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Tower Lodge
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Tower Lodge

This web site has been very fortunate to establish contact with two men, Tony Payne and Ron May, both of whom had family connections with the lodges.  These buildings were sited opposite the entrance to what is now the National Trust car park, where the information board is.  There were two buildings, one on either side of the track that leads into the woods, although to both Ron and Tony's knowledge they were occupied as one dwelling. 

The National Trust used to display photographs of the lodges inside Alfred's Tower, but these were removed in 2002.  When I asked the Stourhead House Manager whether I could reproduce them here he stated that they have been lost and nobody knows where they are!  Fortunately both Ron and Tony have been kind enough to provide their family photographs which appear on this page.  The lodges were demolished by the National Trust in the 1960s.

Tony lived in the lodges during the Second World War, and wrote the fascinating account of his childhood recollections, which appears here.

 

MEMORIES OF LIFE IN THE LODGES AT KING ALFRED’S TOWER IN THE 1940’s.

My parents were Londoners.  I was born in Dagenham.  My father was invalided out of the army from a failed operation on a knee injury and we moved to Somerset when the V2's started as his parents and an aunt were already living in the area.  We lived with my aunt in Rudge for a few months until Dad got the job on the Stourhead estate as an assistant gardener.  We were given both the lodges to live in with the duty to act as caretaker to King Alfred’s Tower.  After Lord and Lady Hoare died we continued to live there on the understanding that this duty continued although his main job finished and he joined the Forestry Commission.  Sometime in 1949 he was transferred to ‘Mendip Forest’ to a brand new Woolaway house near the Priddy lead mines.

Although I was only two and half I have a vivid memory of the move.  It was a dark, wet winter's evening.  The removal van got lost and when they finally found Kilmington it was thick fog as well.  A man with a hessian sack over his head and shoulders like a monk's cowl was recruited to show us the way and the van followed him at walking pace, with him beckoning it forward all the time as they couldn’t see the road properly in the fog with the wartime cowls on the lights.  It was very spooky and the hair on my head still creeps now.

I think the reason I remember so much is because it was so isolated.  We rarely saw anyone unless we went somewhere.  The lodges were a mirror image of each other on the outside and had a main square room with a narrower room behind and two outhouses on the end of them.  From above they must have looked rather like tadpoles.  Looking from the road, we used the right hand lodge main room as a kitchen with room behind as a spare bedroom.  The other one had our sitting room in front and my parents' bedroom behind.  The outhouses on that side were first the wash room, with a wood fired clothes boiler (really just a big cauldron set in a stone frame) and behind that the Elsan toilet that dad had to take into the woods to empty.  One day he returned very cross and smelly.  He had unwittingly dug the hole in the same place.  The outhouses on the right hand lodge were just storage for firewood and coal (when they could get it!).  There were no services at all.  Lighting was by oil lamp and candles, heating and cooking were just the black lead ranges in the big rooms and oil heaters elsewhere (I still have the ration permit for the extra oil we were allowed).  Water for washing clothes etc. came from a water butt and drinking water was fetched every day by my father in a milk churn from a stand pipe on the side of the road near to the entrance of Cox’s Lodge [now Keeper's Lodge], almost opposite Six Wells Bottom.  He had to transport this churn on a metal wheeled frame that attached to the saddle post of his bike.  I had a home-made wooden rocking duck and during the bad winter of 1949 he tied it to the back of the churn carrier and towed me there and back on his bike in the snow.  How he never fell off I don’t know.

Tower LodgeThe aircraft had already crashed into the Tower shortly before we arrived (we were always led to believe it had been an RAF Bristol Blenheim twin-engined bomber.  Of course we now know it wasn’t.  From time to time we were asked to stay indoors on certain days by the RAF as they used the Tower for smoke bombing practice.  There were always aircraft about.  I recall an attack by a whole squadron of Seafires.  That was impressive.  One incident that demonstrated how the Tower crash could have occurred, happened on one of those very foggy days when the cloud base touched the treetops. There was the approach of an awful noise like nothing we’d heard before, coming from the direction of the ride on the other side of the road and as all our geese and hens scattered in terror this machine, looking like a giant dragonfly loomed out of the fog, passed between the lodges and on down the ride towards Gasper.  It was of course one of the first American army Sikorsky helicopters.  I don’t know who was more frightened, us or the two white faces peering out of the perspex.  They had got locked in between the trees and had no option but to follow the ride.  Luckily, as you know, the ground drops rapidly away down that track and they must have been able to escape.  Other aircraft related incidents were one, a military glider, I think a Horsa, force landed just inside the field in front of Cox’s Lodge.  I was taken down to see it and remember playing inside it with the two children of the forester, Mr Fairman (a Canadian), who lived at Cox’s Lodge.

