THE SIR PETER SCOTT LIGHTHOUSE
‘THE MOST ICONIC AND INSPIRATIONAL
BUILDING IN THE HISTORY OF GLOBAL CONSERVATION’
Built in 1830 at Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire, UK, the Sir Peter Scott lighthouse (also known as East Bank Lighthouse) was an essential part of navigation for the new river Nene cutting; a vast straight drainage channel excavated to help drain low lying inland areas known as the Fens.
Unusual in that it was always intended to be lived, or worked in, the basic lines of this small lighthouse are similar to those of a windmill. For the first 100 years of its life the lighthouse was lived in by a selection of families associated with the local farming communities and the river Nene authorities.
It also served in the days before ship-to-shore radios, as a customs hailing station. As ships came in with the tide, customs officials based at the lighthouse would hail them through a megaphone to find out what they were carrying and where they were going.
Constructed three miles straight out into the tidal marsh itself, the lighthouse justified the description given to it by Paul Gallico, in the ‘Snow Goose’ story. ‘Desolate, utterly lonely and made lonelier by the calls and cries of the wildfowl that make their homes in the marshlands and saltings’.
In 1933 this small lighthouse was to become home to 24 year old Peter Scott, son of the famous but ill fated Captain Scott of the Antarctic. It was here that he underwent a seismic conversion from wildfowler to famous artist and writer before going on to become the most influential naturalist and conservationist the world has ever seen, founder member of the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.
The earnings from his first London art exhibition (the year he came here) were put towards restoration of the run down lighthouse and the construction of new garages, studio and bedrooms. All the buildings we see today clustered around the base of the tower (other than a small kitchen) were built by him at that time.
American writer Paul Gallico was inspired by his friend Peter Scott and the lighthouse and wrote ‘The Snow Goose’; possibly the most emotionally powerful and romantic wildlife fiction book ever written. In it Peter Scott is but thinly veiled and the lighthouse moved seventy miles south to a mythical spot to make it easier for the hero to sail his small boat to Dunkirk.
Peter painted the illustrations for the English editions, using his first wife as a model for the girl in the story ‘Frith’ and the lighthouse in the illustrations matches photographs he himself took of the East Bank Lighthouse in 1934 as it was still surrounded by high tides at that time.
Peter Scott was called up for war in 1939 and the army requisitioned the lighthouse. Plans to cut the top off for use as a gun platform were dropped after Peters mother flew to the rescue.
By the end of the war it was once again in a poor state with doors hanging off and riddled with damp.
Due to the desperate need for farmland to feed a starving nation, by the end of the war the sea walls had been pushed half a mile to seaward of the lighthouse.
When his step father was asked what the war had cost Peter, he said it had cost him his beloved lighthouse. Without the free flowing tidal pools and saltings he needed to keep his wildfowl collection on, he could never return.
Mr Gandy, a baker and Industrialist then leased it for use as a holiday home and the tower was externally rendered for the first time over the porous brickwork. With his death in the mid 1960’s, the Fenland Wildfowlers leased it for ten years as accommodation for their marsh warden and headquarters. Disputes as to who should pay for maintenance resulted in their leaving in 1975 and the lighthouse fell empty and became badly vandalised.
In 1985 it was bought by Commander David Joel, a friend and admirer of the then Sir Peter Scott. By that time it was in a sad condition. Ceilings collapsed, floors gone, every window destroyed, much of the render cracked off and roofs gaping.
He restored the lighthouse, taking care to preserve original parts of the fabric wherever possible, where others may just have renewed. He also formed ponds to the side where Peter Scott’s first wildfowl pools had been and stocked them with a wide variety of wildfowl that include of course, ‘snow geese’.
At the end of 2010 Doug and Sue Hilton purchased the lighthouse. For many years they have pioneered a series of ideas at their 65 acre Buckland Lake reserve for connecting people with the environment by making it inspirational and accessible to them.
With the acquisition of the lighthouse, the name of their trust has been changed to honour the famous Snow Goose story. A museum dedicated to the life and achievements of Sir Peter Scott will be formed in the lighthouse garages that he himself built and the ‘Sir Peter Scott Millennium Centre’ visitor centre, will be constructed within the grounds of the lighthouse that has been described as ‘the most iconic and inspirational building in the history of global conservation’
During the first half of the last century, mans increasingly mechanised activities were wrecking devastation on global habitat and wildlife. It was then that (at least romantically thinking) the inspirational power and one hundred years existence of this small lighthouse was poured into the young Peter Scott when he came to stay here, the ripples spreading out through others such as writer Paul Gallico with the Snow Goose story, inspiring and empowering them to help and defend the environment.
For the first time, this amazing landscape and the grounds of the Sir Peter Scott Lighthouse will be made easily accessible for people to experience as we ask it once more to help inspire and encourage people to enjoy and protect the environment at a time of great global need.