High above Belton House, near Grantham in Lincolnshire, stands this quirky tower with views back to the mansion. It consists of a room perched above a tall arch, and its spindly, leg-like supports, gave rise to its supposed local name of Lord Brownlow’s Britches.
We will return to Lord Brownlow later, but for now we are interested in the builder of the tower: Sir John Brownlow (1690-1754) who was created Viscount Tyrconnel in 1718. He settled at Belton in the early 1720s, and at that date the gardens were in the formal style of the previous century. He did not sweep this all away, as so many of his generation did, but the gardens were old-fashioned, and as one visitor in 1744 noted waspishly ‘the park and gardens were reckoned fine 30 years ago’. Tyrconnel added such à la mode garden features as a wilderness, a sham ruin and a grand orangery, as well as the Bellmount tower eyecatcher.
No architect is recorded, but we know that master builder and joiner Samuel Smith erected the tower, which carries a plaque naming and dating the building: BELLMOUNT 1750 (but note that the National Trust call it Belmount Tower).The upper room was used as an observatory and a belvedere. Lord Tyrconnel was interested in science, and had microscopes and a telescope in his study, and may have used the tower to stargaze. Bellmount was also a place in which to entertain guests, and allow them to admire and appreciate his extensive park and gardens. A visitor a few years after it was completed wrote that ‘from a temple in the garden called Belle Mount you may see seven counties at once’ (sadly she doesn’t name them, so you will have to figure them out for yourself).
The tower was also an eyecatcher from the mansion, and terminated the vista along the eastern avenue.
But what we see today is not the original building. A painting by John Harris, on display in the house, shows the landscape as it was just after the hilltop belvedere was built. It can also be seen, top centre, in this engraving by Badeslade; at that date it had a pair of wings flanking the lofty tower. Tyrconnels’s great-nephew, Brownlow Cust (1744-1807), created Baron Brownlow in 1776, who succeeded to Belton in 1770, improved the park with guidance from his friend Philip Yorke of Erdigg, and professional landscaper William Emes. Yorke disliked the wings on the belvedere, calling them the ‘most offending members’ and suggesting they be ‘cut off’. Brownlow clearly followed his advice, and this emasculation accounts for the odd proportions of the building today and the curious buttresses which replaced the wings. As Barbara Jones wrote in 1953 it is ‘a very strange building and well worth a visit’.
The army had used the park for exercises since the late 19th century, and in 1891 the 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment enjoyed the ‘finest views’ from their tents by Bellmount. During the First World War the park at Belton was home to a huge training camp, and the tower became a focus for manoeuvres.
Lord Brownlow gave Belton House and a part of the estate to the National Trust in 1984. The Bellmount tower was subsequently acquired with the help of funds from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Although the tower was restored in 1989-90, it is in need of further repair.
In 2020 National Heritage Lottery funding was secured for a major project to reconnect parts of the Belton estate which had become fragmented. The National Trust and the Woodland Trust will work together to link the park around Bellmount with Londonthorpe Woods on the edge of Grantham. There are also plans to restore the grade II* listed tower and add interpretation.
For more on Belton see the excellent National Trust guidebook written by Adrian Tinniswood in 1992.
Bellmount Tower can not be accessed from Belton Park, but is accessed via a separate car park on Five Gates Lane. Belton is a National Trust property https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/belton-house
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