Belle Tout lighthouse opens for business
BELLE Tout Lighthouse has been opened to the public as a bed and breakfast after a £1 million restoration and refurbishment project
David Shaw, 71, purchased the Grade II listed building in April 2008 for £500,000.
He set up the Belle Tout Lighthouse Company Limited and has spent more than a year restoring the landmark to its former glory.
The building was previously owned by Mark and Louise Roberts who used it as a family home, but Mr Shaw said it had been neglected and was in need of major work when he purchased it.
He said, "It was a purchase made with the heart not with the head.
"It was not a commercial decision but I loved the building."
Work was recently completed and guests are now arriving to stay at the landmark.
It now has six beautiful en-suite rooms, a lounge, dining room, impressive lantern room, massage/treatment room and a flat for the two bed and breakfast managers.
Some of the rooms are small but David and his wife Barbara have used the space wisely whilst keeping the lighthouse's original and interesting features. Even the smallest rooms in the building, which would have been used as sleeping quarters for the lighthouse keeper, have been turned into comfortable accommodation using the original bunk-bed structures.
There are world-famous stunning views of the Beachy Head Lighthouse, the chalk cliffs and the South Downs from every room.
Mr Shaw has also built a new access road to the property. The existing road was under threat from coastal erosion and Mr Shaw was in lengthy talks with Eastbourne Borough Council to try and strike a deal. In February this year, members of the council's cabinet committee gave the new road the green light bringing Mr Shaw to the final stages of the long project.
"I am very relieved it is now finished," said Mr Shaw. "It is everything I imagined it would be. It is a one off job so I didn't want to cut any corners and I am very pleased with the results."
But Mr Shaw's hard work may not yet be over. Belle Tout's idyllic location means it is threatened by the crumbling cliff edge. The world's media watched as Mark and Louise Roberts raised £250,000 in 1999 and hauled the 850-tonne granite construction nearly 40ft away from the edge. Mr Shaw has considered giving the building a longer shelf life by moving it inland again but has put the plan on ice.
He said, "There are various estimates of how long it will be until it needs to be moved back again but there is no immediate danger at the moment.
"It is something I know will need to happen in the future but I have decided to get things up and running for a few years and review the idea when the issue is more pressing."
Before Mr Shaw bought Belle Tout, Rob Wassell, an IT manager from Surrey, set up the Belle Tout Preservation Trust in a bid to raise money to buy the landmark and open it to the public.
In 2008, he told the Herald he was disappointed when Mr Shaw's offer was accepted but Mr Wassell and Mr Shaw have now become friends.
Mr Shaw said, "He has been very supportive and I know restoring the building and opening it to the public means a lot to him.
"He has had a lifetime love affair with the building. We have a common interest."
Mr Wassell has now changed the name from the preservation trust to the Belle Tout Lighthouse Information Resource and has a website providing pictures, history and general information about the iconic building. The website can be found at www.belletoute.org.uk.
The lighthouse is currently open to bed and breakfast guests from £155 per night for two adults sharing a room. Mr Shaw had contemplated opening a teashop to make the lighthouse accessible to the wider public but has now decided this will not work well with the bed and breakfast, due to the limited space.
However, after much interest from local residents, Mr and Mrs Shaw held a cocktail party at the lighthouse for East Dean and Friston Village Hall Trust. Residents from the local area enjoyed the party and had a tour around the building.
For more information about the bed and breakfast including rates visit www.belletout.co.uk
08 June, 2010
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