High above the town of Buxton, in Derbyshire, stands a squat circular belvedere known as Grinlow Tower, after the hill on which it stands, or, more usually, as Solomon’s Temple. It was built by public subscription in 1896, replacing an earlier structure that had collapsed. But as is so often the case with folly towers, sorting the fact from the fiction is quite a challenge.
The first tower on the site is said to have been built by one Solomon Mycock. Some accounts state he was a local farmer who built the tower in 1840, and others that the folly was erected in around 1800 when he was the landlord of the Cheshire Cheese Inn, and that he had it built to alleviate unemployment in the area. The census returns show that Solomon Mycock, born in 1788, was both an innkeeper and a farmer so there is some substance to the stories. But Solomon rented the land on which the tower stood, and thus it acquired its biblical nickname, but the actual builder lived just down the road at Chatsworth: in his Gem of the Peak, published in 1838, William Adam described the tower as ‘lately built by the order of the Duke of Devonshire’. The Duke’s motive was probably the philanthropic one attributed to Mycock – providing work for local men.
In around 1846 the self-styled ‘Wandering Poet’, James Bannard, wrote Views and Reflections taken from Solomon’s Temple, in which he admired the panoramic view from the tower:
To Solomon’s Temple I repaired,
To take a wider view;
And as I was a stranger there,
All things appeared new.
Built of ‘loose stones’, the tower soon deteriorated, and by the 1890s all that was left was a pile of rubble. The hilltop site, with its extensive views, was still a popular destination, and visitors were able to picnic in a tent erected by Mr Turner, who would collect your hamper and deliver it to the summit. Towards the end of the 19th century the great and the good of Buxton began to plan a more permanent shelter for the townsfolk and tourists.
In February 1894 a committee was formed, and at the first meeting it was unanimously resolved ‘that it is desirable to restore Solomon’s Temple’ (although the ‘restoration’ would in fact be a totally new building). Two local architects submitted plans: W.R. Bryden and his former pupil George Edwin Garlick (1863-1935). It was Garlick’s design for a round tower that could be built for less than £100 that was favoured by the committee, although it was later tweaked. The tower was designed as a shelter and belvedere, with a rooftop viewing platform and flagpole.
An appeal was launched, asking for funds to help ‘make the prominent land-mark worthy of its name’. The 8th Duke of Devonshire set the appeal in motion with a pledge of £25, and donations of various sizes were made by the people and businesses of Buxton. Garlick’s design was displayed in the various banks in town, to encourage donations, and a flyer was distributed encouraging ‘everyone interested in making the surroundings of Buxton more attractive’ to support the campaign. A fund-raising concert was held in the town hall, and by May 1896 sufficient money was available for work to start, and Mr A. Wild was awarded the contract to build the tower.
Meanwhile, the Duke of Devonshire had given permission for local archaeologist Micah Salt (1847-1915) and his son to investigate the site. Their dig confirmed that the tower stood on a barrow, a Bronze Age burial site, and human remains and grave goods were discovered. Salt was an amateur archaeologist (as were most antiquarians at this date) but unusually he was a tailor, rather than the usual leisured clergyman or squire. Although some were a little sniffy (one account called him ‘an intelligent tradesman’), the Salts were respected by the Society of Antiquaries. Their findings were reported in the society’s journal, where they were described as having ‘rendered great service to local archaeology in their excavations’. The antiquities they found at Grinlow, and other Buxton barrows, were displayed to the Fellows of the society in December 1896.
The foundation stone was laid by Col Sidebottom M.P. at the beginning of June 1896, and by September the work was complete and Victor Cavendish M.P., representing the Duke of Devonshire, declared the tower open. The weather was not kind on the opening day, and it was a sometimes undignified walk in the slippery mud to the summit, but in his speech Cavendish hoped that future visitors would enjoy better weather, and that their health might benefit from the ‘invigorating’ air. He praised the tower as an excellent addition to the attractions which Buxton could offer.
The committee tried hard to encourage the locals to call the building the ‘Grinlow Tower’, instead of the ‘common but misleading title Solomon’s Temple now in vogue’, but with limited success, and it remains better known as the latter today.
The tower was hugely popular, and was recreated as one of the crested china ornaments that were so in fashion at the time, as well as featuring on countless picture postcards, including one with a fascinating history. W. Reginald Bray became known as the ‘Autograph King’ on account of his mania for sending postcards to all manner of people, asking them to return the card duly autographed. In 1909 he took an interest in Solomon’s Tower, and the card tells the story:
With the outbreak of the Second World War there were some who thought the tower might be a guide to enemy aircraft. Others disagreed, pointing out that Buxton was home to many more significant landmarks such as John Carr’s 18th century Crescent and the vast dome of the Devonshire Hospital. The little tower was reprieved, and (somewhat ironically) was painted by Karl Hagedorn in 1940 as part of the Recording Britain project, which sought to celebrate Britain’s architecture and countryside at a time of low morale.
Possibly the most curious incident in the life of the folly was featured in a newspaper in 1933. So odd is the report that the Folly Flâneuse had to double-check the paper was not dated April the First. ‘During Whitsuntide’, a reporter from the Nottingham Journal interviewed two Americans, who refused to give their names, but who had come to Buxton with the ‘express purpose of buying the Temple and taking it back to their country to erect there’. Clearly their mission failed, and they must have sailed home empty-handed.
Almost from the start the tower was subject to the usual mindless vandalism. Over time the door was knocked in, the walls covered in graffiti, the windows smashed (those on the upper level have long been blocked up), and the flagpole torn down. In 1987 the Buxton Civic Association led a restoration project with the comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor, who grew up in the town, leading the fundraising campaign. The grade II listed tower remains a popular destination for locals and tourists to the spa town.
Thanks to Ros Westwood, Buxton Museum, for her help with this post.
For walks and access see https://poolescavern.co.uk/woodland-walks/solomons-temple/
For more on W. Reginald Bray, the ‘Autograph King’, who even ‘posted’ himself on occasions, see this fascinating website http://www.wrbray.org.uk
Some of Salt’s finds can be seen in the excellent Wonders of the Peak display at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery https://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/leisure/buxton-museum/buxton-museum-and-art-gallery.aspx
For more follies painted for the Recording Britain project see https://thefollyflaneuse.com/recording-britain/
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