Beachy Head - History and Facts | History Hit

Beachy Head

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About Beachy Head

Located in East Sussex, Beachy Head is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain. A landmark of the English coast, it rises 162m above sea level and offers views towards the south east coast of Dungeness in the east and the Isle of Wight in the west. Its closest town is Eastbourne.

Beachy Head has experienced its fair share of history, from being a battle site during World War One to the location for an important radar site during the Cold War. Today, it is a popular and scenic tourist attraction.

History of Beachy Head

Beachy Head’s chalk was formed in the Late Cretaceous period some 66 to 100 million years ago, when the area was submerged. During the Cenozoic Era (66 million years ago to the present), the chalk was uplifted, and when the last ice age ended, sea levels rose and the English Channel formed which allowed chalk to form dramatic cliffs along the coastline.

The name Beachy Head has nothing to do with the word ‘beach’ – instead, it is a corruption of the word ‘Beauchef’ – meaning ‘beautiful headland’ – which was first noted in connection with the site in 1274. By 1724, it was consistently being called ‘Beachy Head’.

Beachy Head’s prominence has made it a landmark for sailors in the English Channel. It has witnessed much history – the Battle of Portland took place in 1653 off Beachy Head during the first Anglo-Dutch War, while the Battle of Beachy Head was a naval battle during in 1690 during the Nine Years’ War. The Second Battle of Beachy Head took place over a week in September 1916 during World War One.

During World War Two, the RAF established a forward relay station at Beachy Head to improve radio communications, and during the Cold War, a radar control centre was in operation between 1953 to 1957.

In 1929, the nearby town of Eastbourne bought 4,000 acres of land surrounding Beachy Head to save it from development.

Beachy Head Today

A lighthouse known as Bell Tout Lighthouse was constructed in 1831. Though it was decommissioned in 1902, it is still a scenic attraction that is home to accommodation and a teahouse. There is also a new lighthouse, known as Beachy Head Lighthouse, that was built as a replacement.

Beachy Head is also a popular TV and film location that has been used in films such as Harry Potter, James Bond, Pearl Harbour, Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves, Wimbledon and many TV series such as Luther.

Getting to Beachy Head

It’s easy to get to Beachy Head from London. Simply get the train to Eastbourne, then a bus direct to East Dean. From the west, head along the M4, and from the north, take the M23/A23. The area is well-signposted.

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