Scrabo Tower

Scrabo Tower is a 135 feet (41 m) high 19th-century lookout tower or folly that stands on Scrabo Hill near Newtownards in County Down, Northern Ireland. It provides wide views and is a landmark that can be seen from afar. It was built as a memorial to Charles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry and was originally known as the Londonderry Monument. Its architectural style is Scottish Baronial Revival.


The tower commemorates the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, who was born Charles William Stewart in 1788. He fought in the Napoleonic Wars.[1] He became married twice, first to Catherine Bligh and then to Frances Anne Vane. His second wife was a rich heiress and the marriage contract obliged him to change his surname to hers, which explains why he was first called Stewart and later Vane. He succeeded his half-brother Viscount Castlereagh as marquess in 1822 and became owner of the family estate in County Down. The estate's great house, Mount Stewart, became his Irish residence but after his second marriage he lived mostly in England.

In 1854, when the 3rd Marquess died, his eldest son, Frederick Stewart, 4th Marquess of Londonderry, and his widow, the dowager marchioness, decided to build him a monument. As these two were not at good terms, each conceived and pushed his or her own project. Two monuments resulted: the Irish tower discussed here and an equestrian statue in Durham, England.[2]

A committee was formed in Newtownards to raise funds by subscription for an Irish monument. The local gentry and the late marquess's friends, among which Napoleon III of France, donated most of the money, with some of the tenants also contributing.[3] Altogether 730 people subscribed.[4] The person behind these efforts was his eldest son Frederick Stewart, 4th Marquess of Londonderry.[5]

The funds raised allowed for a budget of £2000. At first, the monument was to be built in Newtownards, but it was later shifted to Scrabo Hill where it could be seen from Mount Stewart and where suitable building stone was quarried. In December 1855 the committee decided to hold a design competition.[6] The deadline was 1 February 1856.[7] Four entries were considered: an obelisk and three towers. The first prize went to the obelisk, which was submitted by William Joseph Barre.[8] However, the obelisk came to nothing and indeed none of the first three projects was executed. When the committee called for tenders from building contractors, all the submissions for the three best-rated entries exceeded the budget and were therefore rejected. Finally, a tender by Hugh Dixon from Newtownards for the fourth project was accepted.[9] However, supporters of William Barre claimed that the competition had been rigged.[10]

The fourth design had been submitted by the firm Lanyon & Lynn, a partnership of Charles Lanyon and William Henry Lynn that lasted from the mid-1850s to 1860.[11] The design showed a tower in the Scottish Baronial style that could be understood as a peel tower and a symbol of the landlord as a chivalrous protector of his tenants in times of danger. Such a tower was considered especially suitable for a Stewart as the Stewarts or Stuarts ruled Scotland during the times when peel towers were erected.

The 5th Baron Dufferin and Claneboye, a neighbour of the Londonderrys, had recently built Helen's Tower, also in the Scottish Baronial style, on the next hill to the north of Scrabo. The new tower was to be more than twice the height, and be situated on a bare hilltop so that, unlike Helen's Tower concealed by trees, it could be seen from a great distance.[citation needed]

A framed picture showing the tower Artist' View of the Londonderry Memorial Tower,[12] believed to represent the original project by Lanyon & Lynn

A gilt-framed picture of the Scrabo Tower, which seems to be a coloured-in wood engraving, is preserved at Mount Stewart. It gives an artist's view of the Londonderry Monument, showing three towers linked by two short stretches of crenellated wall.[12] The middle tower resembles the one built. The others are much smaller. Wood engravings similar to this picture have been published in the Illustrated London News[13][14] and the Dublin Builder. It seems that these pictures represent the original project before simplification to cut cost. Lynn's obituary in the Irish Builder attributes the design to Lynn.[15]

The foundation stone was laid on 27 February 1857 by Sir Robert Bateson and blessed by the Church of Ireland bishop of the diocese on demand by William Sharman Crawford, chairman of the Building Committee, in a ceremony attended by the 4th Marquess, his wife, many members of the gentry, and a crowd of residents and tenants.[16] The Dowager Marchioness, the 4th Marquess's stepmother, was conspicuously absent.

The construction generally followed the accepted plans, but the tower's height was shortened and its form was simplified by omitting the crenellated walls and the wing towers. Work ceased in 1859 after the cost had risen to £3010.[17] The contractor was ruined, and the interior was left unfinished. In 1865 the Dublin Builder somewhat belatedly published an article about the tower. The author's purpose seems to have been to defend Lanyon and the Londonderrys against accusations of having rigged the competition. This article overstates the tower's height as 195 feet instead of 135 and understates the cost of the tower as £2300 instead of £3010.[18] It also exaggerates the contribution made by the tenants to imply that the tower was exclusively financed by the tenants.[19]


Those loyal to the Stewart family suggested the inspiration for the memorial lay in the gratitude of his tenantry for the solicitude the Marquess had shown during the Great Famine. This seems improbable given the criticism directed toward him in those years. Londonderry refused to consider rent reductions, had objected to public works schemes for famine relief,[20] and while making contributions of £30 to the local soup kitchens in 1847, spent £15,000 renovating their home in Mount Stewart.[21] Only 450 subscribers were connected to the estate on which there were 1,200 tenants farmers and many associated employees (in 1850, organised in the all-Ireland Tenant Right League, 700 of these tenants had signed an address demanding tenant right and lower rents).[22] Two thirds of the cost of the tower was met by 98 subscribers (in a list headed by Emperor Napoleon III) most of whom were fellow gentry.[23] The tower is massive and imposing, symbolizing, if anything, landlord power.[24] Size and mass were the "chief objects" according to the Dublin Builder.[25] In later appreciations it is found "more curious than beautiful"[26] and "one of the finest examples of 19th-century folly towers".[27]

