Locations Feature Page - Towers
Towers are distinctive landmarks which often make their way into literature and drama. Many have a practical purpose, as with lighthouses, while others were built just as ‘follies’, i.e. for no practical reason. Instances are listed by period, earliest first.

Church Towers
In the later Middle Ages, it was the church towers - not castles - which came to dominate tower construction, as a matter of policy - a statement that they were the power in the land. (Poet Laureate John Betjeman has written in his “A Passion For Churches” on how the spread of Christianity throughout England depended on adding bell-towers to parish churches as landmarks symbolically dominating the landscape.) Church towers thus are common, and these are often castellated square towers, like those of mediaeval castles, and not just a spire (like Salisbury Cathedral). However, none of them are standalone towers.

Above and right: Christchurch Priory, whose square tower can be seen for miles.

Above and right: Wimborne Minster and Avebury Church.
Castle Towers
Mediaeval castles had towers at each corner or bend of their outer or curtain wall, and sometimes an inner central tower or keep. However there are few examples surviving and maintained as they appeared in the Middle Ages, most left in ruins as a matter of state policy. The most famous ruined example in the area is Corfe, which was largely demolished on Parliament's orders. It sits in a cleft in the Purbeck Downs, below.

The Keep, Dorchester:
This is the most intact example of a central tower or keep, though it is in fact a replica, built in the style of a Norman castle, completed in 1879 as the gatehouse for the Depot Barracks of the new Dorsetshire Regiment.

Corfe Castle has appeared in various films, from The Ghost Camera [1936] to Five On A Treasure Island [1957] through Mike Leigh's Nuts In May [1972] and several Rosamunde Pilcher romance-novel adaptations for German state tv ZDF, such as Zerrissene Herzen (2000), shown above. It was blown up with gunpowder by Cromwell's engineers at the end of the Civil War. Much of the outer wall collapsed but shards of its towers were left standing, forming a set of jagged, tower-like shapes.
'Folly' Towers

Towers built privately for no 'serious' purpose (such as defence) were known as follies. They spread as part of a fashion among the landed gentry in the 18th-C., when the landscaping movement pioneered by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was popular with estate owners, but there are some earlier and later examples.

Eyre’s Folly or The Pepperbox
[SU212/248], built SE of Salisbury [E of the Southampton Road] in 1606 is given as a very early example of this - “erected for no known purpose” (to quote Ralph Whitlock’s Salisbury Plain). Nevertheless it was not simply a decorative folly but was also an early example of the octagonal brick ‘round’ house. Standing on downs that are National Trust property, it is now publicly accessible.

The ‘Philosopher's Tower
[ST045/109] is a private folly [not open to public] off the B3078 in Cranborne Chase, built c1690 for the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper (1671-1713), a semi-invalid who wrote on social affairs. He was nicknamed The Philosopher Earl after he took Montaigne’s advice that a philosopher should live in a tower full of books and artwork (as in ‘ivory tower’). He had the tower designed as a 2-room study built to the E of his Wimborne St Giles estate (across the B3078) for meditation.

The 6-storey brick Horton Tower in Cranborne Chase, East Dorset, now ruined inside and used for telecommunications, was built 1726 as a deer-observation tower, possibly to a Vanbrugh design. The ruined interior is seen in the 1967 film of Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd, in the scene where Sgt Troy goes to a cockfight. The photo above is taken from Drusilla's Inn just north, E of the B3078.

Overlooking the East Somerset Levels is St Michael’s Tower, Montacute [NT], a lookout tower of 1760 [advertised by the NT as ‘accessible’] stands atop St Michael's Hill on the grounds of Montacute House. The conical rock outcrop is formerly the site of a Norman castle and gives the famous house its name [Latin Montis Acutus - of the acute or steep mount].

Right: Montacute Tower, as seen in telephoto closeup from Montacute House grounds, and [mouse over] [2] in the promo film Creatives Grow Better In The South West.

The 160’-high triangular brick King Alfred’s Tower, Stourhead [ST745/351] overlooking the West Wiltshire Downs takes its name from the hill where Alfred supposedly rallied his troops before doing battle with invading Danes. It was built in 1772 atop a high hill on the landscaped Stourhead Estate [now NT] near the Wilts-Somerset boundary, and offers views for miles around in all directions.
Overlooking The Solent and Southampton Water is Luttrell’s Tower at Eaglehurst [SU476/009]. Built in the 1780s in the SE corner of the New Forest, this is usually described as a disguised watchtower built to protect the MP owner, Luttrell, from apprehension when smuggling brandy in from France - though it seems an elaborate construction for such a basic purpose. Refurbished in the 19C and again in 1978, it has a round turret atop a square tower, and is well-furnished inside, being operated by the Landmark Trust as holiday accommodation.

The 100’-high Charborough Tower, inside Charborough Park, is a 19th-C. hunting tower, first built in the 1790s and then, after being struck by lightning in 1839, rebuilt 40ft higher. It is one of two observatory-type towers which Hardy said inspired his [yet unfilmed] romantic novel Two On A Tower.
The tower sits on a walled private estate belonging to the Drax family. Apart from the one open day a year (when this photo was taken), it is not accessible to the public, but can be seen from the Lytchett Matravers back road.

