The Early History of Broadway Tower by Jill Tovey

In 1751 George William Coventry inherited the title 6th Earl of Coventry, Croome Court and 15,000 acres of land in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.  He was 29 years old and the speed with which he set about improving and modernising his inheritance implies that he had already made plans about what he would do.

His first act was to employ up and coming landscape management expert Lancelot Brown to work with him on the project. Brown was an instinctive engineer who knew how water and land could be moulded and controlled – he knew the ‘Capabilities’. The two men had met through a mutual association with Lord Cobham at Stowe and the young George William had recognised Brown’s potential. So it was that in 1752 the two began working in partnership; they first of all turned the existing 17th century house into a modern, symmetrical Palladian style mansion and then went on to create a vast, idyllic English landscape around it.

Whilst the basic ideas, and the boldness of style and design, were almost certainly the Earl’s, it was probably Brown’s skills in land and water management that gave him the confidence to have the 760 acres of land surrounding the house sculpted on a monumental scale, never before attempted.

The basic project took over ten years, but Brown continued to be involved – making adjustments to drainage right up until his death in 1783. So grateful to him was the Earl that he erected a monument in his memory beside the beautifullake he had created out of a ‘Morass’.

The creation of the Landscape Park had become a lifetime obsession for the 6th Earl of Coventry. He had also employed Robert Adam to design iconic buildings to form focal points and draw the eye to views that observers were intended to see. In this Adam, Brown and the Earl had worked closely together. However, by 1794 Brown and Adam were both dead, but the George William wasn’t finished.

Whilst he now had buildings to decorate the inner park, he was thinking on a wider scale and brought in the latest ‘must have’ architect, James Wyatt to finish the job. There was already an ‘eye-catcher’ to the south in the shape of gothic style Dunstall Castle, which Adam had designed in 1765, but now he wanted eye-catchers to the north, east and west of the house, to be placed on the most visible pieces of high ground that he owned. So, between 1794 and 1801 Wyatt designed the Panorama Tower to the west:

Panorama Tower, James Wyatt 1801 © Croome Heritage Trust
Panorama Tower, James Wyatt 1801 © Croome Heritage Trust, image not for further publication without permission.

Pirton Castle to the north:

Picton Castle © Croome Heritage Trust
Pirton Castle, James Wyatt 1801 © Croome Heritage Trust, image not for further publication without permission

 

and, to the east, Broadway Tower.

Broadway Tower © Croome Heritage Trust
Broadway Tower, James Wyatt 1794 © Croome Heritage Trust, image not for further publication without permission

Some miles to the east of Croome he owned Springhill House and some land on the high ridge near the village of Broadway and Wyatt’s design, in the Romanesque style fashionable at the time, completed the Earl’s vision of the ideal, allegorical landscape. The Tower could also perhaps have been intended as a monument to himself – standing proud on the hilltop, only distantly visible from Croome, but with views over sixteen counties. If this was the case, it worked because 220 years later, people still ask “Who built this? The answer is George William. 6th Earl of Coventry – thus his name lives on. So far from being a ‘Folly’ –  it was a statement and had a purpose.

 

Jill Tovey
Croome Heritage Trust, 2020

 

Broadway’s Silver Jubilee Celebrations 6th May 1935

How Broadway Celebrated the Silver Jubilee
of HM King George V

In March 1935, a Broadway Jubilee Committee of 50 villagers, chaired by Clement Parsons (of Luggershill, Springfield Lane), was appointed to organise a number of events across the village to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of HM King George V. Under Treasurer, Alexander Lomas1, a Jubilee Fund was set up which raised a total of £148 2s to fund the village’s celebrations.

On Monday 6th May 1935, Broadway celebrated the King’s Jubilee in style. The day started at 9am with a peal of church bells at St Eadburgha’s Church. Members of the Broadway branch of the British Legion, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides accompanied by a number of schoolchildren processed down the High Street to the War Memorial on the green, where a Service of Thanksgiving was held at 10.15am. The service, officiated by the Rev. Vincent H. Patrick, Vicar of St Michael’s, and the Congregational Minister, Rev. S.T. Butler, was attended by hundreds of villagers gathered on the village green.

