I spent a couple of early Saturday hours joining other influencers on a special tour of one of the city’s iconic heritage sites.
Local building firm Emery Brothers Limited has just begun the job of renovating and restoring the Grade 1 listed Beckford’s Tower – an architectural folly, built in neo-classical style on Lansdown Hill and owned and operated by Bath Preservation Trust.
It’s in need of essential capital works – sponsored by grants from the National Lottery Heritage Fune and Historic England amongst other funders – to fix a badly leaking roof, renew and extend original windows, and repoint the 154 feet tall tower.
The conservation work will also include measures to address climate change. The new roof will incorporate a drainage system to deal with the heavy downpours we are having to get used to – and there will be solar panels installed on the flat roof of the adjoining building.
(Editor’s note) It will show that listed buildings in Bath CAN be adapted without harming their appearance!
Once external works are completed it will enable a new interpretive museum to be laid out inside. One which will enable the structure – the extravagant whim of a wealthy 19th century man – to draw attention to a darker side to its build.
William Beckford paid for its construction out of the money he inherited and continued to accumulate as an owner of Jamaican plantations and enslaved people, and through the compensation he received from the government following the abolition of slavery.
Dr Amy Frost, who led our tour – with the help of Felix Emery – said Beckford’s connections with the slave trade would be embedded into the core story the tower and its museum would tell. It was a complex one to explain in a small space.
The tower would reopen to the public in March next year – with the added features of access to part of the tower basement and a new public footpath leading to the newly rediscovered grotto tunnel that Beckford used if walking between the tower and his home on Lansdown Crescent.
Dr Frost said it was important to re-connect the famous Bath landmark with the landscape that surrounded it – much of it William Beckford’s back garden!
The tower was built between 1826 and 1827, to house the collections of books, furniture and art of writer and collector William Beckford (1760-1844).
Having sold the Gothic Revival Fonthill Abbey in 1822, he’d relocated to Bath.
Riding out from his townhouse every morning before breakfast, Beckford enjoyed the quiet and solitude of the tower and the glorious views from the Belvedere at the top.
If there is any money left, may l suggest a solar-powered beacon be installed on the tower’s tip.
One that will show the future intention of this iconic structure to bring light to historical darkness.
Letting it be known how wealth acquired from the labours of the enslaved financed some of Bath’s heritage buildings – so admired by its tourists.
It’s a sobering thought that the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act was effectively a bribe. Britain set aside £20 million pounds – 40 per cent of its national budget – to buy the freedom of slaves.
Borrowed money that wasn’t completely paid off until 2015. Meaning some of my – and many of your – income tax payments were part of that shameful historical ‘incentive’!