In the town of Camberley a truncated tower stands on a hilltop surrounded by trees. This is the surviving remnant of an elegant tower, built by John Norris, which stood on the open country known as Bagshot Heath. It has been known since its earliest days as ‘The Obelisk’, for in the 18th century the term was sometimes used to describe any tall, tapering structure. Although only a sorry stump remains, it has the most fascinating history.
In July 1833 the 1st Duke of Sutherland died. Tenants on his estates in Staffordshire (Trentham), Scotland (Dunrobin) and Shropshire quickly made plans to commemorate the man they considered a benevolent landlord – according to the inscriptions that is: the Duke was not quite as revered as the tributes might suggest. In Shropshire the tenants on the Lilleshall estate decided to erect an obelisk on Lilleshall Hill, high above the village, and by November the foundation stone had been laid. By the end of the century the obelisk had been struck by lightning (twice) and had caused some embarrassment for the editor of a local paper.
Alexander Davison (1750-1829) of Swarland Park, near Felton in Northumberland, erected this obelisk to Nelson in 1807. A closer look at the inscription reveals that he was not only celebrating the admiral’s victory at Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, but more particularly their personal friendship. Davison had made a fortune supplying the government during the wars with America and France, but he was later charged with ‘public peculation’ – in other words the court believed he had his hand in the till.
Moments from the Great North Road, as it passes through Lincolnshire, is Stoke Rochford Hall in its lovely undulating park. The present house is a delicious early Victorian confection of towers and turrets, contemporary with the obelisk. But there were earlier houses in the park, and two intriguing arches are reminders of an earlier age.
The palatial mansion of Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, is set in a landscape ornamented with towers and temples, pyramids and pavilions. One of the earliest is this slim, elegant structure pierced with an arch. Originally an eye-catcher, it later became an object on a drive to the house, but now once more stands alone on a swathe of green in a tranquil corner of the park.
Sir Charles Barry is usually remembered as the architect of grand Victorian edifices like the Palace of Westminster, and for remodelling country houses such as Trentham in Staffordshire and Harewood in Yorkshire. But he was also happy to take on smaller projects, and in 1845 this elegant obelisk was erected to his design in a distant corner of the Bowood estate of the Marquess of Lansdowne.
On Sunday 18 June 1815 the British and Prussian armies, commanded respectively by the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal von Blücher, won the Battle of Waterloo. There were immediate demands for monuments across Britain to celebrate this great victory, but none were so quick to respond as William Kerr, the 6th Marquis of Lothian, and his family. By the end of June funds had been raised to erect ‘a monument on the summit of Penielheugh’, a lofty hill on the Marquis’s Monteviot estate.
Nostell Priory, not far from Wakefield in West Yorkshire, is a magnificent 18th century mansion built adjacent to the site of an Augustinian priory. Architect James Paine worked at Nostell for around 30 years, before Robert Adam was called in to add new wings and other works. Adam also designed one of the most luscious of lodges to be found on a country estate.
John Wilkinson (1728-1808) made his fortune in the iron industry in the second half of the 18th century. Such was his ardour for developing and innovating in his field, that he became known as ‘Iron-mad Wilkinson’, and that passion even included a plan to spend eternity encased in iron.
High above the wonderfully scenic A712 from New Galloway to Newton Stewart, in the Scottish Lowlands, stands this granite monument. After a stiff climb up the hillside the views are breathtaking in both senses: the ascent will leave you short of breath, but you will gasp in awe at the views.