architecture, belvedere, eyecatcher, Folly, Lancashire, Observatory, Tower

Darwen Tower, Darwen, Lancashire

In January 1897, with the Diamond Jubilee of the reign of Queen Victoria approaching, the Darwen News featured a letter from a correspondent named only as ‘Landmark’, proposing that a tower be built on Darwen Moor to mark the occasion. There was a favourable response and the great and good of the town began to make plans.

A competition to design a tower 50 feet high was announced, with entry only open to residents of the borough. Such was the interest that the budget was increased and the proposed height changed to a maximum of 100 feet. It was stipulated that only students of engineering and design could submit ideas, and professional architects were not permitted to take part. The drawings were displayed in the council chamber under a title only, with the designer’s name concealed in an envelope. The Blackburn architect J.H. Herbert Stones FRIBA, awarded first place to the design called simply ‘Darwen’, which was the work of David Ellison who worked in the borough surveyor’s office, although his design was later tweaked by his boss: the tower’s Honorary Architect was Borough Surveyor Robert William Smith-Saville.

The medal issued by Darwen to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

Although ostensibly celebrating the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne, the tower had, from the start, a secondary political motive. In the later 19th century the moorland, owned by the absentee Lord of the Manor, Reverend William Arthur Duckworth, was out of bounds to locals, with gamekeepers on patrol to deter trespassers. Many locals ignored this rule, believing that there were ancient rights of way over the land, and eventually a court case decided that this was the case. In 1896 the local authority acquired a vast tract of the moor, thus enabling ‘thousands of toiling operatives who spent the best part of their lives in the smoky valley below, to mount the hill and breathe the more exhilarating air’.

This view, and the main picture, were snatched between showers. All credit to the restoration team (and the original builders) for working in this exposed spot. In the main image you can just spot the team putting the finishing touches to the tower in readiness for the opening ceremony and jubilee celebrations in June 2022.

Duckworth later claimed that he had known little of the fight for access to the moors: he lived in Somerset and employed local agents. He was certainly a friend to the town once the court case was settled, and donated the stone for the construction of the tower, which was constructed under the supervision of local man Richard James Whalley. The first sod was cut on the hilltop on 22 June 1897, the day on which Queen Victoria’s jubilee was celebrated.

The plaque commemorating the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria (before restoration work began).

The Darwen Tower, 86 feet high, was officially opened on Saturday 24 September when 3000 people are reported to have climbed up onto the moor. The tower was an instant success, attracting large numbers of visitors and soon entrepreneurs were pushing for the rights to be the sole purveyors of refreshments on site. Although a few saw the tower as an ‘excresence’,  a ‘pimple’, and a ‘blot on God’s fair earth’, their thoughts were summarily dismissed in the local paper as those of the sort of ‘average man’ who is ‘dull of comprehension or lacks refinement’.

Undated early postcard courtesy of a private collection.

A dramatic view of the lofty tower is known to drivers on the M65 and local routes, with its buttresses giving it the air of a space rocket (although it has been missed of late when the white-clad scaffolding temporarily replaced the familiar silhouette). But this exposed position leaves it vulnerable to weather damage, and the top section has been blown off on three occasions – the current replica in stainless steel was donated by local firm WEC Ltd in 2010 and was flown in by helicopter.

The Lego model, with each of the 25,000 bricks sponsored, continued to raise funds for local charities after the tower target was met. Photo courtesy of Darwen Rotary.

In recent years a local campaign has secured around  £300,000 in funding to restore and weatherproof the tower for future generations. Sterling work by the town’s Rotary Club included building a Lego model of the tower in the Market Hall to encourage donations and raise awareness. Renovation began in June 2021 and was completed in the first days of June 2022.

