architecture, country house, eyecatcher, garden history, landscape, Monument, Obelisk, Shropshire

Duke of Sutherland Obelisk, Lilleshall, Shropshire.

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.

Lawrence, Thomas; George Granville Leveson-Gower (1758-1833), 1st Duke of Sutherland; Lakeland Arts Trust;

A subscription committee was convened soon after the Duke’s death, and it appointed George Ernest Hamilton as architect. Little is known about Hamilton, but in the 1841 census he described himself as a ‘civil engineer’ and he seems to have worked mainly in the midlands before moving to Australia. The builder was William Smith who used stone from the Red Lake quarry which the 2nd duke ‘kindly condescended’ to donate to the project. In October 1833 the newspapers announced that work was about to begin, and that the finishing touch was to be ‘a wolf couchant carved in stone’ on each ‘bold pedestal’, of the base: a wolf is a feature of the Sutherland crest.

Sketch of the obelisk in the course of erection. Peter Orlando Hutchinson, 1834. Image courtesy of South West Heritage Trust and East Devon AONB.

Two inscriptions were mounted on the pedestal: the first eulogised the late Duke as ‘the most just and generous of landlords’ and the second featured words spoken by Cardinal Wolsey in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII: LET ALL THE ENDS THOU AIMEST AT BE THY COUNTRY’S, THY GOD’S AND TRUTH’S. The latter plaque had been missing for some time before it was replaced in 2013.

When Peter Orlando Hutchinson visited in 1834 he saw the first two wolves already in place, and his sketches of the scene offer a rare view of the obelisk in its original form. Sadly his accompanying diaries for that period are not extant, so we don’t have any further description of what he saw.

A close-up view by Peter Orlando Hutchinson showing the statues being added to the base, 1834. Image courtesy of South West Heritage Trust and East Devon AONB.

On 15 June 1839 the obelisk was struck by lightning, causing ‘considerable injury’ to the structure. In December there was further excitement in Lilleshall when a local paper reported that four large wolves had been seen passing through the village. There were no reports of injuries, although one of the wolves was reported to have been shot dead before the others were captured and secured. The story was picked up by countless other national and regional newspapers, but a week later the Staffordshire Advertiser, pinning the blame firmly on the unnamed ‘neighbouring journal’ that had first published the tale, sheepishly admitted that the whole episode was a hoax sent in by ‘some wag’. What had actually prowled through Lilleshall were the four stone wolves from the obelisk: William Smith had returned to repair the damaged obelisk, and the wolves were being carted away for restoration.

In April 1884 a ‘frightful storm’ hit Lilleshall and caused the ‘partial demolition of the obelisk’. Lightning once more struck the shaft and the ‘electric fluid’ passed through the whole of the structure, displacing the ‘massive stonework of the base’ and sending portions of the stonework rolling down the hill. Charles Clement Walker F.R.A.S. was less than half a mile away when the lightning struck, although much to his frustration he was looking in the wrong direction. He examined the damaged obelisk before giving a paper on the subject to the Royal Meteorological Society in which he concluded that William Smith had a ‘total ignorance of electrical science’: Smith had used glass in the rebuilt apex of the obelisk, presumably believing it to be a non-conductor.

After the second strike the base of the obelisk was rebuilt to a new design, minus the projecting buttresses. It doesn’t appear that the four wolves had ever made it back to the monument, and sadly their fate is unknown. And there is a further mystery: in 1891 The County Seats of Shropshire, claimed that at on the Lilleshall Hall estate ‘two huge heraldic griffins crouching on the sward’ were ‘the survivors of four similar figures which were originally placed on the pedestal of the memorial obelisk’. It seems the author was wrongly informed, as a number of references confirm there were wolves on the obelisk, but whatever their origins they are fascinating creatures.

The griffins can be found today at the end of Cheswell Drive, across the A518 from Lilleshall village and the obelisk.

The obelisk at Lilleshall has full public access and it is worth the climb to appreciate the extensive views. A lightning conductor protects the monument from future strikes.

Update: please see the comments below for more on why the Duke was not universally benevolent

Looking up to the obelisk which today boasts a prominent lightning conductor.

Thank you for reading. To share any thoughts please scroll down to the foot of the page where you will find the comments box. 

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8 thoughts on “Duke of Sutherland Obelisk, Lilleshall, Shropshire.”

  1. Roger Smith says:

    Dear Flaneuse
    I was very surprised to read your assessment of the 1st Duke of Sutherland as ‘a man they [his tenants] considered to be a benevolent landlord’. This is certainly not the case in Scotland where he was hated as were his infamous factors James Loch and Patrick Sellar, who carried out his policy of clearing the people from the glens to make way for sheep. The clearances often involved young children and elderly people and included setting fire to the houses so that there was no chance of those evicted returning to them.
    There is a huge statue of the Duke on Ben Bhraggie above Golspie known localoly as The Mannie. There have been several attempts to remove it or even blow it up! – but so far without success.
    I hope this is of interest. I recently came across a cracker of a folly – Binns Hill Tower near Linlithgow. It was designed as a hilltop folly and is a perfect example of the genre. OS Landranger 65, NT052786. It’s on The Binns estate which is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and there is a waymarked walk up to it from the car park at the house.
    Best wishes,

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Roger. I’m aware of this unpleasant history. It’s difficult to know what happened so long ago, but the tenants did subscribe to pay for the monument. Were they under duress? I don’t know the answer to that. I’ve only seen the Golspie monument under heavy cloud, which is perhaps appropriate. I’m sorry I didn’t have space to go into this aspect of the Duke’s history – I was looking at it mainly from an architectural perspective. So thanks for your useful comment. I know the tower at The Binns, a lovely landmark. Thanks for taking the time to share this information.

  2. Charles Cowling says:

    I’m very much taken by the griffins. Precursors of the cockapoo?

    Where a monument is raised by grateful tenantry it can pique curiosity. Was it to say thank you to a benevolent landlord or was it to appease him/her? It can provide useful context, especially if the landlord was a colossal rotter. Sutherland is reviled in Scotland where his pursuit of efficiencies sowed misery. But it’s complex, so complex, particularly in the case of Sutherland. So I think, in short, you do well not to go there. Scottish subscribers will have been those brought in to take the place of the settled population, and they did very well out of it.

    I love an obelisk, especially one guarded by wolves.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Charles. I did think hard about how much of the politics to include, but decided that the wolves were my real focus here. However I have tweaked the post a tiny bit after reading Roger’s comment because his comments are very important. I do love the griffins and wish I could discover more of their story.

  3. Estelle says:

    I am researching my family of Aston and leveson and visited Tixall Hall where sir Walter Aston married Elizabeth Leveson. The lilleshall sports academy has two coade lions which once sat on either side of Tixall hall. Great to actually fins that the two families are linked and to actually find the two lions today

    1. Editor says:

      Thanks for getting in touch Estelle and good luck with your research.

  4. John Cartledge says:

    “On the lofty height of Titterstone hill a stately and elegant pillar has been erected to the memory of the late Duke of Sutherland.” So states the 1853 ‘History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Shropshire’ by Samuel Bagshaw (p.664, available on I have been on the summit of Titterstone Clee Hill many times and have never seen any trace of such a monument. Extensive quarrying took place on the summit in the second half of the 19th century, which could have led to removal of the structure. So, did the ‘stately and elegant pillar’ ever exist on Titterstone Clee, or did Bagshaw confuse it with the Lilleshall monument?

    1. Editor says:

      Hello John. The short answer is that I don’t know – I’m not local. But having had a quick look online it would seem that the author confused the two hills. If you find out more please let me know. Thanks for getting in touch.

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