Clavel Tower [SY909/787], sometimes spelt Clavell or Clavell’s Tower, overlooking Kimmeridge Bay is one of the region’s most famous romantic ruins. The 3-storey tower with its distinctive colonnade or ring of ‘Tuscan’ columns was built in 1820, and later ‘improved.’ It has always been a favourite of local artists and its precarious clifftop siting has earned it the romantic nickname of “The Tower Of The Winds.” It was sketched by Thomas Hardy who came here in his youth with his ‘first love’ fiancée, his sketch of it later becoming the frontispiece of his Wessex Poems. It was also used by novelists and filmmakers as a setting [see below].

It inspired PD James’s 1975 Adam Dalgleish mystery novel The Black Tower. The 1985 ITV adaptation was partly shot there, the tower's exterior being coated with water-soluble black paint to match the story. (Mouse over image to see 2nd screenshot.) When the tower was threatened by clifftop erosion, PD James led the fundraising campaign to save it, the tower being by then dilapidated and leaning like Pisa's. It was dismantled and rebuilt just inland. Its interior, gutted by fire, was also restored and it is now holiday accommodation run by the Landmark Trust. The exterior was restored to its original 19-C form, when it was used as a coast-view lookout - some say for smuggling purposes.

Clavel Tower has appeared in several ZDF [German state tv] Sunday-night dramatisations of Rosamunde Pilcher romance novels.

Right: as seen in [1] Die Rose von Kerrymore (2001) and [mouse over image] [2] Kinder des Glücks (2003).

It was seen most recently onscreen in the SF tv anthology series Philip K Dick's Electric Dreams.

The Hardy Monument, 72’ high and standing on a 780’ hill overlooking west Dorset, is nothing to do with the author Thomas Hardy, but was erected by the people of Weymouth in 1844 on Blackdown as a posthumous monument to Nelson’s flag captain Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy (of ‘Kiss me, Hardy’ fame). Now restored by the National Trust, this Portland Stone tower has a spiral staircase inside you can ascend in summertime to see even more of the view from the parapet. The view shown in the 2nd photo (mouse over to see it) is to the south.
Appley Tower on the seafront at Ryde on Wight was not built until 1875, but is in the style of a mediaeval castle tower. The Appley estate earlier had a manor house designed in Gothick-revival style reminiscent of a castle, of which the tower is in effect a memorial relic. It combines several features of mediaeval castle architecture, such as battlements, a turret, and oriel-style windows. The main house on the hill above, Appley Towers, was demolished in the 1950s. The site is now Council owned, and is on a public footpath, with the tower house itself open to the public at certain times. Part of Ryde beachfront is on its seaward side, with views across the Solent towards Portsmouth.
One other traditional type of tower beloved of Romantic landscape painters is the windmill. However, only a handful of these survive, and as they tend to be made of wood, all are preserved relics rather than ruins. Burlesdown Windmill, built in 1814, on the W side of Southampton Water, [pictured right] is the only working windmill in Hampshire. It was restored in 2011.
There is also a preserved one on Wight, managed by the National Trust, the Bembridge Windmill [c1700], on a hill above Bembridge High Street, on the E tip of the island, with views all around. It was painted by Turner in 1795. In Wiltshire, Wilton Windmill stands outside Wilton W of Salisbury. It appeared in the 1986 Style Council video Jerusalem.
A landmark with a memorial background is visible from anywhere in the SW corner of the New Forest: Sway Tower, claimed to be the world’s tallest folly. Despite this, and its resemblance from afar to a factory chimney, this name is not a comment on its stability, but derives from the nearby village of Sway – best-known as the setting for Marryat’s Children Of The New Forest. It had a shorter [50-ft high] prototype built in more orthodox Italianate style, which stands nearby, though not visible from the public road. Also known as Peterson’s Folly, it had an intended mausoleum use, the owner having his remains stored on the top floor.
It is a 220’ high concrete edifice built of Portland cement around 1880, using a design the owner insisted he obtained, via a spiritualist medium, from Sir Christopher Wren, the 17C architect of St Paul’s Cathedral. Devoted to the theme of the passage of time, it has 52 windows and, inside, 12 rooms and 365 steps. The owner was a widower who long mourned his late wife, and there are stories of séances conducted there, some attended by famous people like Conan Doyle.
Restored as private accommodation after the 1987 hurricane, it is not open to the public.
By Peter Facey, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9297195



Left: Anvil Point lighthouse [1] from the Durlston Castle path and [2] in the main titles of the Rosamunde Pilcher adaptation Im Licht des Feuers.

