On Sunday, The Folly Flâneuse was one of the happy few who discovered the location of the Secret Salons, three venues which combined the finest music and architecture. As part of Richmond’s annual festival celebrating all things Georgian, the evening was a fundraiser for the town’s Theatre Royal, a unique intact survivor from that era. Participants promenaded between three lovely venues, but of course the one that gave the greatest joy to the present writer was the Culloden Tower.
On an eminence on the edge of town the tower is a dramatic landmark. It was built by John Yorke as a feature in the park surrounding his mansion, The Green, which was demolished in the 1820s. Although known today as the Culloden Tower, in the 19th century it was called the Cumberland Tower, or Temple, and it is marked simply as The Temple on the earliest Ordnance Survey maps. It was built on, or close to, the site of an earlier peel tower but an exact date has not yet been discovered. It must however be between 1732 – as it bears the arms of Anne Darcy who Yorke married in that year – and 1749 when it is described as a ‘Gothick Tower on an eminence’. It is attributed to the architect Daniel Garrett on stylistic grounds, and he was certainly active in the area, but again firm evidence has eluded researchers.
The tower sits on a plain square base but then gains ornament as it rises. The base housed a ‘cow shed’ but above were banqueting rooms, one with gothic detail and one classical. At the top a turret contains a door leading out onto the roof with balustrade and pinnacles. There are extensive views of the River Swale, Richmond Castle and town, and until it was demolished in the 1820s, Yorke’s mansion and extensive gardens.
Clarkson, the Richmond historian, called the tower ‘The Cumberland Temple’ in 1821 and said it was built ‘in compliment’ to the Duke of Cumberland, who was in command at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 when the Scotch rebels were defeated.
However, an account written some 40 years before Clarkson’s suggests that Cumberland’s role in the War of the Austrian Succession may have caused the tower to be erected. The tourist describes climbing ‘the grass hill to Dettingen which stands upon the summit. It is a very high octagon stone tower… built with great taste.’ The Battle of Dettingen took place in June 1743 and the British troops, with their Hanoverian and Austrian allies, defeated the French at Dettingen in Bavaria. The battle was notable as George II himself led the troops into battle with his son, the Duke of Cumberland, at his side. It is particularly remembered today as since that date no British monarch has led troops into active combat. The victory was widely celebrated at home and Handel wrote the Dettingen Te Deum to mark the occasion.
Which brings The Folly Flâneuse back to music. Performing in the Culloden Tower was harpist Alex Rider, and it was absolutely enchanting. A highlight was a performance of ‘The Magical Aviary’ by Marcel Tournier, not an 18th century piece but apposite as the Yorke family’s Georgian menagerie survives today, just a short distance from the tower. You can see Alex play the piece here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlZiXb7SyEE
The Culloden Tower fell into disrepair in the 1970s and was rescued by The Landmark Trust which completed an exemplary restoration in 1982, including the painstaking recreation of the plasterwork shown above.
Huge thanks to The Landmark Trust, and to the owners of Millgate House, and a private house, for hosting the Secret Salons. Also to the other musicians who were uniformly excellent.
The Culloden Tower can be seen from a permissive footpath accessed from The Green. The Landmark Trust has annual open days, check their website for details https://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/search-and-book/properties/culloden-tower-5579#Overview. The menagerie is now a private home and there is no public access.
More Secret Salons are planned for 2020. Keep an eye out for announcements here https://www.richmond.org/georgefest/
And if you do visit you might consider staying, as The Folly Flâneuse did, at the lovely Millgate House, a Georgian House with a wonderful garden which offers seriously good B&B https://www.millgatehouse.com