Beacon of hope for seaside community

Saved from the brink of destruction, a historic Fen lighthouse is to be put to use by its owner to help another community at risk.

Saved from the brink of destruction, a historic Fen lighthouse is to be put to use by its owner to help another community at risk.

Sutton Bridge's East Lighthouse - once home to well-known conserv-ationist and painter Sir Peter Scott - was saved from dereliction by Commander David Joel 20 years ago.

Now Mr Joel hopes the lighthouse, its artwork and history, can help raise funds to bolster sea defences at his childhood home, Happisburgh.

Happisburgh has been campaigning for adequate sea defences for years to replace damaged groynes. Villagers had some success earlier this year when North Norfolk District Council stumped up £200,000 and the householders dug into their own pockets to the tune of around £50,000

As a result, a new rock defence scheme has been put in place which will give the village another decade before a longer-term solution is needed to hold back the encroaching tide.

"I loved Happisburgh, it was marvellous," Mr Joel said. "The fact that it might be in the sea in 50 years is not worth thinking about."

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Mr Joel will host an exhibition at the lighthouse from May 19 to June 3 - in the hope that ticket sales and the sale of artwork will help Happisburgh's efforts.

Sir Peter - son of Scott of the Antarctic - lived in the lighthouse from 1933 to 1939, painting dramatic oil paintings of the wildfowl which flocked to the remote Lincolnshire outpost.

In 1939, he left the lighthouse to work on destroyers in the North Atlantic and commanding a group of motor torpedo boats.

Similarly, Mr Joel spent his career at sea as head of seven Royal Navy ships and was called out of retirement to head the conversion of the cruise liner Canberra into a battleship in 48 hours for the Falklands War.

"Scott was utterly ruthless in battle," said Mr Joel. "But he was also a champion ice-skater, a glider, sailed at Cowes, he painted and he wrote books.

"What I loved was his paintings of geese in flight. He was a brilliant draftsman and a brilliant painter."

And Sir Peter helped to set up numerous wildlife conservation societies, including the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the World Wildlife Fund, for which he designed the panda logo and wrote a number of books.

Mr Joel does his bit by caring for wildfowl at the lighthouse, but he also paints and has written two books, one on the French impressionist painter Claude Monet.

When he bought the lighthouse in 1985 it had been derelict for years, having been boarded up in the 1970s by Anglian Water when its last tenant left and no one else could be found to live in it.

But an etching in a concrete lintel by Sir Peter remained and gradually the commander has brought the house back to life, with his own paintings and others by Scott.

Last year the 78-year-old painted its entire exterior on his own with a four-inch brush. It took him 10 days.

"It was a total ruin from top to bottom when I bought it," he said. "It would have fallen down. It has 36 windows and there was not a single piece of glass in it and the Aga had been broken into two by vandals.

"Now it is marvellous. It is an ideal place for a painter. It is remote and it is romantic."

For the exhibition, there will be 15 paintings by Scott on show, plus about 400 pieces by the commander and local artist Louise Stebbing's etchings, watercolours and lino cuts for sale.

People will also be able to go inside the lighthouse where Scott whiled away the hours creating his wonderful wildfowl paintings.

But the Scott paintings owned by Mr Joel will not be on sale. "They belong with the lighthouse," he said.

The lighthouse is open from May 19 to June 3, entrance £1, refundable on purchase of a painting, children free. The lighthouse is at Sutton Bridge, at the end of East Bank.

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