A Heinkel 111 crashed behind that house as well at some time during the war and I have a small identification plate from it that father recovered from the wreck when they were clearing the ground for planting.  He told me one guy found a flying boot, decided it was still ok and when he found the other and pulled it out it still had a foot in it.  It was also rumoured that they found the remains of an airman in the trees below the Tower some time after the war in what we used to call ‘The Hanging’.

Dad’s main problems with the tower was one of thieves trying to steal the lead off the roof (a common activity in those days when any metal fetched a good profit) and, more oddly, what was blamed on the boys from Sexey’s school in Bruton putting pine trunks up to the first window on the stairs and getting in for ‘midnight feasts’.  I often wonder how they got all that way with the confines on transport of those days.  I think people were allowed up the Tower with special permission.  I certainly went up many times with my father but I can’t remember the circumstances in all but a few cases.  One had to be very careful, there was lots of rubble on the floor, and the stairs were very worn and many had rook or jackdaw nests on them.  My aunt Ethel who’s in one of the photos froze when she went up and dad got her down by blindfolding her.  He had worked with horses at one time and reckoned if it worked on them when they panicked, it would work on her.  Our nearest neighbours were at Cox’s Lodge [now called Keeper's Lodge].  First Mr Fairman (already mentioned) and then Mr Jenkinson, who had a daughter my age.  Mum was also friends with people who lived in the convent, he was a gardener at Stourhead but I can’t remember his name.  I was always fascinated by the fly in the glass of the window; it was completely encased without even a bubble round it but so perfectly preserved that it looked as though it had just alighted.

Tower LodgeAll the woodland from the lodges to the Tower was deciduous at that time but while we were there they started felling the more mature trees.  For a while they used prisoners of war, first the Italians and later Germans.  I was always begging rides on their tractors.  Mum didn’t mind the Italians but was nervous of the Germans but as I was very blonde when little they said I reminded them of home.

Kilmington had a village shop with a bakery owned first by Mr Howell and later by Mr Queen.  They used to deliver our groceries by horse van, they also charged our accumulator batteries for the radio, our only link with the outside world most of the time.

After the war people began to visit the Tower again and dad was told that the people who lived there previously used to sell refreshments, so he tried to do the same but it was difficult with rationing and you had to have a licence to sell ‘pop’.  I know he did try for while.  When it came time for me to go to school, because the county border supposedly ran between the two lodges, neither wanted me.  It took a year before Wiltshire relented but they wouldn't supply transport so my parents came to some kind of arrangement with Mr Howell and he took me there and back every day in his Riley Kestrel.  If my parents wanted to go anywhere they had to walk.  My mother used to walk to Mere to shop on occasion.  Saturdays and market days, if we got to Kilmington on time, we caught Mrs Leather’s Bedford ‘Tilly’ bus to Frome and back.  I think Western National took over just before we left.

The hill down from the Tower towards Bruton wasn’t metalled while we were there as it was too steep for the tarmac machines of the time.  In the bad winter of 1949 we were cut off several times during the three months it lasted.  Early one morning whilst in the kitchen dad complained it wasn’t getting light and when he opened the door the snow had drifted right up to the roof and he was presented with a wall of snow and had to dig us out.

My parents' ashes are scattered in the woods near the lodges.

A quick answer to how and when the lodges disappeared is that there were no services to them, (my father had to take a milk churn on a cart attached to his bike to a stand pipe at the side of the road nearly a mile away near the entrance to Cox's Lodge for drinking water) and also the National Trust would not spend any money on maintenance. We were the last to live in them and they were just left until weather and vandalism made them so unsafe they were pulled down sometime in the mid 1960s. A very sad end to a very magical place.

Tony Payne 7th July 2005.

Tower Lodge Plan On the right is a plan of the lodge buildings, hand-drawn from memory by Tony Payne. Click on the image to open a larger copy in a new browser window.

 


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