High on Stanton Moor in Derbyshire stands an austere square tower. It was built sometime after 1832 by the local landowner, William Pole Thornhill (1807-1876), to commemorate Earl Grey, the politician who successfully fought for the reform of Parliament in the early 19th century.
The Thornhill family lived at Stanton Hall, on the edge of the village of Stanton in Peak, from where the ‘lofty monumental tower’ could be seen ‘rising out of the dark woods’ on the moor. These plantations were fairly new, having been planted after the enclosure of the wild moorland in the first decades of the 19th century (and recognised by a gold medal for planting by the Society of Arts in 1815). William Pole Thornhill inherited the estate at Stanton in 1830, and is remembered as a benevolent landowner, who built a new church for the village as well as modern cottages which he embellished with his quirky monogram. On the road to Rowsley he built a viewing platform and seat where travellers could rest and admire the view of the Wye valley.
Thornhill was a Whig, and a strong believer in reforming parliament by getting rid of rotten boroughs and allowing more people (for which read ‘men’) the vote. The leader of this campaign was Earl Grey (1764-1845), the Whig Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834. Thornhill wrote to Earl Grey on behalf of the people of Bakewell and district in 1831, after Grey’s Reform Bill had failed to pass, urging him to ‘persevere with your endeavours’. This was in contrast to the neighbouring Tory landowner, the Duke of Rutland, who in February 1832 expressed his ‘deep sense of gratitude’ that the House of Lords had ‘refused to pass the bill’ (this is a very simplistic view of the politics, but here we are concerned with the tower).
The Reform Tower (aka Stanton Tower or Earl Grey Memorial Tower) was built soon after The Representation of the People Act finally passed into law at the third attempt in 1832, and originally had a plaque above the ‘oak, iron studded door.’ The tablet was carved with a coronet in ‘bold relief’ and the wording ‘Earl Grey, 1832’. The tower was Thornhill’s very prominent celebration of the success of Earl Grey, and it may be no coincidence that it was visible from the Duke of Rutland’s adjacent estate (although his principal seat was Belvoir, in Lincolnshire, the Duke’s Derbyshire properties included Haddon Hall and, very close to the tower, a hunting box called Stanton Woodhouse).
Until the 1950s it was possible to climb the tower and admire the extensive view. Sadly, continued vandalism forced the owner to close the tower to prevent further damage or accident. The inscribed stone above the entrance shattered and fell in the 1980s. In 2005 the landowner and the Peak District National Park discussed the future of the tower: it was hoped that funds could be found to replace the stone panel, and this was written into the Stanton Moor Conservation Plan of 2007, but sadly there has been no progress and the gaping space remains empty.
Elsewhere in the woodland the Thornhill family had a number of rocks carved with initials, crests, and dates. These are wonderful curiosities, all the more intriguing as their history seems to have been lost (as might you be if you try to find them). One is thought to commemorate Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, and another the Duke of York. But exactly what they did to earn the Thornhills respect is not known.
The slopes below the tower are full of industrial remnants of the quarrying industry, developed from the middle of the 19th century. But here too art has played a part…
A large part of Stanton Moor was given to the National Trust in 1934, but the tower remains in private ownership. There is a network of footpaths allowing access.
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