Speech delivered to Seaford Film Society on 15.09.17 by Carolyn McCourt, resident at Cuckmere for 28 years.
"When Hilary asked me if I would come to speak to Seaford Film Society about the sea defences at Cuckmere Haven I realised I was being offered an important chance to speak to a most interesting group of people; you certainly don’t have predictable films and I love being offered a rug in the winter. I feel part of a community when I come to your films. I meet people I know, we see a fabulous piece of work, one can drink in one's seat, it’s all perfect. This feeling of community is something I’ve experience many times in China but rarely in England and it’s very welcome. Such a lovely atmosphere - thank you to everyone in charge.
I’ve spoken on the panel with James Corrigan from Seaford Council and Peter Owen Jones, Vicar of Firle and well-known TV personality and now Hilary has kindly given me five minutes to tell you about the Cuckmere Haven SOS charity but unless I speak very quickly this might be 7 so forgive me:
I would like to propose that actively supporting improved sea defences at Cuckmere Haven is perhaps of great importance to the community of Seaford as well as to many other people in other countries far away. Seaford and Cuckmere Haven! The two are synonymous perhaps even for you, they certainly are for those who come from further afield.
The image of the Cuckmere Coastguard Cottages framed by the Seven Sisters, the sea, the Downs, the sky - this view we have on our doorstep, some of us closer than others - is indeed an iconic image. This image exists on the walls in many homes and offices, shops and restaurants in many countries. This has been true for decades in a limited sense, only now the fame of Cuckmere is spreading far and wide and drawing towards us a great peaceable, diverse community of nationalities. These multinational visitors come with light hearts and heavy picnic baskets and I hear them walking back up the track from behind my hedge and their voices, in whatever language, sound so at ease and at one with the company they’re with. A visit to Cuckmere Haven, whether it be a 30min walk, a regular day on the beach or a once in a lifetime visit from the other side of the world, seems to generate in the visitor an almost universal feeling of well-being. This phenomenon is a precious asset for Seaford.
Cuckmere is an extraordinarily romantic, whimsical beauty of a view that engenders pleasant day dreams in those who happen here by chance or come specifically to see the image they’ve been staring at for years on their Microsoft screensaver in their office block in Hanoi. When Joe Wright the Director of Atonement arrived at the lower Coastguard Cottage he told me he’d finally found the perfect home for his heroes; the paradise Celia and Robbie will long to live in together. The theme of the cottage runs throughout the film and when Robbie dies he slips away still holding onto his dream embodied in the postcard of the view given to him by Cecilia.
However, this view of Cuckmere with the cottages in the foreground will be certainly lost forever within the next few years unless extra protection is added to the eastern flank of the current, entirely self-funded since 1947, Sea Defence System which protects the cottages and Cable House.
Please look at the charity web-site www.cuckmerehavensos.org
Find out what the issues are, add to the information on the web site; many of you will have a memory or a thought about Cuckmere which in some way features the cottages: Everything is useful. If not only as a record of a much beloved view. Please write to us, leave a letter in the American style post box outside the cottages or post what you have to say online via the SOS web site.
If you have a certain expertise that you feel might benefit the campaign please let us know; it’s a wide field, we need everyone from public speakers to people who enjoy manual labour and always good cake makers!
Publicly realising and achieving success for this campaign would be of great benefit and pride to Seaford Town in the future. It is of course often only when we’re about to lose something are we reminded of how important it is to us. Unfortunately, if the current sea defences do collapse, finding a remedy to the situation at that point would be too expensive and too troublesome to even consider. But we are a winter or two away from that possibility, but only one or two, it's not that long.
We hope the Charity planning application for Stage One of the proposed works (which you can look at on the web site), comes through the process quickly and then we can start making arrangements for the defence building work to take place next Spring, after the threat of storms have passed. It’s going to be quite a task to bring this project to that point, it’s been quite a task already. Michael and Kitty Ann from the Cable House have worked tirelessly through the complicated process of Planning, along with our wonderful trustees and supporters. But we still have a long way to go before the sea defences have been improved and stand substantial enough to protect the Cottages and Cable House for another 25 to 50 years.
The current walls have done their job successfully since 1947 when the big wall was built, followed in 1986 by the lower wall. And please remember, all the sea defences that protect the cottages have, ever since 1947 been entirely funded by the owners of the cottages themselves. The loss of land on the cliff behind the walls is minimal, just like buildings on a marina, the walls do their job well and protect the land behind them. The residents themselves keep the walls well maintained along with friends and supporters.
The task at hand will shortly be to generate a successful Heritage Lottery Fund or similar bid. The many private donations we have received since the charity was set up two years ago have paid for lots of ongoing costs. The charity has also raised money through the various open days and concerts that have taken place at Cuckmere this Summer and last.
Write to us about what Cuckmere and the Coastguard Cottages means to you, be part of the process of protecting this unique view by helping however you feel able, register yourself as a potential volunteer with our sea wall concrete maintenance team- and don’t forget, soup and cake makers always welcome!
The sum total of these cottages is more than the value of private homes. I’m not here just because this is my home but because these cottages and Cable House represent something we have very little of left in this world. There are too few places where we can come to dream peacefully, too few beautiful, quiet, romantic, windswept windows onto paradise anywhere, sometimes it seems on earth. And how many Cuckmeres do we have located only one and a half hours away from the centre of London?
Seaford beware, just at the very point that the Cuckmere and Coastguard Cottage fame is growing, if this campaign is not successful, these historic cottages and Cable House will be lost to the sea before you know it.