full access to the public rooms,
including the comfortable living room and the breathtaking
When 'Touts', the shop, is open, you can access the grounds
in front of the lighthouse and see the original foundations
from where it was moved.
Have you got a question about the Belle Tout Lighthouse?
If you've got any questions about the Belle Tout Lighthouse,
enter it in the box and I'll add it to this page and answer
it for you. If you include your email address, I will also
send you a copy of the answer by reply.
The Story of the Belle Tout Lighthouse
If you would like to find out more about the history of the
Belle Tout Lighthouse, then please buy my book,
The Story of the Belle Tout Lighthouse. It includes
rarely seen photographs and pictures as well as facts and
information about the lighthouse before it was even built,
all the way through to the modern day.
Find out more about the fascinating history of the
Belle Tout lighthouse in my new book:
The Story of the Belle Tout Lighthouse by Rob
Can you help me?
I am currently writing another book about Belle Tout
and I am looking for people to help with information,
pictures, photographs, postcards, anecdotes and stories
about anything to do with Belle Tout.
I will cover any and all costs and ensure that you have
a credit in what will be a unique publication that will
be a part of Belle Tout's future history.
An eroding coastline
Did you know that the fragile chalk cliffs are
eroding at an average rate of 60 centimetres per
Pharology (named after Pharos, the famed lighthouse of
Alexandria) is the study of lighthouses and signal
lights. Those who study lighthouses are known as
Photographs and Prints
Coming soon - a range of photographs and prints
available to buy online.