Beckford's Tower

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Beckford's Tower
Beckford's Tower - geograph.org.uk - 746959.jpg
General information
Architectural style neo-classical folly
Town or city Bath
Country England
Completed 1827
Client William Beckford
Technical details
Size 120 feet high
Design and construction
Architect Henry Goodridge

Beckford's Tower, originally known as Lansdown Tower, is an architectural folly built in neo-classical style on Lansdown Hill, just outside Bath, Somerset, England.

History[edit]

Standing 120 feet (37 m) high, the tower was completed in 1827 for local resident William Beckford to a design by Henry Goodridge. Beckford wished that he had built the tower forty feet higher and admitted: "such as it is, it is a famous landmark for drunken farmers on their way home from market".[1] Located at the end of pleasure gardens called Beckford's Ride which ran from his house in Lansdown Crescent up to the tower at the top of Lansdown Hill, Beckford used the tower as both a library and a retreat. He also made it his habit to ride up to the tower to view the progress of gardens and works then walk down to breakfast.

Beckford's own choice of the best of works of art, virtu, books and prints as well as the rich furnishings from Fonthill Abbey, which he had sold in 1822, were rehoused in his double adjoining houses in Lansdown Crescent, Bath and at the tower. One long narrow room was fitted out as an "oratory", where the paintings were all of devotional subjects and a marble Virgin and Child stood bathed in light from a hidden skylight.

The most striking feature of the tower is the topmost gilded lantern (or belvedere), based on the peripteral temple at Tivoli and the Tower of the Winds at Athens. From here, with a strong spyglass, Beckford could make out shipping in the Bristol Channel.[2]

After Beckford's death on 2 May 1844 the Tower was sold to a local publican who turned it into a beer garden. Eventually it was re-purchased by Beckford's daughter, Susan Beckford, 10th Duchess of Hamilton, who gave the surrounding land to Walcot parish for consecration as a cemetery in 1848. This enabled the return of Beckford's body from Bath Abbey Cemetery in Lyncombe Vale for reburial near the tower as per his original wishes. His self-designed tomb — a massive sarcophagus of pink polished granite with bronze armorial plaques - stands on a hillock in the cemetery at the centre of an oval ditch. On one side is a quotation from his own Gothic novel Vathek: "Enjoying humbly the most precious gift of heaven to man — Hope"; and on another these lines from his poem, A Prayer: "Eternal Power! Grant me, through obvious clouds one transient gleam Of thy bright essence in my dying hour."

The cemetery was declared redundant and sold in 1971, with the then rector of Lansdown remarking that the tower was of little architectural interest.

Museum[edit]

Today, the tower is home to a museum collection displaying furniture originally made for the tower, alongside paintings, prints and objects illustrating William Beckford’s life as a writer, collector and patron of the arts. Visitors can follow in Beckford’s footsteps and climb the spiral staircase to the restored belvedere below the lantern and experience panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, including western Bath. On a clear day, it is possible to see King Alfred's Tower at Stourhead, the two White Horse monuments at Westbury and Cherhill, the Forest of Dean and across the Bristol Channel into South Wales.

The tower is now owned by the Bath Preservation Trust and managed by the Beckford Tower Trust. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building.[3]

Part of the tower is available to rent as a holiday home through the Landmark Trust.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Quoted in Lewis Saul Benjamin, The Life and Letters of William Beckford of Fonthill 1910:324.
  2. ^ Benjamin 1910:324.
  3. ^ "Beckford's Tower & Mortuary Chapel, Lansdown Cemetery". Images of England. Retrieved 2007-10-02. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°24′24″N 2°22′44″W / 51.40656°N 2.37885°W / 51.40656; -2.37885