Clavell Tower


Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: II

List Entry Number: 1120474

Date first listed: 20-Nov-1959

Date of most recent amendment: 09-Jan-2015

Location Description: NGR SY 90892 78628



Ordnance survey map of Clavell Tower
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Location Description: NGR SY 90892 78628

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Dorset

District: Purbeck (District Authority)

Parish: Kimmeridge

National Grid Reference: SY9091278645


Folly and observatory, now holiday accommodation, erected 1830-31, by Robert Vining for the Reverend John Richards Clavell. Re-sited and restored in the early C21.

Reasons for Designation

Clavell Tower, which was erected in 1830-31 for the Reverend Clavell and was re-sited and restored in 2006-08, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the tower, which was sympathetically restored in the early C21, has a well-executed and striking design; * Historic interest: as an influential structure which has inspired a number of prominent authors, including Thomas Hardy and Baroness James.


Clavell Tower (Clavel Tower on the First and Second Edition Ordnance Survey maps of 1889 and 1902) stands in a prominent position on the cliff above Kimmeridge Bay. It was built in 1830-31 for the Reverend John Richards Clavell who took the name Clavell when he inherited the Smedmore Estate (Smedmore House, listed at Grade II*) in 1818. The tower, by John Vining of Weymouth, who was also responsible for the octagonal Spa House (Grade II) at Nottington just to the north of Weymouth in 1830 which may have influenced his designs for the former. Clavell Tower was possibly erected to celebrate the Reverend Clavell’s 70th birthday, and was described in the Dorset County Chronicle on 21st July 1831 ‘as elegant a building as the county of Dorset can boast of.’ Although principally a folly, the Chronicle also suggests that it was an observatory. The Reverend Clavell died in 1833 and the estate passed to his niece, Louisa Mansel (née Pleydell). From about the 1880s until just after the First World War the tower was used as a lookout station for the coastguards, and on occasions as a holiday let, but it was then left vacant and became increasingly derelict. From the mid-C20 erosion to the cliff face threatened the stability of the tower which perched precariously above the bay, and in 2006-08 it was dismantled, re-located and restored, with the relevant consents, to a new location 25m to the north-east.

Clavell Tower has been the source of inspiration for poets and writers over the intervening centuries since it was built. Thomas Hardy used one of his own drawings of the tower as the frontispiece for his Wessex Poems, whilst Dorset poet William Barnes used the tower as inspiration for The Leady’s Tower in his Hwomely Rhymes, A Second Collection of Poems in Dorset Dialect, published in 1859. More recently, the crime writer P D James (later Baroness James), set The Black Tower, one of her novels here; while Bill Bryson, unimpressed by the tower’s dumpy looks, acknowledges in Notes from a Small Island that ‘..somehow Kimmeridge wouldn’t seem Kimmeridge without it’.


Folly and observatory, now (2014) holiday accommodation. erected 1830-31, by Robert Vining for the Reverend John Richards Clavell. Re-sited and restored in the early C21. MATERIALS: constructed of rendered brick and coursed local stone rubble, with ashlar dressings, on a concrete foundation. Early-C21 timber sash windows.

PLAN: a circular tower of three storeys plus a semi-basement.

EXTERIOR: the basement breaks forwards of the rest of the tower. It has strip pilasters and stone mullioned windows, with an entrance to the north-east side which is flanked by Tuscan columns that support the two flights of cantilevered Portland stone steps leading to the ground floor. The ground floor is surrounded by a Tuscan colonnade of twelve columns which each align with the pilasters below. It has a simple entablature surmounted by a parapet decorated with pierced quatrefoils. There is a round-headed doorway and three round-headed windows to the ground floor. The two upper storeys are divided by a stone stringcourse, and each has four round-arched windows which are aligned with the cardinal points. The parapet has false machicolations and a frieze of pierced quatrefoils.

INTERIOR: not inspected (2014). Prior to restoration, the staircase and roof timbers were no longer extant, but although the floors were badly rotted the teak joists largely survive with some are replacements. The stairs and the roof timbers have been replaced, and new fireplaces and joinery introduced. The basement retains its original floor of Purbeck stone.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 14/01/2015


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 108623

Legacy System: LBS


Books and journals
Barnes, W, Hwomely Rhymes, A Second Collection of Poems in Dorset Dialect, (1895), 27-38
S Campbell, Telegraph Travel, UK Heritage: Folly reborn at Clavell Tower, accessed 14 November 2014 from
The Landmark Trust, Clavell Tower , accessed 14 November 2014 from
C Stanford, Clavell Tower History Album, The Landmark Trust, 2008

End of official listing