Saturday, 9 August 2014

Towers 3

Three more towers now, all different. The first is the most modern: The House in the Clouds at Thorpeness on the Suffolk coast, a little north of Aldeburgh. I have been to see it twice, in 1995 and 2001. It's built to look like a normal house up on a thick stalk:


In fact the red-painted 'house' bit is just a dummy. It disguises a water tank. But the black-painted lower sections are habitable as unusual holiday accommodation. The House in the Clouds - and indeed most of Thorpeness - was created in the 1920s as a fantasy seaside resort. As it's private, I wasn't able to enter and see what it was like inside, nor enjoy the view from tank level (a vast games room in reality), but this link will supply all the pictures needed: http://www.houseintheclouds.co.uk/index.php?pid=1. I think it adds something quite 'different' to a sunset picture:


Next, the scary tower. The one with the link to the Most Haunted House in England. This is Bull's Tower at Pentlow, just inside the Essex border. Some quotes now to set the scene. First, from Follies - a National Trust Guide, the book mentioned in this morning's post Tower 2. The authors (two men) described their 1974 visit thus, on pages 342-343:

Essex has a number of folly towers of a more traditional sort. All are eclipsed by Bull’s Tower in Pentlow, a rather attractive, unostentatious Victorian brick tower in a rectory garden. When we called [at the rectory], we tugged on the old bell-pull and far away in the depths of the house a rusty bell finally tolled. No one answered. When we stepped back we saw that every window of the house had a white cat sitting in it looking out at us. 

Nervously we made our way across the ramshackle lawn to the tower. It is 70 feet high, banded with diapered cross-and-diamond bricking, with the date, 1859, prominently set above the door. Above that is a narrow window, and then further up the initials ‘AC’i’, also picked out in dark blue brick. We cannot find out what this could stand for. A plaque records, 'This tower was erected by the Rev. Edward Bull, M.A., in memory of his parents on a spot they loved so well.' 

It is also the most frightening building we have ever been half way up. Only long after we we had got away from it, tyres squealing, overcome by inexplicable terror, did we sit down and try to rationalise the fear. A little research made it worse. We discovered that the Rev. Mr Bull left Pentlow to become rector at another village four miles away and built himself a new rectory there in 1865; his Borley Rectory, which burnt down mysteriously in 1941, took only a few years to establish itself as the most haunted house in England. Old photographs of Borley show it to be similar in style to the rectory at Pentlow. 

Nothing in Essex equals Pentlow for atmosphere - we haven’t been back since 1974 - and no other tower in the county compares with it as a folly.

Borley Rectory was famous for its hauntings, reports of which began in the late 1800s and continued into the 1930s. During the 1930s, before the rectory burned down, the populist Daily Mirror got psychic researcher Harry Price to spend time there, gathering 'evidence' which was used to good effect in his two best-selling books on Borley. The public was fascinated by what he related, even though the Society for Psychical Research discredited most of his findings. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borley_Rectory, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Price.

The authors of Follies - a National Trust guide later found out that AC'i stands for 'Anno Christi', an unusual way of expressing 'AD', meaning 'Anno Domini', or 'the year of Our Lord'. What a pity: it does lessen the mystery so!

This link - http://www.scribd.com/doc/231329534/Follies-of-Essex - not only retells (on pages 64 and 65) the terrifying 1974 visit, but the tale is brought up to date, because the same authors went back in 1998. This is what they found, twenty four years later:

We finally screwed our courage to the sticking-place and returned, full of trepidation, in 1998. The place was transformed - no cats, signs of life in the house, so we knocked, still a little gingerly. “Oh God,” snapped the exasperated new owner, “if everyone who said they were writing a book on follies actually got them published there’d be nothing else on the shelves. You can’t see it, it’s derelict.” And indeed it was. These days it’s looking a little tidier, although we can’t explain why it should be flying a Gibraltese flag. 

If I can strain your patience a bit further, I will draw your attention to an attempt in 1992 by a husband and wife to enter and climb up Bull's Tower. It's related in a book published in 1993 by Wesley H Downs, called The Ghosts of Borley. He is also the author of Memories of an Essex Ghosthunter, published in 2009. This received a good review in the magazine Fortean Times, which devotes itself to paranormal, occult and supernatural phenomena. See http://www.forteantimes.com/reviews/books/3373/memories_of_an_essex_ghosthunter.html.

