Monday, 30 November -0001

Crumbling Cliffs

Cliffs can crumble and take dreams with them, discovers Sam Taylor

Written by Sam Taylor
The ancient sandstone cliffs that run from Hastings along to Beachy Head have long held a fascination for those in search of their very own ‘Heathcliff’ moment by the sea. Windswept couples regularly stroll along its perilous edge, blinded to the possibility of literally getting carried away.

In the 18th century, a large slab of protruding rock and a naturally formed stone bench high above the waves provided the backdrop for one of the area’s most popular romances, the Lovers’ Seat lovers. It is the tale of a young naval lieutenant called Charles Lamb, a timber merchant’s son from Rye, and a beautiful young heiress, Elizabeth Boys, the only child of the less delightful Samuel Boys, a wealthy landowner and the High Sheriff of Kent.

The two had fallen in love, and in an attempt to separate them the High Sheriff sent her to live at neighbouring Fairlight Place. His plan was scuppered, though, when the young Lamb was made the captain of an anti-smuggling ship, enabling him to sail up and down the Sussex coastline regularly, and the two would meet on their clifftop lovers’ seat.


The pair eventually eloped to London and married at St Clement Danes Church on the Strand, a short stroll from The Lady’s offices. Elizabeth’s father disowned her, but the love-struck pair enjoyed a long and happy marriage, broken after 28 years when he tragically drowned in a yachting accident.

The Lovers’ Seat, however, was used by generations of other romantics, until it was lost in a monumental cliff fall in 1981, and with it countless scratched initials and dashed dreams.

Attempts to replicate its powers have failed; sometimes spectacularly. Hormonal youths with pitchforks keen to impress girls have been caught hacking ‘secret caves’ in the unstable rock. Those with houses backing directly onto the porous sandstone edifices have found themselves in need of the fire brigade and occasionally an ambulance after their own amateur efforts to dig a ‘lovers’ nook’ into the garden wall.

Last winter’s storms caused seven years’ worth of erosion, and there is little chance things will improve. It’s a recurring, heartbreaking, natural disaster, and anyone caught making matters worse can expect a visit from the local authorities with a lesson in tough love.

Next week: Paint samples

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