Mud, Rain and Hard Hats – The Hadlow Tower Restoration

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The front view in February 2013. ©Rachael Hale aka History Magpie 2013

The fantastic news has just broken that the Vivat Trust and Save Hadlow Tower Action Group (SHTAG) have won the 2013 English Heritage Angel Awards in both the ‘Best Craftsmanship Employed on a Heritage Rescue’ and ‘ Favourite’ restoration categories for their work on the Hadlow Tower.  Personally, I think they deserve another one for sheer determination and staying power as it’s taken 13 years firstly to buy and then raise the funds needed to restore the glorious Victorian folly.

Built by the wonderfully eccentric Walter Barton May in 1838, the Hadlow Tower, or May’s Folly, stands eight feet taller than Nelson’s Column.  It was a little smaller to begin with though and local legend says the 50 ft lantern was added so Walter could spy on his wife who was having an affair with a local farmer.  Whether this is true or not, no can tell but Walter bankrupted himself in the process and after his death his son was forced to sell the estate.

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The lantern. ©Rachael Hale aka History Magpie 2013

Laura Norris, the Director of the Vivat Trust, told me the folly ‘it is a pure ego piece. Walter Barton May just wanted to show people that he was as wealthy as he was’ and the fact that the tower is still standing 175 years on is testament to the craftmanship used at the time.  Despite originally housing just two servants bedrooms, everyone else lived within the main castle, no expense was spared and the lantern is decorated in an astounding array of pre-cast shapes and spiralets.  These were made using a material called Roman cement and it is the painstaking restoration of this covering that has helped to win the English Heritage Angel Awards.

Roman cement has not been used in the UK since before the Second World War and Laura had to bring craftsman from Grenoble in France to advise and teach the technique to local craftsman.  It took months to match the colour and then a battle against the elements ensued. The material sets so fast that you can feel it change consistency in your hand so any warm or cold spells greatly affected the restoration process.

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Standing on the top platform looking up to the roof – yes I did climb all those stairs. ©Rachael Hale aka History Magpie 2013

I was lucky enough  to meet Laura Norris in February and see the restoration first hand.   Mud, rain and a hard hat greeted me but the effort to climb the 170 ft tall tower, despite my fear of heights and increasingly jelly-like legs, was well worth it and I thought you might like to see the ‘in progress’ photos.

You may also like to read more about the history of the Hadlow Tower here.

Many thanks to Laura Norris of the Vivat Trust and Caroline Elcombe of the Save Hadlow Tower Action Group for talking to me and allowing me to take and use these images.

9 Comments

  1. gdwest123

    As always a fascinating article Rachael. I’ve looked at Hadlow Tower several times from the road and read a lot about it. Marvellous they’re renovating it, and as a keen DIYer/builder it was very interesting to know the details you mentioned. Congrats on a really good scoop

  2. blosslyn

    I love it when a building comes up that I had no idea of its existence, like this one, will go and see this next year……when the weather is more clement ….thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. thepogblog

    How funny – I spent the weekend at Oxen Hoath on a yoga retreat and we all spent ages trying to work out what the tower in the distance was. When I finally asked a member of staff they told us it was the Hadlow Folley. Unfortunately it was pouring when I took my camera out so I don’t have a good one to demonstrate what I am saying. Oxen Hoath might be worth a visit for you – there is oodles of history. (You can see a few picture on my blog to give you an idea). I never knew it existed before the weekend!

  4. Victorian Supersleuth

    That’s fantastic news! As you know, I do like a folly and I love this one. I look forward to hearing about future developments.

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