On Sunday 18 June 1815 the British and Prussian armies, commanded respectively by the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal von Blücher, won the Battle of Waterloo. There were immediate demands for monuments across Britain to celebrate this great victory, but none were so quick to respond as William Kerr, the 6th Marquis of Lothian, and his family. By the end of June funds had been raised to erect ‘a monument on the summit of Penielheugh’, a lofty hill on the Marquis’s Monteviot estate.
Actually, the family had been planning a monument to the Duke of Wellington for some months, and the tenants had been asked to provide sand and lime for the construction of ‘Wellington’s Pillar’ earlier in 1815. The architect, William Burn (1789-1870), designed the monument in the form of an obelisk (or pyramid, the words were synonymous at this period). Whilst no drawings are known to survive, a maquette can be seen in the collection at Abbotsford, the former home of Sir Walter Scott, which shows the form monument took.
The foundation stone was laid in June, and by August the Scot’s Magazine could report that the ‘Wellington pillar on the top of Penhillheuch [sic] is in a state of progress’. The masons were instructed to carve the word VICTORY on the east face, WELLINGTON on the north, and WATERLOO on the west. The south side was to carry a dedication to the Duke of Wellington and the British Army (the Prussian army was not acknowledged). These inscriptions can all be read on the maquette.
On the 14th of October the Marquis of Lothian (1763-1825), his family, friends, and tenants gathered on the ‘romantic hill’. The Marquis paid tribute to those who had lost their lives, and to those who had served, and raised a toast to the King, the Prince Regent, the British Army, the Duke of Wellington, the Navy, Lord Nelson and many more before ending with a tribute to his tenantry. Lord Douglas then proposed a toast to the Marquis, and wished health and prosperity to his family. The four inscribed stones were in place and that on the south read:
To the Duke of Wellington
And the British Army
Marquis of Lothian
And his Tenants
Dedicate this Monument
30 June 1815
It is clear from the newspaper reports of this event that the obelisk was not quite finished. The Marquis himself said that it was ‘virtually completed’, but the monument on its 32 feet square base had yet to reach its ‘intended height of 109 feet’. It must however have been fairly advanced, for it was said that ‘for imposing height and grandeur’ the obelisk had ‘no rival in the United Kingdom’.
The monument was well-received, and the Scots were proud that the Marquis was ‘the first in this country to raise a monument to the heroes of Waterloo’. The 1st anniversary of the battle was marked at the monument in June 1816, when the obelisk was ‘decked with the union flag’. What happened next is a little unclear, but soon after ‘either through faulty design or faulty construction’ the obelisk ‘fell with a tremendous crash’. The estate forester is said to have written to the Marquis with the solemn news that ‘Yon muckle stane has tumbled’.
After some discussion, work began on an entirely new structure in 1817. This was designed by Archibald Elliot (1761-1823) in the form of a Doric column, which was considered appropriate ‘on account of its manly form’. Sir Walter Scott dined with Lord Lothian in September 1817, and the monument was sufficiently advanced for Scott to proclaim it ‘simply grand’, and ‘the finest piece of masonry I have ever seen’. The local whinstone was quarried nearby, and probably as a result of a lesson learned, the tower was later described as ‘very substantially built’.
The Marquis pondered whether to dedicate the tower exclusively to Waterloo, but eventually decided to stick with the original wording dedicating the monument to the Duke of Wellington and the British Army. So the tower, although marked on an 1822 map as ‘Waterloo Monument’, doesn’t actually have any inscription naming the great battle.
Work was ongoing late into 1823, only a few months before the 6th Marquis died in April 1824, and although Elliot’s original design showed a viewing platform, it is not certain if this was built. The super-structure carrying a gallery which we see today was not added until 1867, when the 8th Marquis (1832-1870), grandson of the builder of the monument, commissioned John Hungerford Pollen (1820-1902) to design a wooden viewing platform under a lead roof. News of the ‘intended restoration and embellishment’ of the monument soon spread, and the Marquis was hailed as a patriot. A poem was published celebrating the monument as a memorial that would (albeit on the second attempt) withstand the elements and ensure the valiant were remembered:
But thou proud monument, shall stand
A statute in the living land!
And ever rear thy giant head
‘Mid lightnings wild, and tempests dread.
Pollen was a cleric turned artist/architect/curator who had also worked on interiors at the Marquis’s Blickling estate in Norfolk. The builders, Messrs Herbertson of Galashiels, assembled the new balcony in their yard before taking it to Penielheugh for erection, and when complete the gallery, spire, and vane added another 37 feet to the height of the tower.
The tower was restored by Lothian Estates in the early 1990s with the support of Historic Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and the Borders Regional Council. Under normal circumstances it can be climbed, but there is a temporary closure due to Covid. For details visit https://www.lothianestates.co.uk/waterloo-monument
Sharing the hilltop with the Folly Flâneuse when she visited were Mark and Kerryanne of Borders Aerial Photography. They have kindly given permission to reproduce a dramatic image taken in better conditions.
For more of their amazing photo’s of the Borders see https://www.bordersaerialphotography.co.uk
And the monument features in this short film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sROeyfEmevY
For more on visiting Monteviot house and gardens https://www.monteviot.com
This post expands upon, and updates, a paper by Kitty Cruft published in the Annual Report & Bulletin of the Scottish Georgian Society (now the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland) in 1982.
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