Skelton Tower stands high above Levisham in the North York Moors National Park. Once a moorland retreat, it is now a remote and romantic ruin.
The Revd Robert Skelton (1791-1877) was appointed Rector of Levisham in 1818, the Patron of the living being his widowed mother, Sarah. The Revd Skelton’s family wealth allowed him to live as a gentleman, and he had ample leisure time for country pursuits whilst curates attended to the day to day business of the parish. He was also something of an antiquarian and was involved in the excavation of a barrow on Levisham Moor. The arrow-heads he discovered in 1851 are in the collection of the British Museum.
A date for the building of the tower seems hard to find. Most local guides state it was constructed in 1830, but without giving a source. It was certainly there by the late 1840s when it is marked on tithe and Ordnance Survey maps, being named on the latter as Skelton Tower. There are various local accounts of why the tower was built: it was the quiet retreat where Skelton wrote his sermons, or (if there’s a vicar there has to be a hint of scandal) it was his secret drinking den. Much more likely is that it was a lodge where the vicar could shelter, and take refreshments, when shooting or going about his antiquarian pursuits on the moor.
The construction of the tower seems to have passed without notice, and no accounts have been found in the local newspapers. Then again, the journalists probably didn’t have time for such trivial objects as a folly tower when there were important stories like this to report: ‘A swarm of bees entered the mansion of the Rev. Robert Skelton’. Readers must have been thrilled to learn that the bees settled into the void between the ground and first floor, until eventually floorboards had to be prised up. Happily the bees then exited via the window and settled in a gooseberry bush.
There was even more excitement in Levisham with the coming (but not quite to the village) of the railway in 1836. The local story is that the Reverend Skelton, as the landowner, insisted that the station be built by his home, Grove House, a rather inconvenient mile from the village. The line was closed in 1965 but reopened as the heritage attraction the North York Moors Railway in 1973. The ruined Skelton Tower now provides a perfect grandstand for trainspotters.
There’s no hint of who might have designed the tower, and Skelton’s only known architectural commission was in 1838, when he asked Lewis Vulliamy to build a new church in his Rosedale parish.
The Levisham Estate is now owned by the North York Moors National Park. The grade II listed tower was partially restored by the NYMNP in 1978.
For more on the North York Moors Railway https://www.nymr.co.uk
All the photographs are courtesy of Chris Hand, who first suggested Skelton Tower as a subject. Chris visited on a much better day than the Folly Flâneuse and kindly shared his excellent images.
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