Alfred's Tower Logo
Additional Information
Aerial Photo
The Inscription

Inscription

The stone tablet above the door on the east face of the tower reads:

ALFRED THE GREAT
AD 879 on this Summit
Erected his Standard
Against Danish Invaders
To him We owe The Origin of Juries
The Establishment of a Militia
The Creation of a Naval Force
ALFRED The Light of a Benighted Age
Was a Philosopher and a Christian
The Father of his People
The Founder of the English
MONARCHY and LIBERTY

The plane crash

King Alfred's TowerOn 10th July 1944 a military plane heading for Zeals Airfield and carrying five American airmen flew into the conical roof of the turret in thick fog.  The plane crashed and all five occupants were killed.  This website previously described the plane as being a de Havilland Norseman, but we now believe it was a Noorduyn C-64A Norseman, a Canadian design built under licence by the Americans.  The 1948 and 1951 editions of the Stourhead guidebook, published by Country Life for the National Trust,  state: "Owing to war damage the Tower is dangerous and cannot be open to the public at present".  However the writer of the guide, James Lees-Milne, tantalises the reader by describing the view from the top of the tower: "...the panorama embracing Salisbury Plain, the Blackmore Vale bounded by the Dorset Downs, and the levels of Sedge Moor is one of unending trees and fields of English green".  The turret was repaired in the 1986.  On the display board inside the tower there is a photograph of the new cone being lifted into place by a Royal Navy helicopter (NB in late March 2003, when the tower was reopened for the 2003 season, this photograph had been removed from display - we shall see whether it reappears later).

Brickwork Repair

There is a myth that part of the tower collapsed while people were on the top.  Some versions of this story include the hapless visitors having to descend the stairs past a gaping hole.  This isn't true.  The large repair to the southern edge of the tower was undertaken in the early 1960s to repair damage caused by masonry bees.  This edge does not hold the spiral staircase and the story is fictitious.  The lighter-coloured bricks of this repair are clearly visible in the photograph on the home page of this website. A photograph showing scaffolding and a long ladder can be seen on the gallery page of this website by clicking here

Leland Trail

Alfred's Tower marks the start of the Leland trail, which is a 28-mile trail across Somerset using public footpaths and tracks.  It commemorates John Leland who travelled in this area between 1535 and 1543.  For more information see South Somerset District Council's Walking website.

King Alfred's TowerChannel Firing

There is a reference to the tower in Thomas Hardy's poem Channel Firing, written in April 1914.  The mention of Stourton Tower in the penultimate line refers to King Alfred's Tower.

Model of the Tower

Visitors to Stourhead may be interested to view a delightful scale model of Alfred's Tower that currently sits in a wall-mounted glass case inside the entrance to the lavatories beneath Stourhead House.  This model was made by Mr Edwin Barnes of Bayford, Wincanton in 1899, and was presented to the National Trust by his widow, Mrs A. Barnes in 1969.  It clearly took many hours of painstaking work to accomplish, and it has been suggested that the lavatory vestibule is not the most fitting place for such a splendid model. Click here to see a picture of the model.

The Macmillan Way

The Macmillan Way passes Alfred's Tower.  It is a network of footpaths across Southern England linking the coasts of Lincolnshire, Dorset, and North Devon.  Its objective is to introduce walkers to some of the finest countryside in southern England, and to encourage people to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Relief.  More information from www.macmillanway.org.

Source of the River Brue

Source of the BrueWalkers may wish to follow the Macmillan Way through King's Wood Warren to the north of Alfred's Tower.  Just over a mile from the tower, at grid reference ST756369, beside the forest track, is a Grade II listed monument erected in 1847 to mark the source of the river Brue.  The river runs west, through a pipe under the track, towards Brewham (the level of the track has presumably been raised since the monument was originally built).  The monument is in some disrepair, but originally was a small grotto with a brick-lined chamber enclosing the spring.  There is a rustic stone surround, but several of the stones appear to have fallen into the pool.  According to the National Monuments Record listing (IoE number 261476), to the right of the keystone are the incised initials HRH 1847, although I have been unable to find these.

In 2002, when the previous paragraph was written, the National Monuments Record listing attributed the construction of this monument to 'Sir Henry Hoare', but I suspected that this was incorrect.  Henry Hugh Hoare, the 3rd baronet, died in 1841; his son, the 4th baronet Hugh Richard Hoare retired from the family banking business in 1845 aged 54 to live at Stourhead, and undertook several improvements and construction projects around the estate until his death in 1857.  Several buildings from this period bear the initials H.R.H., and this monument is probably one of these.  In May 2006 I wrote to English Heritage and pointed out this possible mistake.  The letter was acknowledged in July 2006, and on 24th January 2007 I received a letter stating that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport, after consulting with English Heritage, had decided to correct the list entry to show that the monument was erected by Hugh Richard Hoare.

Socket StoneVinegar Bowl?  Can you identify this?

On the ground near the tower is a stone, about one metre across, in the top of which is a smooth round depression.  This has variously been described as a socket stone and a vinegar bowl.  This was first shown to me by a local resident who asserted that during the plague the depression in the top of the stone would have been filled with vinegar so that coins left as payment for food and provisions could be sterilised, and outsiders would leave food and collect the coins as payment, so that the residents of a village infected by plague need have no contact with the outside world, and thereby avoid passing on the disease.  The stone is now broken into three pieces, but presumably was whole when first made.

If you can verify this, or add any information on this stone, please get in touch using the Feedback page.

Gasper DamGasper Dam

Walkers and cyclists can follow the forest track south from the Alfred's Tower car park until it meets the road to Gasper at a hairpin bend, and then take the left fork, travelling southeast through the hamlet of Gasper to the picturesque New Lake (grid reference ST768329).  This lake was created by the building of Gasper Dam, which was washed away on 28th June 1917 as a result of an unseasonably heavy rainstorm.  Contemporary reports describe this event as the Great Storm, and state that the sudden release of water from the lake caused a flood downstream at Bourton Foundry, which was making munitions for the First World War.

The dam was rebuilt in 1920, but during this period the link between Stourton and Gasper was a footbridge (click here to view photographs of the broken dam).

The Sounds of the Tower

Primarily for the benefit of our visitors who are unable to visit Alfred's Tower, here is a two minute recording of the birdsong that can be heard from the tower. It was recorded from the doorstep of the tower at 0545 BST on 18th June 2006. If your computer has sound capability and speakers you can click on the player below to activate it, and then click the Play button to hear the recording. There may be a delay while the sound file is downloaded to your computer. This player requires the Adobe Flash player and has not been tested with all web browsers so it may not work on all computers. This facility is experimental; please use the Feedback page to notify us of any problems you encounter when using it.


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