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
On 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.
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
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
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
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
Source of the River Brue
Walkers 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.
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.
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
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.