|"Alfred's Tower is a monument to the genius of
English landscape, many of whose loveliest haunts it commands, and to a man
who certainly deserves to be remembered as among the great benefactors of
the English scene." Christopher Hussey, Country
Life magazine, 11th June 1938.
For the 2012 opening times and charges click here.
Welcome to the King Alfred's Tower website. This
site provides information about the brick
tower (also known as Stourton Tower), at the north-western edge of the Stourhead Estate in Wiltshire, UK.
King Alfred's Tower is a folly: it is a building that arguably serves no purpose.
Nevertheless its size and beauty make it an imposing addition to the landscape,
and the views from the top are breathtaking.
The project to build the tower was conceived in 1762 by the
banker Henry Hoare II (1705-1785), owner of Stourhead and creator of its famous
garden, known to his family as 'the Magnificent'. The tower was intended to commemorate the end of the Seven Years War against
France and the accession of King George III, and supposedly stands near the
location of 'Egbert's stone' where it is believed that
the Great, King of Wessex, rallied the Saxons in May 878 before the
important Battle of Ethandun (now Edington, south-east of Trowbridge) where the
Danish army was defeated.
In the summer of 1764 Henry
Hoare, in a letter to his elder daughter Susanna informing her of his plans for
Stourhead, wrote: "I have one more scheme which will crown or top it all.
As I was reading Voltaire's L'Histoire Générale lately, in his character
of Alfred the Great he says, Je ne sais'il y a jamais eu sur la terre un homme
plus digne des respects da la posterité qu'Alfred le Grand, qui rendit ces
services à sa patrie. Out of gratitude to him I propose...to erect a Tower
on Kingsettle Hill where he set up his standard after he came out of concealment
in the Isle of Athelney near Taunton, and the Earl of Devon had worsted the
Danes...I intend to build it on the plan of Sn Mark's Tower at Venice, 100 foot
to the room which the staircase will lead to and 4 arches to look out in the 4
sides to the prospect all round."
The tower was designed in 1765 by Henry Flitcroft, the notable 18th
century Palladian architect, and despite the inspiration from St Mark's Tower in
Venice, this tower is rather different. Building began in 1769 or early
1770, and was completed in 1772 at an
estimated cost of between £5,000 and £6,000. In April 1770, when the tower was
just 15 feet high, Hoare is quoted as saying: 'I hope it will be finished in as
happy Times to this Isle as Alfred finished his Life of Glory in then I shall
depart in peace.'
The tower is 49m
(160ft) high, and is triangular in plan, with round projections at each of the
three corners. One of these, furthest from the entrance door, has a spiral
staircase within it by which visitors can climb the 205 steps to the top, where
there is a platform with a crenellated parapet. The staircase is not well illuminated, with only ten small openings to admit a little daylight.
The centre of the tower is hollow and open to the elements; in recent years a
mesh has been placed over the opening at the top to prevent birds from entering
the tower. The total girth of the tower is approximately 51m (168ft),
which means that the tower's circumference and height are about the same.
It is 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 and that in more recent times the
Dorset boundary was moved so that the tower now just straddles the Wiltshire-Somerset border.
This information has yet to be confirmed by this website.
The tower stands on a green sandstone plinth about one metre above
ground level, but is constructed of red brick, the walls being 84cm (2ft 9in)
thick with the bricks set in the strong
Flemish Bond (alternating
header-stretcher-header-stretcher). It is estimated that 1.2 million
bricks were used, and the bricklayers used no scaffolding; instead they sat upon
the rising walls as they were built. This website has examined the death register
for the parish of Stourton & Gasper for the period of construction, and despite
several descriptions of accidental deaths, there are none which can be
attributed to the construction of this tower. (The tower stands in the
parish of Brewham, Somerset, and these records have yet to be studied). The top of the tower is made
of stone from the Chilmark quarries.
The 'front' (south-east) face of the tower has the
gothic-arched entrance door, a statue of King Alfred, and a stone panel bearing
an inscription. This is the face that most visitors see first when walking
from Stourhead garden or from the nearby car park.