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Beckford's Tower was sold in 1847 to a local publican, who turned it into a beer garden. Beckford's daughter, Susan, wife of the 10th Duke of Hamilton, was disturbed that the tower should be used for such purposes and bought it back from the publican. She then gave the tower and its grounds to Walcot parish for use as a cemetery.

The Scarlet Drawing Room was converted for use as a funeral chapel and the tower and grounds were consecrated in 1848. Maintenance of the tower remained a constant problem for the next 100 years. In 1970, the cemetery chapel was closed. In the following year the tower was sold to a Dr. and Mrs. Hilliard, who began an extensive programme of restoration. It is now the property of the Beckford Tower Trust and consists of a museum and private residence.

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list

 

HISTORIC DEVELOPMENT

William Beckford (1760-1844), writer, book collector, patron of the arts, and builder of Fonthill Abbey (qv) in Wiltshire, moved to Bath in 1822. After he had purchased two houses at Lansdown Crescent, he commissioned the local architect Henry Edmund Goodridge (1797-1864) to design a tower on land he purchased at Lansdown Hill. The tower, known as Lansdown Tower or Beckford's Tower, was completed in 1827. It functioned as a retreat, with, on the top floor, a Belvedere from which one could enjoy a panoramic view. The Tower was also to become the focus for the ride which Beckford subsequently laid out (Tithe map, 1838). The ride led c 2.4km from his back garden at Lansdown Crescent, up Lansdown Hill to the Tower which was surrounded by a pleasure ground (Plan, c 1848). The ride was adorned with various features, as illustrated and described in Willes Maddox and Edmund English's Views of Lansdown Tower, published in 1844.

Two years before his death, Beckford designed his own sarcophagus and had it erected in the pleasure ground adjoining his Tower. Following his death in May 1844, the sarcophagus was moved to Abbey Cemetery (qv) in Bath because the grounds surrounding his Tower were not consecrated. The Tower was sold in May 1847, but when it appeared that the buyer, a local innkeeper, wanted to turn it into a public house and pleasure garden, Beckford's daughter, the Duchess of Hamilton, bought it back four months later. She presented the Tower and the surrounding grounds to the former parish of Walcot on condition they would create a cemetery so her father's tomb could be returned. The tomb was brought back in 1848 when the new cemetery, named Lansdown Cemetery, was consecrated and Beckford's Tower was converted into a mortuary chapel. At this time Goodridge designed the entrance gateway to the cemetery (restored 2000), incorporating the decorative railings which had enclosed Beckford's tomb when it stood at Abbey Cemetery. Most of the remaining ride was sold separately after Beckford's death and much was subsequently built over in the second half of the C19 and late-C20.

In 1934, following a fire, the Tower and the chapel were restored, and in 1947 and again in 1961, the cemetery was extended. During the following years the cemetery fell into disrepair and the chapel in the Tower was declared redundant in 1969. In 1972 the Tower was sold and converted into a museum and two residential flats. In 1993 the Bath Preservation Trust became the sole trustee of the Tower, and following extensive restoration works the Tower was reopened to the public in March 2001. The ground floor of the Tower is now (2001) let as holiday accommodation and the first floor houses the Beckford's Tower Museum.

Site timeline

1848: The cemetery was consecrated and Beckford's tomb was returned.

1934: Following a fire, the Tower and the chapel were restored.

1961: The cemetery was extended.

1969: The chapel in the Tower was declared redundant.

1972: The Tower was sold and converted into a museum and two residential flats.

1993: The Bath Preservation Trust became the sole trustee of the Tower.

2001: Following extensive restoration works the Tower was reopened to the public.

People associated with this site

Architect: Henry Edmund Goodridge (born 1797 died 26/10/1864)

Features

tomb

Beckford's tomb consists of a pink granite sarcophagus which stands on an oval-shaped mound lined by a stone wall and surrounded by a ditch.

gatehouse

Creator: Henry Edmund Goodridge (born 1797 died 26/10/1864)

The main entrance consists of a richly decorated stone gatehouse designed by Goodridge in the Italian Romanesque style.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

screen

There is a screen attached to either side of the gatehouse. The screen formerly surrounded Beckford's tomb when it stood at Abbey Cemetery.

gateway

The gateway is hung with an iron main gate and two smaller iron pedestrian gates.

terrace

The sunken terrace has a stone retaining wall on its north-west side.

tree feature

A row of evenly spaced lime trees which follows the curve of the stone boundary wall.

ride

The remains of a path, still (2001) evident on the ground but no longer used as such, which is possibly part of the former ride laid out by Beckford.

grotto

In the south-east corner of the site are the remains of a grotto, formerly part of Beckford's Ride.

arch

In the south-east corner of the site are the remains of an archway, formerly part of Beckford's Ride.

entrance

A second entrance gives access to a small tarmacked forecourt immediately north of the Tower.

building

Feature created: 1800 to 1833

An early-19th-century gardener's cottage (Plan, c 1848), now (2001) in use as a private dwelling. In the early-19th century James Vincent, Beckford's gardener at Fonthill, lived here.