“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

King Alfred’s Folly

Near Stourton in Wiltshire a rather striking triangular tower can be found. The tower is known as King Alfred's Tower (or King Alfred’s Folly) and it is part of the Stourhead estate.

Construction work on the tower was commissioned in 1762 by the banker Henry Hoare II and the project was completed in 1779. The tower stands 49 metres (161 ft) high, and is essentially three round towers connected to form a single triangular tower, which is comprised of over a million bricks. The entrance to the tower is guarded by a 10 ft high statue of King Alfred the Great (for another statue of King Alfred in Winchester, see my "Dead Man's Plack" post).

The tower is said to stand near the location of 'Egbert's stone' where it is believed that in May 878 King Alfred the Great rallied his Saxon troops before the Battle of Edington. A battle which saw Guthrum’s Great Danish Heathen army, which had been terrorising the countryside, finally defeated.

Apparently (although I did not find it myself) near the tower there lies a stone which is about 1 metre across and has the profile of a bowl. It seems that the purpose of this “bowl” is not actually known, however one proposed idea is that during the plague the bowl would have been “filled with vinegar so that coins left as payment for food and provisions could be sterilised, and outsiders would leave food and collect the coins as payment, so that the residents of a village infected by plague need have no contact with the outside world, and thereby avoid passing on the disease.” Which is an interesting theory, if it is true.

A picture of the stone / bowl can be found here.

Another piece of often quoted history related to the tower is that it was damaged in July 1944 when a plane headed for the nearby Zeals Airfield collided with the tower in fog, killing all the occupants of the aircraft.

As you can tell from the below pictures, the way in which the tower stands alone in a clearing in the woods makes for a rather striking sight!

King Alfred's Tower from a distance.
The front of the tower.
The tower from the rear showing its triangular nature.
The statue of King Alfred over the tower's entrance.
Inscription above the tower's entrance. It is interesting to note that this inscription refers to 879 AD, instead of 878 AD.
Inside, looking up.
View from the top.
View from the top.
Nearby tourist information board.
Pictures, Wiltshire (August 2013).

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  1. Actually Stourton is in Wiltshire, as was the probable site of the Battle of Edington... although that didn't stop me from mentioning the latter in my book "Bloody British History: Somerset". My excuse was that Alfred's army started their march in Somerset!

  2. Andrew, I thought it was in Wiltshire as well. But it is also listed as being part of the parish of Brewham in Somerset. Geographically Wiltshie is probably correct however!