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To the Lighthouse: A Pair of Sheltered Cottages at Dungeness


To the Lighthouse: A Pair of Sheltered Cottages at Dungeness

August 28, 2023

Dungeness, on England’s south coast, is an almost impossible idea, the kind of place that could only be concocted by the British. Although it is a desirable destination, with the likes of Ed Sheeran buying property here, it is not “posh” exactly. Most of the houses are converted railway carriages or fisherman’s cottages—like filmmaker Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage, tarred in black with bright yellow windows, just as it was when he found it in the 1980s (and paid £750 for it). The charm of Dungeness is partly due to the fact that the whole estate is privately owned, with strict rules about buildings and fences, with all of it comprising a national nature reserve. But the things that should work against it, extreme wind, desert sun, pebbles for miles, and even a 1960s nuclear power station, are the things that win you over.

Creative thinkers have done well here: Derek Jarman made a garden despite the odds, and the artist and writer Martin Turner, who bought the Round House at auction in the early ’90s, made a comfortable home out of a building that was completely round, and lacking in electricity or water. He was delighted to have the space after living in Hackney, London, and what he lacked in funds he made up for with hard work, and fabulous taste. His daughter, Kathryn Morris, continues his legacy and has recently refurbished the two lighthouse keeper’s cottages, both of which are now available as holiday lets. We stayed in one of them:

Photography by Caitlin Atkinson for Remodelista.

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Above: Dungeness Old Lighthouse, which looms over the lighthouse keeper’s cottages. Built in 1904, it is known as the fourth lighthouse.

There have been many shipwrecks around Dungeness, where the waters of the North Sea and the Channel merge, near a promontory of ever-increasing shingle (pebbles). Dungeness Old Lighthouse, overlooking the cottages and the Round House, went out of commission in 1960 when the nearby nuclear power station was built (which is now being decommissioned itself). It is open during school holidays and weekends, and is worth climbing the 169 steps for a view over the peculiar republic that is Dungeness.

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Above: The 1960s nuclear power station got in the way of the beam from the fourth lighthouse, so a new one was built further east. The Round House is to the right.

The early 19th century cottages are Grade II listed, described by Historic England as “lighthousemen’s dwellings” or simply “pavilions,” hinting at their dignified interior proportions. The Round House, where Kathryn lives (shown on the right) was built to shore up a crumbling lighthouse built in 1792. When it was demolished, the round “dwelling” around its base remained standing.

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Above: East Cottage, the first lighthouse keeper’s house to be restored, followed by West Cottage just across the way. The still-functioning 1960s lighthouse is to the east.

The cottages are easy to spot from a distance because of their siren-red chimneys. “My father painted them red, which was quite controversial at the time,” explains Kathryn, who is a talent manager for television. “However, they are now iconic and look so good against a blue sky. The red is the same one that Trinity House (the lighthouse authority) uses on its lighthouses now, so it’s very in keeping.”

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Above: A bench of sweet chestnut, made by the in-house carpenter at Great Dixter garden, shelters under flowering broom.

The small gardens around the cottages and the bigger spaces outside the Round House are nudged along by designer Marc O’Neill, who is also a volunteer at England’s most innovative garden Great Dixter (a 40-minute drive). Marc also helps with the neighboring garden around Prospect Cottage, brilliantly evoked by Derek Jarman in the book he put together with photographer Howard Sooley, Derek Jarman’s Garden.

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Above: It’s hard to escape lighthouses on this part of Dungeness; the Round House is built around the base of one, and next door is the one that replaced it.

Historically walled and fenced in, the Round House is the only property on Dungeness to have this degree of shelter, made even more effective with spreading shrubs. The garden behind West Cottage shows some of Marc’s plant introductions, from the nursery at Great Dixter. To the left, Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ (oleaster) is looser and wilder-looking than some of the popular silver-leafed shrubby trees of yore, such as olive and silver pear.

For more of the garden, see The Round House: Fearless Shingle Gardening at Dungeness on the Coast of England.

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Above: Each cottage is blessed with unusually elegant proportions, as seen here in the entrance hall to West Cottage.

Before Kathryn began working on the cottages, they had not seen much attention since the 1970s. Under the plastic floor in the hallway, smooth brick was waiting to be be revealed, and walls were stripped and painted with Triple Warm White by Atelier Ellis. Now the cottages are cool in summer and warm in winter, with an emphasis on the latter: “I overspec’d the heating because I couldn’t stand the prospect of a chilly cottage,” says Kathryn.

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Above: A place to sit down and eat. Not shown: large fireplace with wood-burning stove.

The cottages have been furnished with an enthusiasm for detail. “All the furniture is vintage in both cottages. I furnished East Cottage during the pandemic, so everything was bought via online auctions or antique sellers… Instagram was an invaluable resource,” recalls Kathryn. The dining table and benches were sourced separately but they are both French cherry wood, the table from Lots Road Auction, the benches from Vinterior.

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Above: A corner of the sitting room in West Cottage, decorated with the faded inflorescence of an old phormium plant from Kathryn’s garden, propped up in the corner.

