In 1791 Francis Newbery, bought Bailey Park, an estate in East Sussex, which he renamed the Heathfield Park Estate. Almost immediately he set to work constructing this elegant tower on high ground in his park. The Folly Flâneuse has joined forces with The Garden Historian to elaborate on its history.
Newbery (1743-1818) was a London-based bookseller and druggist who moved in literary and musical circles. Having made a fortune in patent medicines (Effervescent Brain Salt sounds particularly appealing), he was in a position to expand and improve his country seat. One of his first projects was to create a memorial to the former owner of the estate, George Augustus Eliot, who had been Governor at Gibraltar during the lengthy ‘Great Siege’ by the Spanish and French of 1779-1783. In 1787 Eliot was created Lord Heathfield of Gibraltar in recognition of his service to his country, and his death in 1790 had been marked by long eulogies in the press.
It is a loss to Sussex that Newbery’s initial intriguing scheme to ‘erect a monument resembling the Rock of Gibraltar’ was abandoned. But work on the lovely, if less idiosyncratic, tower began in 1792, and was completed the following year at a reported cost of £3,000.
The tower, originally called Heathfield Tower, is best described in a piece which appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine in November 1793:
‘Oct. 26. This day the last stone was laid of the Tower in Heathfield Park, and the scaffolding removed.
A little account of this structure, intended by the present owner as a memorial of respect to the character of his predecessor, the late Lord Heathfield, and which may be considered as an ornament to our country, may not be unacceptable to our readers.
It was begun on the 2d of March, 1792, is built of stone, and from the bottom is of octagonal shape to the height of about 15 feet; whence it rises, in a circular form, to the top of the battlement, which is 55 feet from the ground. It is 22 feet in diameter, and contains a circular staircase, and three apartments, which are to be fitted up in a Gothic style, and ornamented with views of Gibraltar, and the operations of the siege.
The building is simple; but so admirably constructed as to unite lightness with solidity; and every precaution has been used to preserve it from decay; the proportions, moreover, are so just, and the effect of the whole so agreeable to the eye, that it cannot fail to impress the beholder with the taste and ingenuity of the architect.
Over the door, on the outside of the Tower, is a tablet, with this inscription “Calpes defensori,” the letters of which are to be formed of the metal of the guns from the Spanish floating batteries, and let into the stone.
The view from the building situated on one of the most elevated spots, will be more readily conceived than described, by those who are acquainted with that beautiful part of the county of Sussex.’
These same lines (probably penned by Newbery himself) appeared in other publications, including the Reading Mercury. In November 1793 the paper ran the report and helpfully suggested the architect was John Crundon. Crundon, the paper reported, was best known for the ‘elegant design of the Great Room of Brighthelmston’: this was the assembly rooms in the Adam style which were added to the Castle Hotel in Brighton in 1776*. John Crunden (which seems the more common spelling) was an architect and surveyor, and author of a number of pattern books. He had built a London house at 45 St Paul’s Churchyard for his friend Newbery in 1778-9.
Newbery had further plans for Heathfield, and in 1794 he invited the landscape designer Humphry Repton to advise on laying out his grounds. Repton was a fan of a ‘lofty tower’ (one featured on his business card) and recorded the patriotic thrill he felt upon seeing the tower at Heathfield:
‘The pleasure which was excited in my mind on finding a lofty tower erected by the present possessor, and consecrated as a tribute of respect and gratitude to that gallant Commander, for his public services, who derived his title HEATHFIELD from this domain, and his military glory from the rock of Gibraltar.’
The tower was later sketched by Turner as part of his commission to provide illustrations for Cooke’s Views in Sussex
Newbery died in 1818, and the estate was offered for sale the following year, with the tower featuring prominently in the press announcement. Sadly, the views of Gibraltar which decorated the interior of the tower were removed and sold around this time.
In the early years of the 20th century Heathfield was home to William Cleverley Alexander who created a miniature museum in the tower featuring ‘souvenirs of old English life’. When the 1914 Heathfield Flower Show was held in the park Alexander invited visitors to ‘ascend the noted Gibraltar Tower.’ A fire in the middle of the 20th century severely damaged the top floor, and by the time Barbara Jones saw it in the early 1950s it was in poor condition, although there were ‘remains of the most exquisite gothic plasterwork’. Around this date the local authority intervened and became custodians to secure the tower’s future. Happily, a new owner of Heathfield had plans for the tower.
In 1963 Heathfield Park was bought by Gerald Moore (1926-2018) a child actor who grew up to be a Harley Street surgeon. Something of a polymath he was also an artist and poet. As if this was not enough, in the 1970s he somehow found time to open the Heathfield Wildlife Park, and restored the Gibraltar Tower, by now listed at grade II*, as its centrepiece.
The venture was however short-lived, and after Moore left Heathfield in the early 1990s the tower once more began to decline. The subsequent owner was not keen on visitors and security fences deterred all but the most intrepid.
Early in the 21st century the 350 acre estate was bought by entrepreneur Dominic Wainford; the park remains strictly private and the tower in need of attention. Various plans for the estate have been mooted, with this design for the tower and its environs particularly striking, but apparently unrealised https://www.dematosryan.co.uk/archive/gibraltar-tower-2/
* The Castle Hotel in Brighton is long gone, but the rooms survived as a chapel. They were later moved to become what is now St Stephen’s Chapel. Read more here https://regencysociety.org/our-heritage/breathing-new-life-into-st-stephens/
Thanks to the Garden Historian, aka Michael Cousins, for a fun and fruitful collaboration on this post, and thanks to you for reading. Please scroll down to the foot of the page to leave any thoughts or comments.