Although there have been several references to
a light that was exhibited from Beachy Head in
around 1670, the records state that this was not
for maritime purposes but as a fire beacon which
would warn of any threatened invasion. The first
official record of a petition for a navigation light
appears in the Parliamentary Papers of the Lords
of the Privy Council for Trade, written during the
reign of William III and Queen Mary in 1691.
The proposer of a light near Beachy Head was a
Thomas Offley. However, even though the Privy
Council requested that the Corporation of Trinity
House of Deptford Strand should investigate the
need for a light, nothing was formally activated
until the latter part of the 18th century.
During the early part of the 18th century,
a local parson named Jonathan Darby from
the parish of East Dean unofficially displayed a
candle-burning lantern hung in a hollow carved
out of the chalk headland. This cave became
known as Darby's Hole. It is recorded in the
Sussex archives that Parson Darby carved out a
deep shaft through the headland, which ended
at a gallery-shaped hollow about 20ft above the
highest spring tides. According to the records of
the Eastbourne Natural History Society, Darby's
Hole was in fact part of a cave system which
had formerly been used by the local smugglers.
Parson Darby died in 1729 at the age of 59, and
was buried in the East Dean churchyard. His
headstone salutes this exceptional parson by
calling him 'the sailor's friend'.
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