Curtains are hung close to the ceiling in the cottage-pavilions, accentuating their mini-manor proportions. The drape shown here is washed linen from the Hackney Draper. The lampshade is by Matilda Goad. The sofa is upholstered in linen from Merchant and Mills in Rye, and the blanket is from Freight Household Goods in Lewes. Other local sources that Kathryn likes are vintage homeware emporia AG Hendy and Co in Hastings, and Soap and Salvation in Rye.

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Above: A bedroom in East Cottage, with bed nooks punched into the wall, and a built-in shelf displaying Swedish herbariums from the 1920s and some vintage Penguin paperbacks.

“I boxed-out the wall with tongue and groove to create a shelf above, and nooks for the bedsides,” explains Kathryn. “I wanted a king-sized bed (American queen-sized) but the wall isn’t very wide.” The antique iron bedstead is French, and the bolster pillow is from Anna Unwin, enveloped in vintage Hungarian linen.

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Above: An antique, low chair made by Morris & Co for Liberty, one of Kathryn’s well-chosen pieces in East Cottage.

Built-in cupboards in all the rooms were inspired by the cabinetry inside the Round House. They were originally made as a response to the building’s almost exclusively curved walls. Of the main house, Kathryn says: “I try not to place much furniture against the walls because I want to appreciate the curve, and focus on the views out, so minimal is best. Also, the house has wonderful original built-in joinery in the form of corner cupboards which makes the best of the awkward space available.”

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Above: Each cottage has two bedrooms of equal size.

“The curtains are all hung high to give extra drape, and feel really luxurious,” says Kathryn. “These ones are Guy Goodfellow’s Olive Sacking, in ‘Rosewood‘.” The Arts and Crafts chair is one of a pair, designed by William Birch and bought from Dudley Waltzer. “It goes with the William Morris for Liberty chairs that I’m collecting.”

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Above: White-flowering sea kale is one of the native, leitmotif plants that grows on the beach and against walls, filling the air with a strong honey scent. “Sea kale, Crambe maritima, is the Ness’s most distinguished plant,” wrote Derek Jarman in the ’90s.
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Above: The best gardens at Dungeness are made of remnants found by the sea.

Just along the road, an installation of flotsam and jetsam interplanted with vibrant and unusual plants tells us that here is Derek Jarman’s garden. There are no signs, tea room or car park, but the garden without perimeters draws admirers from around the world.

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Above: An outbuilding by the gate that separates the Roundhouse walls from Kathryn’s garden. “There are no rules about hedges at Dungeness; it’s fences that aren’t allowed, because it’s a Conservation Area,” says Kathryn. “But there have been fences around the Round House and cottages historically, so these properties have always enjoyed more privacy.”
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Above: The Roundhouse is the only property at Dungeness with closable perimeters, useful for children and dogs, as the stretch of English Channel nearest to the cottage can be treacherous.

Although the Round House itself is not let, it is a fantastic space with an unusual rotunda in the middle. Entirely made of brick, the detailed care of Kathryn’s father in restoring the building is seen on close inspection: damaged areas were painted with trompe l’oeil bricks and perfectly matched pointing. Says Kathryn: “I’ve always envisaged it as a creative hub for artists/makers/musicians, should the money ever appear to do the work.”

For more English holiday lets, we suggest:

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Frequently asked questions

What is the location of the Dungeness England Lighthouse Cottages holiday rentals?

The Dungeness England Lighthouse Cottages holiday rentals are located in Dungeness, England.

How many cottages are available for holiday rentals?

There are two cottages available for holiday rentals at the Dungeness England Lighthouse.

What is the unique feature of these cottages?

The unique feature of these cottages is that they are converted from former lighthouse keepers' living quarters, offering a unique and historic experience.

What amenities are included in the holiday rentals?

The holiday rentals at Dungeness England Lighthouse Cottages include fully equipped kitchens, comfortable beds, modern bathrooms, Wi-Fi, and stunning sea views.

Are pets allowed in the cottages?

Yes, pets are allowed in the cottages for an additional fee. However, there are some restrictions and conditions that apply.

Is parking available at the cottages?

Yes, each cottage has private parking available for guests.

Can the cottages accommodate large groups or families?

Both cottages sleep four people; they can be booked simultaneously for larger groups.

Are there nearby attractions and activities?

Yes, Dungeness is a unique and scenic location with various attractions and activities nearby, including famous gardens such as Great Dixter, art galleries and shops in Rye and Hastings, Dungeness National Nature Reserve, and picturesque walks along the coast.

How can I book a holiday rental at Dungeness England Lighthouse Cottages?

You can book a holiday rental at Dungeness England Lighthouse Cottages by visiting their website or contacting them directly via phone or email. Availability and booking details can be found on their website.

What are the check-in and check-out times?

The check-in time is usually in the afternoon, around 3:00 PM, and check-out time is typically in the morning, around 10:00 AM. However, it is recommended to confirm the specific timings with the cottage management.

Product summary  

ol olive sacking peacock loose cover
Outdoor & Patio Furniture

Olive Sacking

More Info from Guy Goodfellow Collection

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