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King Alfred's Tower
Aerial Photo
"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.

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King Alfred's Tower 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 Alfred 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 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.' 

Tower in SilhouetteThe 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.

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