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
About 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
During 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.