Beckford's Tower
Beckford's Tower

Beckford's Tower is a striking neo-classical monument designed for William Beckford, a writer, collector, and patron of the arts. In 1825 Beckford called in architect Henry Goodridge to design a 120 foot high tower to house his collection of rare books and art, and to act as a writing retreat.
The Tower was completed in 1827 and was set at one end of a pleasure garden known as 'Beckford's Ride', a long avenue running from the tower to his house atop Lansdown Hill. The avenue was later replaced by a Victorian cemetary, and Beckford's own tomb can be found there, close to the tower he built.

Visitors can climb 154 steps up the spiral stair within the tower to a restored belvedere at the top, for wonderful views over Bath. Within the Tower itself is a museum showcasing original furniture designed to be used here, with a collection of artwork and objects from the life of William Beckford. At the base of the Tower are two chambers; the Scarlet Drawing Room and the Crimson Drawing Room.

Looking up inside the Tower staircase
Looking up inside the Tower staircase
About William Beckford
“So I am growing rich, and mean to build towers”. So said William Beckford (1760-1844). Beckford was born to a wealthy Wiltshire family and lived much of his life at Fonthill Abbey. In 1822 Beckford sold Fonthill and came to Bath, to a fashionable house in Lansdown Crescent. where he used his wealth to indulge his passion for collecting, landscape gardening, and architecture. He purchased land behind his house and created a mile-long ride through a carefully laid out landscape of gardens and terraces, culminating at the Tower.

When Beckford died the Tower and the surrounding garden was sold, and used as a beer garden by local pub owner. Beckford's daughter the Duchess of Hamilton, was dismayed to see her father's creation used in this fashion and bought it back. She gave the property to the parish of Walcot in Bath, and the garden was converted into a cemetary, with the Tower serving as a funerary chapel.

Visiting
Beckford's Tower is well outside the city centre, about 2 miles uphill walk from Royal Crescent. If you don't fancy the 40 minute walk you can take the Park and Ride bus towards the race course and get off at either the final or next-to-last stop. If travelling by car, there is a small parking area for 8 cars beside the Tower. From the M4 (jct 18) follow signs for the Bath Race Course. The tower is on the west (right) side of Lansdown Road if you are travelling south towards the city centre. We found the parking area entrance very hard to see, despite a sign at the side of the road. It looks like a narrow, private drive. We actually missed the entrance and parked in a layby outside the cemetery beside the Tower.

The gilded top of the Tower
The gilded top of the Tower
The entrance on the east side of the Tower leads to a first floor exhibition area made up of 2 rooms. In one room is the original paper model by architect James Wyatt for Beckford's extrraordinary home at Fonthill Abbey. There are souvenir ceramics made when the contents of Fonthill were auctioned, and a short biography of Beckford. The other chamber has more about Beckford's life in Bath and how the Tower came to be built.

There is a display of books and furniture owned by Beckford, who was thought to be the wealthiest man in England when he inherited his father's fortune at the age of just 9. By the time he turned 24 Beckford had managed to turn that fortune into a debt of £140,000, a quite staggering amount for the times.

The viewing area at the top of the Tower is quite small, so a limited number of people are allowed up any any one time. When we visited that meant a short wait of 10 minutes, which gave us time to explore the historical exhibits. The spiral staircase leading up to the viewing area is fabulous, like a nautilus shell spiralling upwards. The top chamber is beautifully decoratated with Georgian plasterwork designs including flowers and floral borders. The views are outstanding, especially on a clear day.

Do take the time to explore the burial ground that surrounds the Tower. The ornate gateway giving access to Lansdown Road is a beautiful structure in its own right and was designed by Henry Goodridge, as was the Tower itself. William Beckford's table tomb can be easily found; it is made of pink granite and stands on a small 'island' of earth outlined in stone.

Beckford designed the memorial himself, and had it installed in the pleasure ground beside his tower. When Beckford died in 1844 the sarcophagus was moved to the new Abbey Cemetery on Ralph Allen Drive in Bath. When Lady Hamilton bought the Tower and grounds in 1847 she donated it to the parish of Walcot on condition that her father's remains and his sarcophagus be returned to the Lansdown Road site.

Beckford's Tower is in the care of the Bath Preservation Trust, who also care for the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, the Building of Bath Collection, and No. 1 Royal Crescent. The Tower is generally open from April to October.