Life at the Lighthouse

Until the workings of the lighthouses were automated in 1964, its operation was the responsibility of two keepers- a principal and assistant keeper- who lived there with their families until 1938.

The East Cottage was demolished in 1959 and the remaining cottage in 1965.


Some evidence of life here still remain- at the top of the first stair case inside the lighthouse you’ll see a door to the left that would have led to one of the two cottages where the keepers and their families lived. There would have been a corresponding door on the other side, now completely blocked up, though the outline is still visible.

In the lamp room at the top of the Lighthouse you’ll see two voice-pipes marked PK (Principle Keeper) and AK (Assistant Keeper)– each connected to the corresponding cottage. Each is plugged at either end with a whistle. To attract attention, the AK or PK would remove the whistle at his end, blow down the pipe to blow the whistle lodged in the other end and then the two could speak down the voice pipe. Victorian ingenuity!

While Orford Ness was under the control of the Ministry of Defence from 1914, Lighthouse keepers lived at the lighthouse with their families until just before the bedinning of the 2nd World War. The children of the families attended Orford School and would have walked the few miles to and from each day. It would have been a remote and exposed place to call home.

In 1963 Anglia Television commissioned this charming short film about training lighthouse keepers. 


Play Film


Pupils are witnessed receiving practical training in knot tying and bread making, and Mr Moore explains the personal qualities that favour a good lighthouse keeper. Journalist Dick Graham interviews two trainees on their motivations for this career choice.


At Ordford Ness, the necessary procedure on receiving a storm warning is re-enacted by lighthouse keeper [Mr Hayes], who is then interviewed by Dick Graham about his profession, and explains the history of the building, before climbing the stairs to show the lighthouse lantern and rotating optic.

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