Photo gallery & video: Clifftop house near Southwold comes crashing down

A much-loved family home in Easton Bavents, near Southwold, has been pulled to the ground before coastal erosion takes hold.

It's the kind of happy snap lurking in everyone's cupboard: a carefree Andrew Thrale and his sister Sally are seen above, perched on a straw bale in front of the family clifftop holiday home beside the sea.

But that was then – the early-1970s – and this is now. And things have changed beyond measure on the rugged shore at Easton Bavents, near Southwold.

Erosion has ravaged stretches of the north Suffolk coast relentlessly – so much so that in the present-day photo on the right the beach can be seen directly behind Andrew and Sally – even though they are standing in almost exactly the same place as that bale from way back when.

And yesterday, watched by a crowd of onlookers, the almost 80-year-old building – called Thursley – was ripped apart by a demolition machine before the encroaching North Sea could get to it first.

Thursley had been in the Thrale family for four generations.

Andrew Thrale and Sally Mitchell inherited the property from their father, John. For them, yesterday was a time of sadness. They had spent countless summers at the house, holidaying there even until last summer, although they have realised for years that one day they would have to say goodbye.

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'It's tragic, really,' said Andrew, 47. 'We've got so many happy memories of life here, and now it's gone. It's very difficult for us.'

The house was built in the 1930s, a prototype for what the architects had hoped would become a sprawling estate complete with tennis courts and swimming pools. But then the second world war broke out and the estate never materialised. Instead, William Thrale bought Thursley from the government during the 1940s and turned it into his family's second home.

When he bought the house it sat 80 metres away from the cliff edge, but over time the North Sea has crept closer... closer... and closer still.

Andrew, who lives near Warwick, recalled that his grandfather started writing letters to officials in a government department in the 1970s.

'He told them about the erosion and made it quite clear that, ultimately, if nothing was done, it was going to affect a lot more people,' he said.

'What we're facing here in Easton Bavents, the people in Reydon and Southwold will face not next month or even in the next 10 years but probably in the second half of this century. There are some big decisions that need to be made, and they need to be made sooner rather than later.'

Neighbouring properties to Thursley were knocked down in the 1990s.

The demolition work, expected to be complete by Friday, is being paid for by Waveney District Council using money from the �1.5m Pathfinder pot created to help communities to address the impact of coastal erosion.

The recently-approved scheme allows people at Easton Bavents and nearby Corton who are affected by erosion to relocate and rebuild on safe land.

However, unlike in north Norfolk, where a �3m Pathfinder project began in December 2009 and ends this month, home-owners in Waveney district will not be directly compensated. And some local people are frustrated it has taken this long for the government-funded policy to be given the go-ahead locally.

Easton Bavents resident Peter Boggis made national headlines when he began dumping thousands of tonnes of soil at his threatened home to try to keep back the sea in 2000. Dubbed 'King Canute', the former civil engineer won a high court battle against English Nature, which claimed that his clay defences damaged the environment, but later lost on appeal.

His view of the demise of Thursley? 'The demolition of this property is tragic: a complete and utter waste. It has been defended from serious erosion for more than a decade and, with goodwill, could have been enjoyed for a long while in the future,' he said.

'The work that I have done in the past decade proved that this section of the coastline could be saved.'

Mr Boggis, now 79, insists he still has fight in him. But, for Thursley, the war is over.

Yesterday, as demolition workers ripped off the roof and knocked down the walls of the former family haven, children from Southwold Primary School were among those watching.

'Living here, coastal erosion is part of their lives,' said teacher Bethany Cashell. 'It a subject very close to home.'

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