Silver Jubilee, Broadway War Memorial 1935
Thanksgiving Service at Broadway War Memorial 6th May 1935. Photo ©P. Hutchinson Photographer, Broadway

Open Gardens and an Afternoon of Sports on Broad Close

During the afternoon, various sporting events, organised by the North Cotswold Athletic Club were held at Broad Close including events for the younger children and a men’s cross country race from Broad Close up to Broadway Tower and back – the race was won by J. Stokes2.

Broad Close, Broadway 6 May 1935
Broad Close, Broadway 6 May 1935

The athletic events, conducted under the rules of the Amateur Athletic Association, were organised by a Committee headed by Brigadier-General Napier assisted by; Frank A. Folkes (Secretary and Treasurer), Captain C.M. Napier, Dr William G. Alexander, Dr M.C. Beatty, Reginald Y.T. Kendall3 (of Abbot’s Grange), Charles Steward, Mr Harvey, A. Beard, C. Ingram, G.F. Knott, Archibald J. Bridgeman (Headmaster of Broadway Council School), Miss Tilley, Miss Ingles, R. Rawlings, R. Stokes, R. Holland, Rex Morris, and L.J. Smith.

Silver Jubilee Celebrations, Broadway, 6th May 1935
Silver Jubilee Celebrations, Broadway, 6th May 1935. Photo ©P. Hutchinson Photographer, Broadway

Music for the event was provided by L. Hensley and the prizes were awarded by two of the village’s oldest residents, Thomas and Elizabeth Figgitt4. The couple were driven to Broad Close from their home at Swan Cottage along the High Street in an open-top waggon provided by Don G.S. Russell (owner of the Lygon Arms). After the sports, a tea party for children and parishioners was held in a marquee erected on the Recreation Ground. 

From 12 noon until 4pm, gardens across the village were opened to the public. The open gardens were organised by the Jubilee Gardens Committee headed by Miss Pemberton and Miss Webb. The gardens, which were open free of charge, included: Orchard Farm (Lady Maud Bowes Lyon), Court Farm (Mary Anderson de Navarro, garden designed by Alfred Parsons), Lygon Arms (Don G.S. Russell), Bannits (Mrs Rees Price, garden designed by Alfred Parsons), Farncombe House (Frank Burges OBE), Abbot’s Grange (Reginald Y.T. and Evelyn H. Kendall), Austin House (Stratford C. and Eva A. Saunders) and Luggershill (Clement Parsons).

Torchlight Procession to the Beacon at Broadway Tower

After dark, a torchlight procession of villagers made its way up to Broadway Tower where a beacon bonfire had been built by the Boy Scouts with wood provided by George Foster. The bonfire at the Tower formed part of a chain of beacons across the country. HM King George lit the first of the beacons in Hyde Park, and at 10pm the chain of beacons around the country were lit. As the Broadway Beacon was lit, a red, green and yellow rockets, symbolising the colours of the Scouts, were fired. It was reported that thousands of people made their way up to Broadway Tower to see the beacon and firework display.

 

Broadway Tower 6 May 1935
Broadway Tower 6 May 1935

Jubilee Dance and Jubilee Trees

The following Thursday evening, a Jubilee Dance , organised by Joan Warren, Violet Folkes, Mabel Figgitt, J. Keyte and P. Derrick, was held in the Lifford Memorial Hall. Villagers danced the night away to Eddie Mace and his Super Band, and prizes to the best dancers were awarded to Mr & Mrs Ken Riley and May Keyte.

After the celebrations, two commemoration oak seats set on staddlestones were installed on the High Street. The remainder of the Jubilee Fund5 was used to purchase a number of horse chestnut and lime trees, the ‘Jubilee Trees’, were planted along the Cheltenham Road and High Street, many of which can still be seen today.

Debbie Williamson

 

Notes:

  1. Alexander Fred Lomas (1896-1965) was Manager of the Broadway branch of the Midland Bank.
  2. The results of the cross-country race: 1st: J. Stokes, 2nd: Les Arnold, 3rd: Victor Dudley Tittensor (1916-1989), 4th: W. Payne.
  3. Reginald Young Turnbull Kendall (1897-1963)
  4. See Thomas F. Figgitt (1863-1936)
  5. It had been hoped initially that sufficient funds would be raised to add to the fund set up in the 1920s to build a community swimming pool in the village.