Later events

After the tower's completion in 1859, William McKay, a foreman of the quarry, moved into the tower as caretaker. His family ran a tearoom in the tower until 1966[28] despite the lack of water at the top of the hill. The tower and the grounds on which it stands were then acquired by the state. In 1977, the tower was listed as a Grade B+ historic building.[29] The Department of Environment spent £20,000 on the tower in 1992, repairing windows, repointing the masonry, adding lightning protection and fitting in a wooden floor between the second and third floor, which had been omitted in 1859 to cut costs.[30] The tower now stands in the Scrabo Country Park, which is managed by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).[31] In 2014, the NIEA announced that water ingress had damaged the electricity supply, and citing safety concerns, closed the tower to visitors.[32][33] By 2015, the tower opened occasionally,[34] and in 2017 it was fully reopened to the public.[35]

^ Vane 1828. ^ Lloyd & Heesom 2004, p. 98: "an equestrian statue of him by Gaetano Monti was unveiled in the market-place at Durham by Disraeli on 2 December 1861." ^ McCavery 1994, p. 140a: "Two thirds of the cost was raised by 98 individuals (the list was headed by the Emperor Napoleon III of France), most of whom were fellow gentry from Antrim and Down, and personal friends of the Marquess." ^ Illustrated London News 1857, p. 299a: "There was also placed in the jar a list of the subscribers' names, 730 of them all ...;" ^ Hyde 1979, p. 50: "At the same time her husband constructed the great tower on Scrabo Hill overlooking the town in his father's memory." ^ McCavery 1994, p. 140b: "In 1855, it was decided that the memorial should be erected on Scrabo, and that the design should be subject of a competition with the cost of the work not to exceed £2,000." ^ "1857 – Scrabo Tower, Newtownards, Co. Down". Archiseek. The architects designs were to be received before February 1, 1856 ^ "Co. Down, Scrabo Hill, Londonderry Monument". Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720-1940. Irish Architectural Archive. Retrieved 17 July 2018. Placed 1st in competition ^ "Co. Down, Scrabo Hill, Londonderry Monument". Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720-1940. Irish Architectural Archive. Retrieved 17 July 2018. Contractor: Hugh Dixon, Newtownards ^ Williams 1995, p. 112a: "... supporters of William Barre claimed that the conditions had been transgressed ..." ^ "Lanyon & Lynn". Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720-1940. Irish Architectural Archive. Retrieved 22 July 2018. ^ a b "Londonderry Memorial Tower on Scrabo Hill". National Trust Collections. Retrieved 29 July 2018. ^ Illustrated London News 1857, p. 299b: "Memorial to the late Marquis of Londonderry, in course of Erection on Scrabo Hill, County Down, Ireland" ^ "Memorial To The Late Marquis Of Londonderry, In Course Of Erection On Scrabo Hill, County Down, Ireland (picture from Dublin Libraries)". The Illustrated London News. No. March 28, 1857. p. 299. ^ "Obituary: HW Lynn". The Irish Builder and Engineer. 57 (25 September 1915): 431. cited in "Co. Down, Scrabo Hill, Londonderry Monument". Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720–1940. Irish Architectural Archive. Retrieved 17 July 2018. But obituary of Lynn in IB 57, 25 Sep 1915, 431, says it was designed by Lynn ^ Illustrated London News 1857, p. 300. ^ McCavery 1994, p. 140c: "In the end, however, the 135 feet high monument actually cost £3,010." ^ Dublin Builder 1865, p. 124c: "The cost was about 2,300, and the total height 195 feet." ^ Dublin Builder 1865, p. 124d: "It has been erected by the tenantry of the late Marquis of Londonderry ..." ^ "Irish Famine: How Ulster was devastated by its impact". BBC News. Retrieved 18 January 2021. ^ Kineally, Christine (2013). Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland: The Kindness of Strangers. London: Bloomsbury. p. 53. ISBN 978-1441117588. Retrieved 19 January 2021. ^ Nelson, Julie Louise (2005). 'Violently Democratic and Anti-Conservative'? An Analysis of Presbyterian 'Radicalism' in Ulster, c 1800-1852 (PDF). Department of History, Durham University (doctoral dissertation). pp. 174–175. ^ McCavery 1994, pp. 140–141. ^ McCavery 1994, p. 141: "... if the tower is a symbol of anything, it is surely a symbol of landlord power." ^ Dublin Builder 1865, p. 124h: "... size and mass were the chief objects to be attained at a comparably small cost ..." ^ Williams 1995, p. 112: "more curious than beautiful" ^ Howley 1993, p. 54, right column, line 5: "Two of the finest examples of nineteenth-century folly towers are found standing within a few miles from each other, at Scrabo and Clandeboye in north Co. Down." ^ Cite error: The named reference Orme was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Historic Building Details, Historic Building Details HB Ref No: HB24/11/031b: "Survey 2: B+" ^ Brett 2002, p. 272: "Having fallen in considerable disrepair, it was taken into public ownership, and £20,000 was spent on its restoration in 1992." ^ "Scrabo Tower and Country Park". Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Retrieved 24 April 2014. ^ "Scrabo Tower shut for foreseeable future". UTV News. 22 April 2014. ^ "Scrabo Tower: County Down monument closed to the public". BBC News. 22 April 2014. ^ "Scrabo Tower – European Heritage Open Day (EHOD) 2015 Cultural Event – 12–13 September". Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Retrieved 13 September 2015. ^ "Scrabo Tower reopens to the public". BBC. 7 July 2017.
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