Tucked in woodland off Sydenham Hill in south London sits a sham ruin. Although it is now hard to imagine, it was once a feature of the ‘beautiful grounds’ of Fairwood, an elegant newly-built villa. This area of London was very much in vogue in the middle of the 19th century, after the arrival of the relocated Crystal Palace put it on the map, and Sydenham Hill became home to a number of distinguished family homes.
Although initially mocked in some quarters as Prince Albert’s ‘folly’, the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park was a triumph. But the agreement had always been that the great glass gallery, which had become known as the ‘Crystal Palace’, would be removed after the fair was over, and the parkland setting then restored. But as the Earl of Carlisle wrote when that time approached, ‘the destruction of the Crystal Palace would be as perverse and senseless an act of vandalism as could be perpetuated’. Moving the building to an ‘open and accessible spot’ outside the city seemed the most sensible solution, but one man had other ideas…
1814 saw the centenary of the ascension of the House of Hanover to the British throne. Although it was only a few years since George III had celebrated a reign of 50 years, it was decided that a grand national fête would be held in August to mark the occasion, an event which would also commemorate ‘General Peace’ and the anniversary of the ‘Glorious Battle of the Nile’.
If there’s one thing you can guarantee about 18th century towers, it is that they will be described using words and phrases that were just as fashionable as the buildings themselves. A tower will always be ‘lofty’ and it will almost certainly ‘command rich and extensive views’. Severndroog Castle was built in 1784 and early descriptions follow this unwritten rule. The panorama today is even richer than it was when the tower was built, with two centuries of London development on show.