By the way, please don't think that because I unearth these little items that I too am an amateur ghosthunter! There may be ghosts, or there may not be, but there is certainly the possibility of frightening oneself to death by one's own imaginings. I'm not one to court that kind of experience.

The wife in this 1992 visit is in fact the only person who tries to climb up the spiral staircase inside the tower, the husband preferring to wait below in the room at the bottom. Well, she gets halfway, then hears heavy, laboured breathing behind her. She waits, thinking that her husband has changed his mind and is following her up. But then she is touched all over by horrid cold hands, and flees back down in panic, running all the way back to the car. When she calms down, she explains what she experienced to her husband. He admits to having a bad feeling about the tower too, and had left it, as he was so uncomfortable. See the actual tale at http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=avalI1AyQ3AC&pg=PT30&lpg=PT30&dq=Bulls+Tower+Pentlow&source=bl&ots=zCFMoXHI2m&sig=ZYxz4rPIVu3Nm7l0kn901TcpXEg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=2TbmU-SqPI-S7AaXrIH4DQ&ved=0CGYQ6AEwDw#v=onepage&q=Bulls%20Tower%20Pentlow&f=false.

I have to say that if all this was true the husband didn't behave well, leaving his wife to face the 'evil' he sensed all alone!

Right. Let's get to some facts, and some photos. I visited the tower myself in May 1996. I was on my long way home from a team-building event in Lincoln. Strangely, my route southward of Bury St Edmunds on the A134 took me to Long Melford! My first acquaintance with the Melford placename! An odd coincidence, that. Anyway, I planned to have an evening meal at a hotel at Clare, a bit to the west, up the Stour valley. But first, Pentlow and Bull's Tower! Parking my car in the lane nearby, I looked for the rectory entrance. There was the gateless driveway, and it seemed that the builders were in, although there was no sign of activity and the house did not look occupied. There was nobody to ask. What to do? I was determined to get as close as I could to the tower, which was poking up through the trees out in the grounds. I didn't feel bold enough to approach it from the house. I walked back up the lane, to see whether I could enter the grounds unseen from the house. Yes, by thrusting through some shrubbery - there was no fence - I could get quite near the tower. This done, I took a couple of shots as close as I dared without exposing myself to view. I couldn't get to the base of the tower - it was clearly visible from the house. And, without question, I was trespassing and in a false position!


Satisfied to have accomplished this much, I beat a hasty retreat. I'd vaguely hoped to try the door at the bottom and peer in. I had a torch ready. But sunset was coming on, and although I wasn't detecting anything weird about the atmosphere of the place, the bushes were creepy, the shadows dense, and I was consumed with guilt at being so furtive. I decided that it was time to quit, get a meal, and fortify myself for the last leg home. One last photo:


So much for four abortive attempts (1974, 1992, 1996 and 1998) to get into the tower!

In 2006 the tower was fully restored to its former glory by its owners at that point. This required the entire replacement of the internal spiral staircase, which had rotted away, and a new roof. The story, with photos, is told at http://www.pentlow-tower.co.uk/history.htm. Nowadays the tower is a wedding venue. Really.

Lastly, a tower that I visited only a week ago, at Leith Hill in Surrey. This is the highest point in south-east England, and the top of the tower takes the height slightly over 1,000 feet. And it does seem high up - it has commanding views in all directions, especially now that the National Trust, who own the land around, have lopped branches off some big trees that were spoiling the panorama. Originally constructed as a folly for pleasure use in the late eighteenth century, it has been added to and repaired. The NT has a kitchen at the bottom, serving nice snacks and drinks through a hatch. A stone spiral staircase winds upwards, with windows at intervals. There are a couple of upper rooms. Then one is out on the roof, which is about the size of the one at the top of Sissinghurst Castle tower, and about as high. Here are some of my pictures from last week:


There are only gravel tracks and footpaths to Leith Hill tower. I had to park the best part of a mile away. But the approach on foot is easy. It's very popular with walkers and cyclists - cyclists with decent, knobbly tyres, that is. Half of Surrey's population seemed to be there. Nothing of the faintly forbidding, or at least mysterious, Pentlow atmosphere though. To be honest, I wasn't sorry.

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