Beachy Head
Beachy Head is a chalk
Chalk is a soft, white, porous sedimentary rock, a form of limestone composed of the mineral calcite. Calcite is calcium carbonate or CaCO3. It forms under reasonably deep marine conditions from the gradual accumulation of minute calcite plates shed from micro-organisms called coccolithophores....

Headlands and bays
Headlands and bays are two related features of the coastal environment.- Geology and geography :Headlands and bays are often found on the same coastline. A bay is surrounded by land on three sides, whereas a headland is surrounded by water on three sides. Headlands are characterized by high,...

 on the south coast of England, close to the town of Eastbourne in the county of East Sussex
East Sussex
East Sussex is a county in South East England. It is bordered by the counties of Kent, Surrey and West Sussex, and to the south by the English Channel.-History:...

, immediately east of the Seven Sisters
Seven Sisters, Sussex
The Seven Sisters are a series of chalk cliffs by the English Channel. They form part of the South Downs in East Sussex, between the towns of Seaford and Eastbourne in southern England. They are within the Seven Sisters Country Park...

. The cliff
In geography and geology, a cliff is a significant vertical, or near vertical, rock exposure. Cliffs are formed as erosion landforms due to the processes of erosion and weathering that produce them. Cliffs are common on coasts, in mountainous areas, escarpments and along rivers. Cliffs are usually...

 there is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, rising to 162 m (530 ft) above sea level. The peak allows views of the south east coast from Dungeness to the east, to Selsey Bill
Selsey Bill
Selsey Bill is a headland into the English Channel on the south coast of England in the county of West Sussex.The southern most town in Sussex is Selsey which is at the end of the Selsey Peninsula and Selsey Bill is situated on the towns southerncoastline...

 in the west. Its height has also made it one of the most notorious suicide spots in the world.


The chalk was formed in the Late Cretaceous
Late Cretaceous
The Late Cretaceous is the younger of two epochs into which the Cretaceous period is divided in the geologic timescale. Rock strata from this epoch form the Upper Cretaceous series...

 period, between 65 and 100 million years ago, when the area was under the sea. During the Cenozoic
The Cenozoic era is the current and most recent of the three Phanerozoic geological eras and covers the period from 65.5 mya to the present. The era began in the wake of the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous that saw the demise of the last non-avian dinosaurs and...

 Era the chalk was uplifted
Tectonic uplift
Tectonic uplift is a geological process most often caused by plate tectonics which increases elevation. The opposite of uplift is subsidence, which results in a decrease in elevation. Uplift may be orogenic or isostatic.-Orogenic uplift:...

 (see Cenozoic Era). When the last Ice Age
Ice age
An ice age or, more precisely, glacial age, is a generic geological period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers...

 ended, sea levels rose and the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

 formed, cutting into the chalk to form the dramatic cliffs along the Sussex coast.

Wave action contributes towards the erosion of cliffs around Beachy Head, which experience frequent small rock falls. Since chalk forms in layers separated by contiguous bands of flints, the physical structure affects how the cliffs erode. Wave action undermines the lower cliffs, causing frequent slab failures - slabs from layers of chalk break off, undermining the upper parts of the cliffs, which eventually collapse. In contrast to small rock falls, mass movements are less common. A mass movement happened in 2001 when, after a winter of heavy rain, the water had begun to seep into the cracks which had frozen and caused the cracks to widen. This then made the cliff edge erode and collapse into the sea.


The name Beachy Head appears as 'Beauchef' in 1274, and was 'Beaucheif' in 1317, becoming consistently Beachy Head by 1724, and has nothing to do with beach. Instead it is a corruption of the original French words meaning "beautiful headland".

In 1929 Eastbourne bought 4000 acres (16.2 km²) of land surrounding Beachy Head to save it from development at a cost of about £100,000.

The prominence of Beachy Head has made it a landmark for sailors in the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

. It is noted as such in the sea shanty
Sea shanty
A shanty is a type of work song that was once commonly sung to accompany labor on board large merchant sailing vessels. Shanties became ubiquitous in the 19th century era of the wind-driven packet and clipper ships...

 Spanish Ladies
Spanish Ladies
Spanish Ladies is a traditional English naval song, describing a voyage from Spain to the Downs from the viewpoint of ratings of the British Royal Navy.- Origins :...

"The first land we sighted was called the Dodman
Dodman Point
Dodman Point is a high headland near Mevagissey, Cornwall. It was once an Iron Age promontory fort. At its seaward end is a large granite cross, erected to help protect shipping from this headland...

