High above Ashton, and visible from miles around, is the curious tower called Hartshead Pike. It was built in the 1860s to commemorate the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, and to honour Queen Victoria on the occasion of her son’s marriage.
Going back in time, the hill is said to have been home to an ancient beacon, which was replaced in 1751 by a stone pinnacle bearing the legend ‘This Pike Was Re-built By Publick Contributions Anno Do 1751’. There was also a plaque bearing the polite instruction: ‘Look well at me Before You go, And See You nothing at me Throw’, a reminder that vandalism is nothing new.
By the time the writer John Aikin saw it at the end of the 18th century, the tower had become a ‘favourite and well-known object’ and was a popular resort for walkers. It was however already in a poor condition, with a ‘split from top to bottom near half a yard in width’. Aikin thought that ‘a few pounds laid out in repair’ would secure the structure for the century to come. But this was not to be, and the Pike continued to decline throughout the first half of the 19th century.
In autumn 1862 it was announced that the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, would be married to Princess Alexander of Denmark early the following year, and across the country committees were convened to decide how best to mark the occasion. Somewhat at the eleventh hour, the great and the good of Ashton met on 21 February (less than a month before the wedding), and the Mayor of the Manor, Samuel Lees, suggested that the ‘auspicious event’ be marked by the repair of Hartshead Pike. This idea was received with enthusiasm (hear hear), and plans were made to launch an appeal for funds.
First to subscribe was the Lord of the Manor, George Henry Grey, the 7th Earl of Stamford & Warrington, on whose land the tower was to be built. He also made a donation of twenty pounds and gave the stone for construction. The prominent civic figures and wealthier members of the community donated between 1 and 5 Guineas each, and those working men who could afford it gave 2/6d. It soon became apparent that rather than repairing the existing pike, which stood on poor foundations, a new tower was required and a number of designs were submitted. After careful consideration, the committee unanimously agreed to commission design number 3, by local architect John Eaton (1810-1876).
The foundation stone was laid on 17 September 1863 but progress was slow, and the funds inadequate. The committee met in April 1864 to discuss how to proceed, and Eaton was asked if it would be possible to modify the initial plans and finish the tower at the height it had then reached. Nothing was decided, and the tower was left unfinished. Letters to the local papers both attacked and defended Lees (party politics), and the situation dragged on until June 1868 when the Earl of Stamford & Warrington agreed that the land around the tower should become a recreational facility for the local area. He placed the ground in the hands of trustees, and gave the generous sum of 50 Guineas towards the project. The tower was eventually completed some time before the end of 1869.
The inscription from the collapsed earlier pike was relocated to the new tower, along with further inscriptions recording its history, and a plaque with the Grey family crest and motto A Ma Puissance (To My Power). A hart’s head weather vane is known to have topped the earlier pike, and this was either salvaged, or a copy was commissioned for the new tower, as seen in the postcard view above.
Over the next century the tower, high on the exposed hillside, continued to be hammered by hurricanes and hooligans, and remedial action was taken on a number of occasions to ensure its survival. In 1911 it was announced that the tower would be restored to ‘commemorate the Coronation of King George’, but it was not until 1914 that work was completed, and by 1928 vandalism and a storm meant that yet another restoration was required. In the years leading up to the Second World War the tower was open to the public, and a small shop sold refreshments, but the door and windows were bricked up in the war years.
In September 2019 metal fencing was erected around the tower as it was once again crumbling and falling masonry posed a risk to the public, and in May 2020 there was good news when Tameside Council announced that £61,000 was to be spent restoring Hartshead Pike..
Work was almost complete when The Folly Flâneuse visited in Autumn 2020. Sadly the local pub was closed because of local Covid19 restrictions, as it has the most wonderful and enticing sign…
There’s a circular walk, cleverly described as a ‘hike to the pike’ here https://www.tameside.gov.uk/countryside/walksandtrails/hiketothepike.pdf
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