Owners of Sir Peter Scott’s lighthouse in Sutton Bridge submit plans for visitor centre and museum
12:01 08 July 2011
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It was once home to the “founder father” of global conservation and now the current owners of Sutton Bridge’s East Lighthouse want to open it up to the public.
Doug and Sue Hilton have submitted proposals to council planners to build a visitor centre and museum on the site of the historic lighthouse, once home to well-known conservationist and painter Sir Peter Scott.
They are also going to open the lighthouse to the public over weekends in August to help start raising money to fund the building work, if approved.
The couple bought the lighthouse, which stands at the mouth of the River Nene looking out on to the Wash, last November from Commander David Joel who spent 25 years reviving it.
Mr Hilton said: “We weren’t aiming to do anything with the lighthouse this year because getting this place was hard enough and we wanted to sort ourselves out before we did anything else.
“But people in the area started asking us what we wanted to do with it and after we told them our plans, we started getting phone calls of support and it started to snowball from there.
“We then decided to sit down and get our ideas on paper and get the plans in and so far everyone has been really helpful and given us some useful suggestions.”
Mr Hilton said the museum would be dedicated to Sir Peter Scott, who lived in the lighthouse from 1933 to 1939, and the developed site will allow people to engage with wildlife.
He continued: “Everyone loves to visit a lighthouse but this is so much more than just a lighthouse – it is the starting point of global conservation.
“We reckon we will need about £250,000 to build the visitor centre and museum, which is a huge amount to raise.
“It is therefore hard to know exactly when we will be able to turn our dream into a reality.
“It will depend on the amount of time and energy we will have but I know if we get planning permission we will really want to kick on.”
There has been one objection to the plans so far from the King’s Lynn Internal Drainage Board which has said the proposals do not “meet its requirements”.
However, Sutton Bridge Parish Council, the English Heritage and the Environment Agency have all supported the plan.
The couple decided to buy the lighthouse after seeing it has been put up for sale in a Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust magazine and never though in their “wildest dreams” they would be able to buy it.
They are also aiming to build a statue of Sir Peter Scott, open an art gallery showcasing some of his work and allow people to enjoy the view from the top of the lighthouse in the future.
But the couple are now awaiting a verdict by South Holland District Council on their current plans which could be as early as next week.
The plans to rejuvenate the lighthouse are a far cry from what could have happened to the lighthouse which was on the brink of destruction in the 1970s.
The historic Fens lighthouse had no windows, its Aga was broken by vandals and it had been left derelict for years after its last tenant left.
But the tranquil building was taken on by Cdr Joel and Mr Hilton has said he did a “fantastic job” in saving it.
Cdr Joel also opened the lighthouse to the public in 2008 and around 2,200 visitors went along in 10 days.
During his time at the lighthouse, Sir Peter Scott – son of Scott of the Antarctic and founder of numerous wildlife conservation societies – painted dramatic oil paintings of the wildfowl, which flocked to the remote Lincolnshire outpost.
He left the lighthouse for duty with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve where he became a lieutenant commander, captaining small ships and gunboats and was decorated twice for bravery.
A wartime novella loosely based on former owner Sir Peter and the lighthouse was also brought back to life by national radio last year.
Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 after coming top of a neglected classics poll and was broadcast in May.
The classic tale is set in the years running up to the evacuation of Dunkirk in the second world war and tells the story of friendship between an artist living in a lighthouse, a young girl called Fritha and a snow goose.