Next Rame Head
Rame Head
Rame Head is a coastal headland, southwest of the village of Rame in southeast Cornwall, United Kingdom.-History and antiquities:The site was used for a hill fort in the Iron Age. The headland has a prominent chapel, dedicated to St Michael, accessible by a steep footpath...

 off Plymouth
Plymouth is a city and unitary authority area on the coast of Devon, England, about south-west of London. It is built between the mouths of the rivers Plym to the east and Tamar to the west, where they join Plymouth Sound...

, off Portsmouth
Portsmouth is the second largest city in the ceremonial county of Hampshire on the south coast of England. Portsmouth is notable for being the United Kingdom's only island city; it is located mainly on Portsea Island...

 the Wight
Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is a county and the largest island of England, located in the English Channel, on average about 2–4 miles off the south coast of the county of Hampshire, separated from the mainland by a strait called the Solent...

We sailed by Beachy, by Fairlight
Fairlight Glen
Fairlight Glen lies about two miles east of the fishing port of Hastings and west of the small village of Fairlight Cove on the East Sussex coast. It is a wooded area forming part of the Hastings country park and leading down to Covehurst Bay. This is a nudist beach, but is shared by ordinary...

 and Dover
White cliffs of Dover
The White Cliffs of Dover are cliffs which form part of the British coastline facing the Strait of Dover and France. The cliffs are part of the North Downs formation. The cliff face, which reaches up to , owes its striking façade to its composition of chalk accentuated by streaks of black flint...

And then we bore up for the South Foreland
South Foreland
South Foreland is a chalk headland on the Kent coast of southeast England. It presents a bold cliff to the sea, and commands views over the Strait of Dover. It is northeast of Dover and 15 miles south of North Foreland...


The ashes of German social scientist and philosopher Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels was a German industrialist, social scientist, author, political theorist, philosopher, and father of Marxist theory, alongside Karl Marx. In 1845 he published The Condition of the Working Class in England, based on personal observations and research...

, one of the fathers of communism, were scattered off the cliffs at Beachy Head into the Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

, as he had requested.


The headland was a danger to shipping. In 1831, construction began on Belle Tout lighthouse
Belle Tout lighthouse
The Belle Tout lighthouse is a decommissioned lighthouse and British landmark located at Beachy Head, East Sussex. It has been called "Britain's most famous inhabited lighthouse" because of its striking location and use in film and television...

 on the next headland west from Beachy Head. It became operational in 1834. Due to cliff erosion
Erosion is when materials are removed from the surface and changed into something else. It only works by hydraulic actions and transport of solids in the natural environment, and leads to the deposition of these materials elsewhere...

, in March 1999 Belle Tout lighthouse was moved more than 50 feet (15.2 m) further inland.

Because mist and low clouds could hide the light of Belle Tout, another lighthouse was built in the sea below Beachy Head. It was 43 m (141.1 ft) in height and became operational in October 1902. For more than 80 years, the red-and-white striped tower was manned by three lighthouse keepers. Their job was to maintain the light, which rotates two white flashes every 20 seconds was then visible 26 miles (41.8 km) out to sea. The lighthouse was fully automated in 1983 and the keepers withdrawn.

In June of 2010, Trinity House
Trinity House
The Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond is the official General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales and other British territorial waters...

 announced in the five yearly "Aids To Navigation Review" that the light range would be reduced to 8 nmi (15 km) and the fog signal discontinued. In February 2011, the work was undertaken and light range reduced by the installation of a new LED navigation light system. The fog signal was discontinued at this time.

Beachy Head at war

The third day of fighting in the Battle of Portland
Battle of Portland
The naval Battle of Portland, or Three Days' Battle took place during 28 February-2 March 1653 , during the First Anglo-Dutch War, when the fleet of the Commonwealth of England under General at Sea Robert Blake was attacked by a fleet of the Dutch Republic under Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp...

 in 1653 took place off Beachy Head during the First Anglo-Dutch War
First Anglo-Dutch War
The First Anglo–Dutch War was the first of the four Anglo–Dutch Wars. It was fought entirely at sea between the navies of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Caused by disputes over trade, the war began with English attacks on Dutch merchant shipping, but...

. The Battle of Beachy Head
Battle of Beachy Head (1690)
The Battle of Beachy Head was a naval engagement fought on 10 July 1690 during the Nine Years' War. The battle was the greatest French tactical naval victory over their English and Dutch opponents during the war...

 in 1690 was a naval engagement during the Nine Years' War. During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the RAF established a forward relay station at Beachy Head to improve radio communications with aircraft. In 1942, signals were picked up at Beachy Head which were identified as TV transmissions from the Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is a puddle iron lattice tower located on the Champ de Mars in Paris. Built in 1889, it has become both a global icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world...

