John Sharp became the incumbent of Hartburn, near Morpeth, in 1749 and this curious tower was built soon after; it was originally used as a schoolhouse and to house the parish hearse. Sharp contributed to the cost from his own pocket, but reaped the benefits as the tower also served as an eye-catcher from his ornamented grounds in the valley of the Hart Burn that gives the village its name.
In Sharp’s day this picturesque little landscape garden had a pavilion shaded by 4 fir trees, where he liked to drink tea, and a small stone bastion to view the scene. Close to the water’s edge was a grotto which seemed ‘mostly the work of nature, but assisted by art.’ Sharp built out from a natural cave, using stone which appears to have been quarried nearby, creating a two-roomed shelter. There is a fireplace in what was presumably a dressing room and as a further courtesy a small tunnel led from the cave to the water, allowing those who chose to bathe to slip into the water unseen.
Although a swim was not an appealing option when The Folly Flâneuse visited in January…
The two niches above the door once housed statues. An 1828 gazetteer describes the statues as two male figures, but identifies only one as ‘Jupiter hurling his thunderbolt’. As Jupiter was the Roman god of thunder and the sky, a likely companion would be one of his mythical brothers: Neptune god of the waters or Pluto, god of the underworld. Both would seem appropriate to the site. Long since disappeared, they were a target for vandals as far back as 1864 when ‘some evil and maliciously disposed person or persons, did […] remove a figure from the Grotto in Hartburn Wood and threw it in the river.’ A £5 reward was offered to anyone who could discover the offender. It seems unlikely it was recovered as in 1920 only one statue remained, but it too had met an undignified end and lay ‘prostrate in the grotto’. By this date the statues were said to be of Adam and Eve. Whoever they were, the deep pool by the grotto is probably their home today.
Tower (grade II*) and grotto (grade II) survive, as does a very pretty bridge with a tall lancet arch.
The Tower is now a private home but can be seen from the road. A nearby footpath leads down through Hartburn Glebe to the grotto. Sharp’s pleasure ground is now in the care of The Woodland Trust which is reopening footpaths and vistas and protecting the built structures. https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/wood/4146/hartburn-glebe/