Jubilee Tower, Darwen by Jack Crewdson, 2009; ©Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery CC BY-NC-ND;

At the opening ceremony in 1898 Reverend Duckworth gave a speech in which he said that the tower ‘would for many generations commemorate the most important, longest, and happiest reign in English history’. 124 years later the tower has been restored as Victoria’s great-great-grandaughter celebrates an even longer reign, and the tower continues to delight later generations.

The tower illuminated to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. As in 1897 large crowds climbed the hill to witness the ceremony. Photos courtesy of Carl @fell_n_mountain

The restored tower was officially unveiled on Thursday 2 June 2022 when a beacon was lit to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and the tower was illuminated in red, white and blue.

It’s a steady and well-signposted climb up to the tower from the car park at the top of Earnsdale Road in Darwen.

You can follow the construction of the Lego tower here

Comments are most welcome, please scroll down to the bottom of the page to get in touch. Thank you for reading.

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18 thoughts on “Darwen Tower, Darwen, Lancashire”

  1. Kate Dyson says:

    That was just the right folly for Jubilee weekend!
    Thank you

    1. Editor says:

      Thanks Kate. The tower is really treasured by the local community so it’s great to see it restored and ready for future celebrations.

  2. Margaret 21 says:

    Marvellous! We pass it fairly often on journeys through Lancashire, but have never stopped to visit. We’ll put that right.

    1. Editor says:

      You really should! It’s well worth the climb.

  3. John Holland says:

    Another fascinating – and very timely! – article.
    Thank you

    1. Editor says:

      Morning John. Pleased you enjoyed it. There are quite a few jubilee towers but this seemed the perfect choice with the restoration newly complete.

  4. Margie Hoffnung says:

    Clever you for finding something appropriate for the Jubilee weekend and very cheering that this tower is so important to locals.

    1. Editor says:

      Thanks Margie. Darweners (hope that’s right) are very proud of their tower. And rightly so.

  5. Grace Ellis says:

    Dear Editor ,
    Thank you for that I have sent it onto relatives who are long time Darwen residents
    They really appreciated the article
    Grace in Lincoln

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Grace. Thank you for sharing the post, I’m very pleased that your friends liked it. They are very lucky to live in the shadow of the tower.

  6. Charmian Byrne says:

    Such History of the Tower. Thank you for an interesting and informative article. It is a comfort to know that these landmarks are being restored, as this is from weather damage, and that the public are enthusiastic about keeping them for future generations.

    1. Editor says:

      Thank you Charmian. I think the tower is in very safe hands with such strong local support.

  7. Valerie Greaves says:

    I was thrilled to read this as I grew up in the shadow of Darwen Tower, as did all my family, my mum saw the top blow off in the late 1940s. Locals are called Darreners but as I now live in Yorkshire I don’t count myself as one.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Valerie. Thanks for correcting the name for locals. I’m delighted that you enjoyed the post and have memories of the tower, even though you have swapped the red rose for the white.

  8. Kathy Ferguson says:

    Valerie Greaves sent the article to her friend, my sister, who sent it on to me. Thank you for such a timely and fascinating article. I was born in Darwen and grew up in a nearby village, but have lived in Wales for many years. The sight of the tower always brings back so many memories. It was a favourite walk for our family in my childhood and I think early experience of the wildness of the moor has left me with a enduring love of wide, bare, empty hills.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Kathy. I’m so pleased that the post took you back to your childhood walks. I’m a fan of wild open moors too (and live on the edge of one). Hope you have some nearby in Wales.

  9. Helen Holmes says:

    My cousin Valerie Greaves sent this for which I am extremely grateful. Like her I have many happy childhood memories of climbing to the tower including walking with my father and the Greaves family’s dog Rex and our spaniel Lady to the tower. Also my father Gwilym who became an industrial chemist using it as a backdrop to celebrate VE Day with fireworks. Thank you for such an interesting article.

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Helen. I’m grateful to Valerie for sharing, and very pleased to hear that you enjoyed the post. It is lovely to hear about your father’s role in yet another celebration at the tower, thanks.

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