King Alfred's Folly
This famous Wiltshire landmark has recently undergone extensive repairs. But no scaffolding was allowed!
King Alfred’s Tower is a 49 metre (160 ft) folly located about two miles from Stourhead’s Palladian house and famous 18th century landscape garden in Wiltshire, England. It was built on the site where it was believed King Alfred had rallied his troops before a battle against Danish invaders in 879 CE. The tower was designed by Henry Flitcroft in about 1772 for Henry Hoare II who laid out the landscape gardens at Stourhead and was designed to commemorate the accession of George III. From the top of the tower, visitors are rewarded with spectacular far reaching views over the three counties of Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset.
Alfred was the first West Saxon king to claim kingship over all Anglo-Saxons, and is only one of two kings to be given the epithet ‘the Great’. It is said that he had a reputation as a merciful man who made improvements to his legal and military systems and was concerned with the welfare of his subjects. The battle against the Danes for which he rallied his followers at Stourhead was an important one in which he managed a decisive victory, pushing the Danes back to East Anglia.
The tower is a triangular shaped structure with three circular side towers, one of which is a stair turret which has 205 steps to the top, where there is a platform with a crenellated parapet. The staircase is illuminated by ten small openings which admit a little daylight. The centre of the tower is hollow and its total girth is c.51 metres (168 ft) which means that the tower’s circumference and height are nearly the same.
Maintenance work was badly needed on the tower and the work was part of a project to repair the 14 buildings, features and structures around the grounds at Stourhead. Last year The National Trust was given £96,000 by Viridor Credits Environmental Company after they were shown the huge public support for the building on the Stourhead Facebook page. There had been other support locally, including a generous donation from the Mackintosh Foundation which was championed by local resident Sir Cameron Mackintosh.
Work on the tower included replacing the roofs of two of the towers on the corners of the triangular section tower, as well as the walkway around the top of the tower which needed to be repaired. Some of the brickwork needed repointing and the statue of King Alfred above the doorway also had some minor repairs and conservation work.
It has said that when originally built, the tower stood at the union of the boundaries of the counties of Somerset, Wiltshire, and Dorset, with one corner of the triangular base in each county. In more recent times the Dorset boundary was moved so that the tower now just straddles the Wiltshire-Somerset border. Work to the tower has now been completed and it will reopen on 5th March 2016.
Kind Alfred’s Tower is part of the Stourhead Estate. Its gardens are open 9 am - 5 pm November - March and 9 am - 6 pm April - October. The House is open until 13 Nov and also 26 Nov – 21 Dec. See www.nationaltrust.org.uk/stourhead for more information. Left, clockwise: King Alfred’s Tower in the Spring with wild orchids (Image: © National Trust/Tam Holmes);
Going over the edge no scaffolding allowed! (Image: © National Trust/ SWNS)
The Temple of Apollo reflected in the lake in Stourhead gardens (Image: © National Trust Images/Clive Nichols)
Repair work on the tower (Image: © National Trust/Neil Munns)
Cleaning up King Alfred (Image: © National Trust/Neil Munns)