Wave action contributes towards the erosion of cliffs around Beachy Head, which experience frequent small rock falls. Since chalk forms in layers separated by contiguous bands of flints, the physical structure affects how the cliffs erode. Wave action undermines the lower cliffs, causing frequent slab failures – slabs from layers of chalk break off, undermining the upper parts of the cliffs, which eventually collapse. In contrast to small rock falls, mass movements are less common. A mass movement happened in 2001 when, after a winter of heavy rain, the water had begun to seep into the cracks which had frozen and caused the cracks to widen. This then made the cliff edge erode and collapse into the sea, destroying a well-known chalk stack called the Devil's Chimney.
The name Beachy Head appears as 'Beauchef' in 1274, becoming 'Beaucheif' by 1317, and it has nothing to do with the word "beach". Instead, it is a corruption of the original French words meaning "beautiful headland" (beau chef). It was being consistently called Beachy Head by 1724.
In 1929, Eastbourne bought 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) of land surrounding Beachy Head to save it from development at a cost of about £100,000 (equivalent to £6,467,710 in 2021). This land became known as the Eastbourne Downland Estate.
The headland has been considered a danger to shipping. In 1831, construction began on the Belle Tout Lighthouse on the next headland west from Beachy Head. Because mist and low clouds could hide the light of Belle Tout, it was decommissioned in 1902, after the Beachy Head Lighthouse had been built in the sea below Beachy Head as a replacement.
During the Second World War, the Royal Air Force (RAF) established a forward relay station at Beachy Head to improve radio communications with aircraft. In 1942, signals were picked up at Beachy Head which were identified as TV transmissions from the Eiffel Tower. The Germans had reactivated the pre-war TV transmitter and instituted a Franco-German service for military hospitals and VIPs in the Paris region. The RAF monitored these programmes, hoping (in vain) to gather intelligence from newsreels. The area had an important wartime radar station. During the Cold War, a radar control centre was operational in an underground bunker from 1953 to 1957.
West from Belle Tout, the cliffs drop down to Birling Gap, then ascend through the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs to Haven Brow, overlooking the Cuckmere valley. The area is a popular tourist attraction. Birling Gap has a restaurant and, in the summer, multiple ice cream vans serve the area. There are many choices of walking routes.
Phone box and sign advertising the Samaritans at Beachy Head.
The Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team conducts regular day and evening patrols of the area in attempts to locate and stop potential cliff jumpers. Workers at the pub and taxi drivers are also on the lookout for people contemplating suicide and there are signs with the telephone number of the Samaritans urging potential jumpers to call them.
Deaths at the site are often covered by the media, and Ross Hardy, the founder of the chaplaincy team, has said that this encourages suicidal people to choose the site.Eastbourne Borough Council drew media coverage in 2018 for its policy of removing shrines and crosses left at Beachy Head by families of suicide victims.
The earliest reports of deaths by suicide at Beachy Head come from the 7th century. Between 1965 and 1979, there were 124 deaths at the location. Of these, S. J. Surtees wrote that 115 of them were "almost certainly" suicides (although a coroner's verdict of suicide was recorded in only 58 cases), and that 61 percent of the victims were from outside East Sussex. After a steady increase in deaths between 2002 and 2005, there were only seven fatalities in 2006, a marked decrease. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency, whose Coastguard Rescue Teams are responsible for the rescue of injured jumpers and the recovery of the dead, attributed the reduction to the work of the Chaplaincy Team and good coverage of services by the local media. At least 26 people died at the site in 2008.
Use in entertainment and mediaEdit
It is featured in the climax of the 1931 film The Flying Fool, in which the villain's car is chased by the hero's plane over the cliffs. The car driven by the villain for the long chase sequence is a 4 1/2 litre Bentley belonging to Sir Henry (Tim) Birkin, whose private motor works was across the street from the studio in Welwyn Garden City that made the film. Captain Birkin's Motor Works, set up to develop the "blower" Bentley, built a dummy car from spare parts to be filmed falling from the cliffs.
In the final scene of the 1947 film The Upturned Glass, the murderer, an eminent surgeon played by James Mason, commits suicide by stepping off the cliff.
The area was used as a backdrop in many key scenes in Jenny Downham's 2007 young adult novel Before I Die and in its 2012 film adaptation directed by Ol Parker Now Is Good.
The 2010 remake of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock was filmed extensively at Beachy Head as well as in nearby Eastbourne, which was preferred to Brighton.
It appears in the 2017 film The Hitman's Bodyguard in the scene driving to Amsterdam. It shows both Beachy Head lighthouse and Bell Tout lighthouse, although Bell Tout had red and white stripes added by CGI.
Beachy Head was used as a film location for the video of 'Quello Che Faro', an operatic cover of Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do, I Do It For You", recorded by classical-crossover artist, Katherine Jenkins on her 2006 album, Serenade.
Alternative rock band Nada Surf mentions Beachy Head in "The Fox", a song from their 2008 album Lucky.
British indie pop band Veronica Falls released a song titled "Beachy Head" urging people not to commit suicide in September 2010.