. The Germans had reactivated the pre-war TV transmitter and instituted a Franco-German service for military hospitals and VIPs in the Paris region. The RAF monitored these programmes hoping (in vain) to gather intelligence from newsreels.
There was also an important wartime radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 station in the area and, during the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

, a radar control centre was operational in an underground bunker from 1953 to 1957.


West from Belle Tout, the cliffs drop down to Birling Gap, and beyond that the Seven Sisters
Seven Sisters, Sussex
The Seven Sisters are a series of chalk cliffs by the English Channel. They form part of the South Downs in East Sussex, between the towns of Seaford and Eastbourne in southern England. They are within the Seven Sisters Country Park...

. The area is a popular tourist attraction. Birling Gap has a restaurant and, in the summer, multiple ice cream vans serve the area.

Suicide spot

There are an estimated 20 deaths a year at Beachy Head. The Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team conducts regular day and evening patrols of the area in attempts to locate and stop potential jumpers
Jumper (suicide)
A jumper, in police and media parlance, is a person who dies by suicide by jumping from a height, or people who have jumped, then survived, often with major injuries and permanent disabilities...

. Workers at the pub and taxi drivers are also on the look-out for potential victims, and there are posted signs with the telephone number of The Samaritans urging potential jumpers to call them. Deaths at the site are well-covered by the media; Ross Hardy, the founder of the chaplaincy team, said this encouraged people to come and jump off. Worldwide, the landmark’s suicide rate is surpassed only by the Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate, the opening of the San Francisco Bay into the Pacific Ocean. As part of both U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1, the structure links the city of San Francisco, on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula, to...

 in San Francisco and the Aokigahara
, also known as the , is a 35 km2 forest that lies at the north west base of Mount Fuji in Japan. The forest contains a number of rocky, icy caverns, a few of which are popular tourist destinations....

 Woods in Japan, according to Thomas Meaney of The Wall Street Journal.

After a steady increase in deaths between 2002 and 2005, in 2006 there were only seven fatalities, a marked decrease. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (whose Coastguard Rescue Teams are responsible for the rescue of injured jumpers and the recovery of the deceased) attributed the reduction to the work of the Chaplaincy Team and good coverage of services by local media. In 2008 at least 26 people died at the site. Between 1965 and 1979, there were 124 deaths at the location. Of these, S J Surtees wrote that 115 were "almost certainly" suicides (although a coroner
A coroner is a government official who* Investigates human deaths* Determines cause of death* Issues death certificates* Maintains death records* Responds to deaths in mass disasters* Identifies unknown dead* Other functions depending on local laws...

's verdict of suicide was recorded in only 58), and that 61 percent of the victims were from outside East Sussex. The earliest reports of deaths come from the 7th century.

Use in film and television

The cliff was used in the opening sequence to the 1987 James Bond
James Bond
James Bond, code name 007, is a fictional character created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, who featured him in twelve novels and two short story collections. There have been a six other authors who wrote authorised Bond novels or novelizations after Fleming's death in 1964: Kingsley Amis,...

 film The Living Daylights
The Living Daylights
The Living Daylights is the fifteenth entry in the James Bond series and the first to star Timothy Dalton as the fictional MI6 agent 007. The film's title is taken from Ian Fleming's short story, "The Living Daylights"...

, in which Bond (portrayed for the first time by Timothy Dalton
Timothy Dalton
Timothy Peter Dalton ) is a Welsh actor of film and television. He is known for portraying James Bond in The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill , as well as Rhett Butler in the television miniseries Scarlett , an original sequel to Gone with the Wind...

) parachute
A parachute is a device used to slow the motion of an object through an atmosphere by creating drag, or in the case of ram-air parachutes, aerodynamic lift. Parachutes are usually made out of light, strong cloth, originally silk, now most commonly nylon...

d from a jeep which overshot the top of the cliff in a scene which was scripted as being in Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...


Beachy Head was also the setting for The Cure
The Cure
The Cure are an English rock band formed in Crawley, West Sussex in 1976. The band has experienced several line-up changes, with frontman, vocalist, guitarist and principal songwriter Robert Smith being the only constant member...

's "Just Like Heaven" and "Close To Me" videos.
It is well known for the closing scene of Quadrophenia
Quadrophenia (film)
Quadrophenia is a 1979 British film, loosely based around the 1973 rock opera of the same name by The Who. The film stars Phil Daniels as a Mod named Jimmy. It was directed by Franc Roddam in his feature directing debut...

