wall and railings
as: LANSDOWN ROAD
Belvedere or prospect tower, 1825-27. By Henry Edmund Goodridge, architect, for William Beckford.
MATERIALS: Limestone ashlar, slate roofs, cast iron lantern.
PLAN: Square plan tower with octagonal lantern, rectangular plan base with projecting rage to left.
EXTERIOR: Tower, 154 feet high, crowned by gold ball and fretted cast iron finial on octagonal pavilion roof with acroteria to angles, cornice, and frieze of three circles to each facet supported by eight fluted columns fronting panelled lantern, a free adaptation of the Athenian Choragic monument of Lysicrates. Eight-sided parapet with richly moulded cornice and plinth has pierced vertical slots to panels, three slots to front, back and sides, longer five slot panels between and large crown like urns to angles. Square plan tower below has cornice and blocking course with roundels to large blocks over quoins, key pattern panelled frieze over another dentil cornice and stepped frieze. Three deep flat arched recesses to each side have plate glass semicircular arched windows with gold studs to diagonal half-grilles and deep cornice with mutules over simple cornice and stepped frieze. Main shaft of tower plain with raised lintels on blocks and raised sills to three slit windows to right of each floor. Entrance to two-storey former mortuary chapel to left approached by flight of seven steps between low thick coped walls that turn to front platform spanning facade. Triple arcade with thick impost bands forms wide veranda over semicircular arch to central recessed porch with groin vaulted ceiling. Semicircular arched vertical panelled doors to each side are at right angle to similar double doors with studs to frames and semicircular fanlight. Outer arches of arcade have balustrade of pierced vertical panels and moulded platband above. To first floor are three narrow semicircular arched windows with diagonal lead glazing and H-shaped sills. Tall parapet with moulded plinth has three similar balustraded panels to those of arcade over windows, and encircles block. To right of left return stepped forward range, above parapet has classical style triumphal arch almost 3m high, probably former bellcote, below double recessed panel. Three semicircular arched first floor windows have diagonal leaded glazing and H-shaped sills. Rear similar with four irregularly placed semicircular arched windows to each floor and half-glazed double doors to right. Projecting from rear of tower, in angle, single storey quadrant plan bay with acroteria to tall parapet with deep double recessed semicircular arched panels over moulded platband. Low service wing to left, now separate dwelling, set forward with similar parapet, no windows to front except moulded semicircular arch over basement window. Five-window left return has raised lintels and sills to C20 windows, paired to outer ranges. Cast ironwork restored by Dorothea Restorations of Bristol 1997, ring of iron acanthus leaves round rim of roof removed 1931 during restoration. Moulds made from a single survivor in 1997 and new castings made of the scroll shaped ornaments between the eight roof panels. Regilding with gold leaf, the ironwork having been treated with epoxy-resin paint.
INTERIOR: The former Scarlet Drawing Room was converted to a chapel serving the cemetery in 1848: this was restored and altered in 1934 following a fire in 1931 which destroyed much of Beckford's internal decoration. The 1970 restoration of the Belvedere repaired the ceiling frieze and decorative spandrels. The 1997 restoration undertaken for the Bath Preservation Trust included restoring the ceiling coffered within rings of egg and dart moulding. The walls and ceiling have been painted in the 1844 colour scheme. The eight buff worsted damask curtains lined with scarlet serge bordered with silk lace have been re-created, along with the x-framed stools.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: Coping of parapet fronting entrance platform continues along rubblestone wall approx 1.5m high that projects forward from right hand corner for approx 20m. Above it, plinths with double recessed panels articulate six lengths of cast iron diagonal trellised railings approx 3m long, similar panel fronts right hand end of platform.
HISTORY: William Beckford moved to Bath in 1822, and began building the tower (from which he could see Fonthill, his previous house) and laying out the surrounding grounds, almost immediately.
Designed by the young Henry Goodridge in an innovative fusion of Picturesque asymmetry and precise Neo-classicism, it has been called `a key monument in the development of British Neo-classicism'; `its style, setting, and the circumstances of its construction defy any suggestion that Neo-Classicism can be separated from Romanticism in any meaningful way' (J.M. Crook). The tower enabled Beckford to indulge his fondness for Olympian overviews of the local scene, and to take in the tower's magnificent prospects. It was also used as a treasury for some of Beckford's collections. Just before Beckford's death in 1844, the tower's interiors were recorded in a series of paintings by Willes Maddox. Following his death the landlord of the Freemasons Arms on Abbey Green bought the building for £1,000 and proposed to turn the grounds into a beer-garden. To prevent this it was re-purchased by the Duchess of Hamilton (Beckford's daughter) who presented it to the Rector of Walcot for use as a cemetery and chapel. This new use commenced in 1848 and Beckford's tomb was moved from the Abbey Cemetery to where he had wanted to be buried, which had previously been impossible because it was not consecrated ground. The tower's scarlet drawing room was converted to mortuary chapel at that time. In 1841 Beckford sold a number of the tower's furniture and pictures and it may well have been at this time that the mantelpiece of Sienna marble with copper inlay was purchased by the owner of No. 10 The Circus and removed from the Crimson Drawing Room. It was restored in 1900 but in 1918 its condition was described as `piteous'. and again in 1934 after a fire in 1931 which caused much damage to Beckford's interiors. The tower was still owned by the Parish of Walcot, which increasingly regarded the tower as an irrelevant burden: it was sold to a private purchaser in 1972 for £5,000 and work began on the conservation of the tower. The lower building was adapted for use as a private residence known as Beckford House, with an inserted first floor within the former chapel space. A charitable trust was established in 1977 to maintain and open the building, and this was merged into the Bath Preservation Trust in 1993. The Tower was comprehensively restored in 1999-2000 and opened as a museum with attached accommodation managed by the Landmark Trust.
SOURCES: (Presentation drawing by Goodridge in the British Architectural Library; J. Britton, `Bath & Bristol' in a Series of Views' (1829), 41-42 & illus.; Edmund English, `Views of Lansdown Tower' (1845; with illustrations by Willes Maddox; Illustrated London News Nov. 22nd 1845; Ison W: The Georgian Buildings of Bath: Bath: 1980-: 195; J.M. Crook, `The Greek Revival' (1968), 32; David Watkin, `Thomas Hope and the Neoclassical Idea' (1968), 140-43; J.M. Crook, `The Greek Revival¿ (1972), 102-104; Jon Millington, `Beckford's Tower' (Bath Preservation Trust guide book 6th ed. 1996). ; . The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: North Somerset and Bristol: London: 1958-: 215; Jackson N: Nineteenth Century Bath - Architects and Architecture: Bath: 1991-: 53-59).
Listing NGR: ST7374367553