 

A Brief History of Broadway Tower

Earl Coventry Builds a Beacon Tower above Broadway

The site of Broadway Tower was common land until about 1771. The enclosure of Common land granted this to Sir George William, the 6th Earl of Coventry, who owned nearby Spring Hill House as well as Croome Court in Pershore.

In October 1797, Admiral Duncan, later Earl Camperdown, won a naval victory over the Dutch at Camperdown (north of Haarlem). In celebration a bonfire was lit on Broadway Beacon Hill with fireworks and other events organised by Thomas Coventry, youngest son of Lord Coventry. The Countess of Coventry was so impressed that she persuaded Lord Coventry to erect a tower there. Plans for an ornamental folly were initially discussed with Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (who had designed the parkland surrounding Spring Hill) and the project was completed in 1799 by the architect James Wyatt after Brown’s death. The 65 foot Beacon Tower with its saxon castle design stands at 1024 feet above sea-level, the highest little castle in the Cotswolds.

Sir Thomas Phillipps and the Broadway Printing Press

Following the 6th Earl’s death, John Coventry, his second son, inherited the Tower and surrounding land.  In the 1820s it was sold to the eccentric bibliophile Sir Thomas Phillipps who owned the nearby Middle Hill Estate. Thomas used the Tower from 1827 to house his printing press but during his ownership he neglected the building and it fell into disrepair.

In 1837 the vantage point of Broadway Tower was again used as a site for a Beacon Bonfire. On 20th June 1837, Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, an evening procession from the village ended with a bonfire at Broadway Beacon, one of 2,548 bonfires lit across the country to celebrate the Jubilee.

Gloves and Famous Visitors

Thomas Phillipps ceased to use the Tower after his move to Cheltenham in 1863. It is recorded that the Tower was used by glove makers for a while before 1866 when Cormell Price took out a lease on the building as a holiday home for himself and his friends. The location of the Tower with its wonderful views attracted many visitors including the English artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. It is believed that in 1876 William Morris wrote a letter from Broadway Tower which led to the formation of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings by William Morris and Philip Webb in 1877. Cormell Price, known affectionately by his friends as the ‘Knight of Broadway Tower’, and the Stanley family, reluctantly left the Tower after 11 years when Cormell gave up his tenancy in September 1878, after the death of Thomas Phillipps.

The Tower during the Second World War

imagesAbout 1930, still under the ownership of the Middle Hill Estate, the Hollington family moved in as tenant famers. Mr and Mrs Hollington brought up their family there, cooking on a portable stove and climbing the winding stairs by candlelight as there was no electric light or gas. During the Second World War, whilst tenanted by Mr Hollington (who had joined the Observer Corps), the Tower was used as a look out post to map enemy aircraft.

On 2nd June 1943, a Whitley bomber on a training mission from Honeybourne airfield, crashed next to the tower in poor visibility. The crew: Pilot HG Hagen, Sgt EG Ekins, Flt Sgt DH Kelly, Sgt DA Marriott and Sgt RS Phillips all lost their lives in the crash.

Broadway Tower and the Royal Observation Corps

Broadway Tower remained part of the Middle Hill Estate until 1949 when on the death of Miss Emily Georgina Hingley it was offered to the National Trust as a gift. The Trust declined and the Tower subsequently passed to the Dulverton Batsford Estates when it was rescued by the Hon. Frederick Anthony Wills, 2nd Baron Dulverton of Batsford (1915-1992).

In 1950, following the Second World War, a new above ground concrete slab observation post, known as an Orlit A, was built. It was a very basic structure consisting of two small, separate rooms, equipped with little more than a telephone line that connected the men that manned the post to the regional control centre.

During the ‘Cold War’, a secret Royal Observer Corps nuclear bunker was built in 1961 approximately 180 metres from the Tower. As part of a larger network of 1,653 bunkers around the country, it served as an early warning system – built to study the effects of radioactive fallout from a nuclear attack. It was manned continuously from 1961, up until it’s decommissioning in 1991 at the end of the Cold War. The bunker has since been restored and is open to the public on certain weekends of the year.

Broadway Tower Today

300px-Broadway_Tower_2012During Lord Dulverton’s ownership the land surrounding the Tower was developed in to a Country Park with its own herd of red deer and the Tower was converted in to a Museum.

The grounds and the Tower, with its wonderful views across up to 16 counties, are now in the ownership of the Will family and are open to the public most days.