Leith Hill Tower celebrates 250 years in 2015
- Credit: Archant
As celebrations get under way to mark the 250th anniversary of Leith Hill Tower, the chairman of the Surrey Hills Society, Chris Howard, brings us the story of this fascinating building – which, at its summit, is higher than the London Shard…
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2015
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As regular readers will know, the Surrey Hills Society was created as a charity to act as an overarching body that links, supports and protects this special area. This year, however, we are also working closely with the National Trust. Why? ...because one of the most iconic sites in the Surrey Hills that they manage is celebrating a very special birthday. Leith Hill Tower is 250 years old... wow!
Now Leith Hill is often confused with Box Hill, where there is that weird guy who wanted to be buried upside down.... that was Major Peter Labellière, who was buried there in 1800. It does, however, have a dead man buried at the bottom of the tower – the original owner, in fact, Richard Hull. He was buried in the traditional horizontal fashion in 1772. His body was discovered during renovations in 1984.
Other misconceptions about this tower include the fact that it was built as a folly. It is, in fact, what is known as a ‘prospect house’, which is used to view ‘from’ rather than be ‘looked at’. Many say it was also built by the owner to turn it from a hill to a mountain at 1,000 feet above sea level. Again, there is no evidence to prove this is correct. However, it is nice to know that at its summit you are standing higher than the Shard building in London.
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Using the telescope, you can watch ships ploughing their way up the English Channel and view 13 counties. It is such an inspiring place that some people, like Janet Street Porter for instance, return every year. The journalist and broadcaster particularly loves the bluebell displays here. In total, the area is visited by some 800,000 people a year and over 24,000 climb the steep, spiral staircase to the viewing platform.
For the tower’s birthday, the National Trust decided to focus on a project to enhance the area through the purchase of an old Victorian, refurbished water trough (for horses, dogs and humans), as well as some re-landscaping. The Surrey Hills Society started fund-raising last year and in November we handed over a cheque for £1,000 to head ranger at Leith Hill, Sam Bayley. This included a £250 donation from the Surrey Long Distance Walkers Association, for which we are truly grateful.
In March, to a packed hall in Wotton, Sam gave us a talk, not only about the tower, but also the fascinating area that surrounds it. There are 850 acres of land accessible to the public up there, under three main landowners, the National Trust, the Forestry Commission and Wotton Estates.
In the autumn, we are planning a practical volunteering day on the hill, assisting with some of the landscape conservation work. The proactive management of the area has been rewarded by the return of nightingales in recent years. The Surrey Hills Society will continue to raise funds for Leith Hill during 2015. Why not come and join us in our quest to conserve this iconic site?
• If you would like to join the Surrey Hills Society, visit their website at surreyhillssociety.org. The society has a monthly column in Surrey Life magazine.
5 fascinating facts… about Leith Hill Tower
• The tower was built by Richard Hull in 1765 as a viewing platform
• From the top of the tower, you can see 13 counties
• It is also the highest point in the south of England
• The tower was restored in 1796 by William Philip Perrin
• It has been a National Trust property since 1923
More about the Surrey Hills