Many early cliff-edge buildings were put up by the landowners partly for reasons related to seafaring. That is, they were erected not only as coastal lookouts but as aids to shipping, either as ‘sea-marks’ (for ships to take a bearing on when approaching anchorage) or as the forerunners of modern lighthouses (using fire beacons in metal baskets on the roof, as with St Aldhelm's Chapel, supplanted in 1881 by the nearby 12m-high Anvil Pt lighthouse pictured above, SW of Swanage). Some of the clifftop or seashore sites already listed above, such as Clavel Tower, may fall into this usage category. Purpose-built lighthouses are the most recent development in tower building, pioneered largely by the father of author Robert Louis Stevenson. (This is why the RLS memorial in the grounds of his now-demolished house in Bournemouth is shaped like a lighthouse.)

A few lighthouses still go back farther in time than the familiar whitewashed purpose-built towers. Britain's oldest medieval lighthouse is the Niton Lighthouse also known as St Catherine’s Oratory as it stands at St Catherine’s Point, the Isle Of Wight’s southernmost point. It is a 35’ tower nicknamed the ‘Pepper Pot’ after its shape, built in 1314 and used till 1540 as a lighthouse, due to the number of shipwrecks in the area. However neither it nor its successors proved practical, for they were above low-lying sea-fog. The site should not be confused with the half-finished late-18C tower the locals nicknamed the Salt Shaker, or the more modern unmanned St Catherine’s Lighthouse built down at sea level in 1858. The ‘Pepper Pot’ survives as a ruin, still classed as an ancient monument despite some alterations. It is open to the public, visible from a viewpoint near the 14C Buddle Inn. The view over the south coast is extensive as it stands some 750ft above sea level.


Left: The modern St Catherine's Lighthouse by Niton village on the Undercliff on the Isle of Wight's southern coast, seen from offshore.  

Wight has several other lighthouses around its coasts. On E Wight, St Helen’s, Duver Peninsula, is a 17C church tower (replacing an earlier one) kept whitewashed as a sea-mark for the St Helen’s Roads anchorage below. Off the tip of West Wight is the much photographed, now unmanned, Needles Lighthouse [1858-] on The Needles chalk rocks, with its rooftop helipad, pictured right.

Across the Solent, on the mainland coast opposite, are a pair of lighthouses. There's a small one at Lepe, built in 2000 as a Millenium River Beacon, to guide vessels entering the Beaulieu River. It is accessible from Lepe Country Park.

The main Solent lighthouse is at Hurst. Hurst Point Lighthouse is sited at the narrows created by Hurst Spit, where the strait, called the Needles Channel, is little more than a thousand meters wide. The present lighthouse, pictured above and below, dates back to 1867, when it replaced earlier attempts. The 26-meter tall tower is officially known as Hurst High Lighthouse since one of the several earlier versions is still extant, as it was built into the wall of Hurst Castle (actually a 19C artillery fort). This obsolete smaller predecessor, a square metal structure built in 1911, is known as the Low Light, and is now painted the same colour as the fort wall to avoid confusing vessels. The current lighthouse was modernised in 1997.

The interior as well as the exterior of Hurst lighthouse, as it then was, were seen in 'Five Go To Demon's Rocks', a 1978 episode of the ITV Famous Five series. (Mouse over image to see 2nd screenshot showing view from turret.)

Portland Bill Lighthouses
In terms of modern lighthouses (marked by distinctive red and white stripes), there are now two on Portland Bill midway along the Dorset coast. The newer one from 1906, pictured, is bigger and more centrally located, right down on the tip of the promontory. The older one of 1869 survives nearby, now used as a Bird Observatory. (There were at least four lighthouses built on Portland one after the other, the remains of two even older ones having been found.) PD James may have been taken the title of her novel The Black Tower [see Clavel tower, above] from a line in AE Housman's A Shropshire Lad, LIX: "Black towers above the Portland light". Onscreen, Portland Bill and its lighthouse can be glimpsed in the background of WWII dramas, usually as a warship from the old naval base sails past.
Victorian ‘Gothick’ Water Towers
The Victorian ‘Gothick’ style involving imitations of mediaeval architectural features crept into local municipal buildings. New Milton Water Tower, built of brick in 1900 in 'Tudor' style, is a distinctive town landmark, with its turret, slit windows and battlements. In Bournemouth’s parks, two water towers storing water for garden-irrigation are hidden within the façade of 'storybook' towers (made of sandstone or brick). One, in the Upper Central Gardens [N of Queens Road], The Upper Gardens Folly [pictured], built around 1890 and restored in 1993, is strictly a children’s plaything (the doorway is bricked off so only the alcove is accessible). In Seafield Gardens, the more substantial [built 1897 in 14C Scottish-Baronial style], Southbourne Water Tower also red-brick with a castellated top storey, has since been sold to a telecomms utility and is not open to the public. It can be seen as far away as St Catherine’s Hill N of Christchurch, and should not be confused with the tower of Christchurch Priory to the E.

The latest addition, in a category of its own, is Weymouth Sea Life Tower, built in 2012 for the Olympics, and renamed in 2015 the Jurassic Skyline tower. This is a seafront observation tower 53m (174 ft) high, with a rotating passenger gondola.

Top   South Central MediaScene HomePage    Email Us