Early in the 19th century Benjamin Farrer built a tower close to his home in Fagley, then a village on the edge of Bradford. The elegant edifice declined after its builder’s death and survived for less than a century. But that was time enough to accumulate the usual fanciful folly stories.
Farrer (1761-1833) built the tower in 1828 and placed upon it a tablet with the inscription:
NOT FOR ANY MERIT. PURE, SINCERE LOVE AND ESTEEM CAUSED THIS TOWER TO BE ERECTED TO PERPETUATE TO ENDLESS AGES THE MEMORY OF SUSAN, JOSEPH, JOHN AND SAMUEL JOBSON, UPRIGHT HONEST PERSONS. ERECTED BY BENJ. FARRER, A.D. 1828.’
In 1876 the local historian William Cudworth painted Farrer as a man who was very careful with his money, calling him a ‘bachelor miser’. He told how Farrer, a wool merchant, would walk to York to sell his goods rather then pay for transport, and concluded that few lamented his death. According to Cudworth those named on the tower had scraped together ‘bits of property’ which they left to Farrer, a man as ‘penurious as themselves’.
Published more than forty years after Farrer’s death, it is not clear how much of Cudworth’s account of his parsimony was fact, and how much had been embellished in the intervening years. Later published sources have been based on Cudworth’s writing, so the story has been perpetuated now for almost 150 years.
What is certain is that the four people commemorated by the tower are Farrer’s mother, Susan (or Susannah) and her three younger siblings: Samuel, Joseph and John. As each of the siblings died, their money and property passed to the last surviving brother, John, and it was he who chose his nephew Benjamin as his heir.
John died in 1826 and Farrer then erected the tower in memory of his mother and uncles, which must surely redeem his character a little: he can’t have been such a skinflint if he was willing to invest some of his fortune in a fancy folly? The roof of the tower was completed by Farrer’s builder, Joseph Watson, in the autumn of 1828, with finishing touches to the interior the following year, when the ‘cubard Doors’ were fitted. Sadly, what purpose the tower served has long been forgotten, but presumably it served as a belvedere, eye-catcher and pic-nic pavilion. It is marked on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map simply as ‘Tower’.
By the time Cudworth was recounting the history of the tower in the 1870s the tower had become a ‘conspicuous object’ in the grounds of Thomas Milner’s Spire Nurseries in Fagley (the area around the tower was known as Spire Fields). Milner leased the ground from the Farrer family from sometime before 1859 until 1882 when the business was liquidated: locals recalled that Milner used the lower storey as a tool shed.
Farrer’s descendants sold the Fagley property, including what had become known as ‘Tower Fields’ in 1899. Sometime around then the upper storey was occupied by a ‘fish hawker’: an undignified end for this once fine tower. Picture postcards of the tower were produced in the early 20th century, but by then the turret was roofless and had become known as the Spy Tower (possibly a contraction of Spire Tower), with the accompanying story that children used to climb the tower to spy on courting couples in the lane below. And of course there were tales that it was haunted, and local children would dare each other to run down the narrow lane that passed it.
In May 1915 it was reported that one side of the tower’s base was bulging, and that ‘it does not seem probable the tower will stand another twenty years, let alone endless ages’. In fact it didn’t survive another year, and by early January 1916 had been ‘reduced to a heap of stones’. The Bradford historian Arthur Harrison remembered seeing the plaque ‘leaning against a shed’ in a nearby quarry in the 1930s, but it is not known to survive today. For some years ‘hummocky rubble’ marked the site of the tower, but the land has since been developed and no trace of this fine tower remains.
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