Alfred's Tower Logo
Aerial Photo

Descriptions of King Alfred's Tower and its surroundings that have been published over the years:

ALFRED'S TOWER, 2⅛m. WNW of [Stourhead] house, across the Somerset border.  1772.  Of brick, triangular, with three round angle projections, one of them containing the staircase and reaching up higher than the rest.  The whole height is 160ft.  The tower commemorates the victory of 879 which established the boundary of Saxons and Britons.  The details of doorway, inscription plate, and statue of King Alfred in a rustic Gothick taste.

From The Buildings of England by Nikolaus Pevsner, Penguin Books 1963.

At the head of the vale of Stour, a verdant terrace conducts you to a lofty tower, built in a most commanding situation to the memory of King Alfred.  The name of this hill is KING SETTLE, and being most probably the pass of that monarch, when he issued from his retreat in the isle of Athelney, and marched to attack the Danes at Eddington, [sic] my predecessor, Henry Hoare, fixed on it for the above purpose.  Much hereafter will be said on this subject when I trace the march of the royal and illustrious Saxon; and many errors of former historians will, I hope, stand corrected.

A little to the west of Alfred's Tower is a large mound of earth, vulgarly called JACK'S CASTLE, and generally considered as one of those beacons, where in former times, fires were lighted to alarm the neighbourhood on the approach of an enemy:

"And flaming beacons cast their blaze afar,
The dreadful signal of invasive war."

From The Ancient History of Wiltshire by Sir Richard Colt Hoare, published by William Miller, London, 1812.

Yon well-poised tower, sublimely eminent,
Shows to the curious passenger the spot
Where Alfred, England's patriot King, unfurled
The Saxon banner 'gainst the northern foe.

From Bidcombe Hill: a rural and descriptive poem by Francis Skurray, London 1824

Alfred's Tower, at Stourhead, Wilts.

By this drive [the terrace drive from Stourhead House], you reach a fine piece of table-land whereon stands the subject of the Engraving, Alfred's Tower, a memorial of considerable historical interest.  This building is of triangular form, with round towers at each angle.  It is built with red brick, and was erected by Mr. Henry Hoare, to commemorate a signal victory which Alfred obtained over the Danes near this spot.

One of Alfred's officers, whose name was Stourton, so greatly signalized himself in this battle that the King made him Baron of Stourton, and gave him the privilege of fishing in the river Stour, from its head down three leagues below Christ Church, which right has since been appurtenant to the manor of Stourton.*

Tradition says, there was so much blood shed in the abovementioned battle at Stourhead, that the river was stained therewith three leagues below Christ Church.

The tower is 160 feet in height.  A flight of 222 steps leads to the summit, whence the prospect is grand and diversified; overlooking great part of Somerset, Wilts, and Dorset, which counties unite near this place.  It is distinctly seen from Shaftesbury, and, indeed, from the rising grounds for twenty miles round on every side.

In a pointed niche over the door of the tower is a stone figure of the great and good Alfred, under which is the following inscription:

Alfred the Great
A.D. 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.

Our acknowledgement for these details is due to Mr. Britton's interesting Beauties of Wiltshire.

  *  The present Sir Richard Hoare's great-grandfather attended fishing the whole extent, about the year 1720.  The people of Christchurch formerly sent every year, a salmon, or a brace of salmon-peel, to the Lords of the manor of Stourton, as an acknowledgement of this prerogative. - Britton's Beauties of Wiltshire, vol ii, p23.

From The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, No. 780, Saturday June 4, 1836.

N.B. The text of the inscription quoted here is accurate but the punctuation and capitalization is not.  Please see the Additional Information page on this site for the exact text.

Local tradition says that on Stourton Hill, about seventeen [sic] miles southwest of Frome, a bold range rising as abruptly out of the plain as a headland out of the sea, the beacon was lighted that summoned the men of three counties to [King] Alfred's standard. Within recent times a tower has been erected to mark the site.

From Harper's Weekly, A Journal of Civilization, New York, November 2, 1901.

An aspirant for the office of Public Executioner - It having been rumoured that Billington was about to resign his office, a candidate for this important office (who has to reside within 5 miles of Alfred's Tower) has come forward. Gossip says that the aspirant has informed the Home Secretary that he can procure excellent credentials from the clergy and nobility of the neighbourhead. Also he has acquired such a severe look that will strike awe to the trembling wretch awaiting his doom; but what is most important from a taxpayer's point of view is, he is willing to undertake his duties at a soverign per head less, providing the Home Secretary guarantees 20 condemned criminals per annum.

From The Wiltshire County Mirror and Express, February 1904.

N.B. This extract was kindly contributed in an email from Chris Oliver but it has not been verified by this website.

The outer circuit of the estate by carriage was also offered to the eighteenth century visitor, through rides among the huge plantation, and to that landmark visible far over Somerset and Dorset, Alfred's Tower.  Among the woods is the exceedingly rustic convent "fitted up with small figures of nuns of different orders" and a collection of coloured glass windows taken from Glastonbury Abbey.  The great triangular brick tower on the summit of the chalk escarpment was built in 1772 to mark the supposed spot where Alfred set up his standard in 879, after his emergence from Athelney.  It is hollow, 160ft. high, and the summit is 1,000ft. above sea level.  From the top is the most magnificent panorama.  Below are the grassy terrace by which the tower is reached, seas of beech woods, and beyond, wave on wave of Salisbury Plain, the Blackmore Vale bounded by the Dorset Downs, the fertile levels of Somerset with the Glastonbury marshes lying towards the Bristol Channel, and the Frome Valley winding towards Bath round the Mendip Hills.  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.

From Country Life magazine, 11th June 1938, written by Christopher Hussey.

Although not strictly part of the park, but situated on the western boundary of the estate, is an oddity well worth a visit.  This is the so-called Alfred's Tower, supposedly on the site of a victory over the Danes.  Built of brick, on high ground about 850 feet above sea level, its 160 foot places the summit just over the 1,000 foot mark.  It is said that the Bristol Channel and Welsh hills can be seen on a clear day from the top.

From This England magazine, Summer 1970 edition, written by Marion and Maurice Teal.

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