, where Phil Daniels
Phil Daniels
Philip W. "Phil" Daniels is an English actor, most noted for film and television roles as "cockneys" such as Jimmy in Quadrophenia, Richards in Scum, Stewart in The Class of Miss MacMichael, Mark in Meantime, Kevin Wicks in EastEnders, DCS Frank Patterson in New Tricks and Edward Kitchener "Ted"...

 shoots a scooter
Scooter (motorcycle)
A scooter is a motorcycle with step-through frame and a platform for the operator's feet. Elements of scooter design have been present in some of the earliest motorcycles, and motorcycles identifiable as scooters have been made from 1914 or earlier...

 off of the very top of Beachy Head. Local Eastbourne band The Removalists
The Removalists
The Removalists is a play written by Australian playwright David Williamson. The main issues the play addresses are violence, specifically domestic violence, and the abuse of power and authority...

 also shot the video for "Last Train to Soul Bay" at Beachy Head.

Beachy Head is briefly shown in a segment in "Many Happy Returns
Many Happy Returns (Prisoner episode)
Many Happy Returns is the seventh episode of the television series The Prisoner.-Additional guest cast:* Group Captain - Brian Worth* Commander - Richard Caldicot* Gunther - Dennis Chinnery* Ernst - Jon Laurimore* Gypsy girl - Nike Arrighi...

," an episode of the British TV series The Prisoner
The Prisoner
The Prisoner is a 17-episode British television series first broadcast in the UK from 29 September 1967 to 1 February 1968. Starring and co-created by Patrick McGoohan, it combined spy fiction with elements of science fiction, allegory and psychological drama.The series follows a British former...

, starring Patrick McGoohan
Patrick McGoohan
Patrick Joseph McGoohan was an American-born actor, raised in Ireland and England, with an extensive stage and film career, most notably in the 1960s television series Danger Man , and The Prisoner, which he co-created...

. When Number Six
Number Six (The Prisoner)
Number Six is the central fictional character in the 1960s television series The Prisoner, played by Patrick McGoohan. In the AMC remake, the character is played by Jim Caviezel, renamed "Six"....

 temporarily escapes from The Village, he arrives on shore beneath the cliffs of Beachy Head. After he makes his way up the cliffs, there is a brief view of the lighthouse as seen from the top of the cliff.

The 2010 remake of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock
Brighton Rock (2010 film)
- External links :* * * * from BBC Films...

 was filmed extensively on Beachy Head as well as nearby Eastbourne, which was preferred to Brighton.

Documentary film

In 2001, Channel Four planned a series of programmes focusing on suicide, none of which was broadcast. The series included a film about Beachy Head, an hour-long documentary on the strange allure of this beauty spot by Roel van Broekhoven.

In literature

The British
British people
The British are citizens of the United Kingdom, of the Isle of Man, any of the Channel Islands, or of any of the British overseas territories, and their descendants...

Romantic poetry
Romanticism, a philosophical, literary, artistic and cultural era which began in the mid/late-1700s as a reaction against the prevailing Enlightenment ideals of the day , also influenced poetry...

 poet Charlotte Turner Smith
Charlotte Turner Smith
Charlotte Turner Smith was an English Romantic poet and novelist. She initiated a revival of the English sonnet, helped establish the conventions of Gothic fiction, and wrote political novels of sensibility....

 published a poem entitled "Beachy Head." This prospect poem places its reader at Beachy Head and uses its expansive view to discuss nature as well as political power and cultural dominance. Eastbourne born poet Andrew Franks includes a number of references to Beachy Head in his work including 'Belle Tout' in his collection, 'The Last of the Great British Traitors'.

In Howard Jacobson
Howard Jacobson
Howard Jacobson is a Man Booker Prize-winning British Jewish author and journalist. He is best known for writing comic novels that often revolve around the dilemmas of British Jewish characters.-Background:...

's 2010 Man Booker Prize
Man Booker Prize
The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe. The winner of the Man Booker Prize is generally assured of international renown and...

-winning novel, The Finkler Question
The Finkler Question
The Finkler Question is a 2010 novel written by British author Howard Jacobson. The novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2010 and was the first comic novel to win the prize since Kingsley Amis's The Old Devils in 1986....

, the bereaved widower Libor Sevcik commits suicide by jumping off the cliff at Beachy Head.
The female protagonist in Brian Sibley
Brian Sibley
Brian Sibley is an English writer. He is author of over 100 hours of radio drama and has written and presented hundreds of radio documentaries, features and weekly programmes.- Early life :...

's Yet Another Partridge, a radio play, throws herself off Beachy Head in despair.

External links

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