The Folly Tower was built in 1935 by the 14th Lord Berners on the site of a medieval castle and a Cromwellian battery. It is the last major folly tower to be built in Britain. The grand opening was November 6th 1936 on Richard Heber-Percy’s 21st birthday. It is 100 feet high and parts of six counties can be seen from its top. The hill was called the Folly long before the tower was built and was originally the site of a Celtic ring camp. In digging the foundations of the tower, some skeletons were found which were dated to the Civil War period. During WWII the tower was used as an observation post by the Home Guard. A German spy was arrested there while watching activity on the Brize Norton and Fairford aerodromes, and so the tower was bricked up. For some years after the war access was allowed but, due to vandalism, the tower was bricked up again. It was restored by Mr Robert Heber Percy in 1982/83 and once a month it is opened to the public. Further repairs were necessary in 1996, when the whole thing was covered with scaffolding.
Folly Hill.There was once a Celtic ring camp on the hill and in the 12th century the Earl of Gloucester built a castle here, which was probably only an earthwork with timber defences. In 1145, Queen Matilda occupied the fort when it was attacked by her cousin King Stephen. It was probably destroyed shortly afterwards. Matilda, who was daughter of the previous king, Henry I, considered that she should have the right to sit on the Throne of England. The hill later featured in the Civil War (1642-1651) when Cromwell established a battery there to bombard Faringdon House. The original Scots Pines were planted by Henry James Pye, the Poet Laureate, about 1790. In an ode for the King’s birthday he referred to so many allusions of vocal groves and feathered choirs that it resulted in the nursery rhyme ‘Sing a song of sixpence’. Henry Pye wrote ‘Faringdon Hill’ in 1774 with reference to the battle at Faringdon ‘Contract the prospect now and mark more near Fair Faringdon her humble turret rear, Where once the tapering spire conspicuous grew, Till civil strife the sacred pile o’erthrew.’
The Millennium Beacon – The idea for the Millennium Beacon came from Peter White, local electrician. He obtained permission from the Folly Trust to erect the beacon on the tower. He also visited local businesses for sponsorship. The total cost of the beacon, £5,860, was raised by these local businesses and by money taken during the open weekends while the beacon was lit. Many people from all over the country came to see it for themselves. The beacon was visible for miles around and permission to erect it had to be sought from the various authorities concerned with aspects of safety, light pollution and aircraft control. It became an officially registered lighthouse. Unique and utterly pointless, it was the only lighthouse that couldn’t be seen from the sea.
A temporary test light from a 1960’s Chieftain tank was mounted on a wooden frame with an electric motor and tilting device. This was placed on the top of the tower and Peter toured the local area to see how visible it would be. The dome was made by putting a mould round a 4ft diameter balloon, then a steel structure covered in aluminium was attached. The complete construction was 17ft tall. It was winched up the outside of the tower to the top and installed for operation on Christmas Eve 1999. The beacon used a 1,000 candle power narrow beam floodlight with the light rotating on a horizontal plane. A team of people helped with the various aspects of the venture, so special thanks go to James Forbes, Nick Foot, Chris Holley, Anthea Kemp, Marion Webb, Trevor James and his workers from Multi Agg.
The Winter Festival Beacon – Every year since the millennium, December through to March, the Tower has again become a powerful beacon of light. The colours and effects are different every year, maybe a random searchlight or giant white star.
Town Tribute to the NHS – This year, 2020, the beacon (photo) is staying on beyond the end of March and bathed in blue light. A token of gratitude from the town of Faringdon for our front-line NHS staff during the Coronavirus pandemic when the whole country, and most of the world was locked down for over 3 months.
Views towards Folly Hill
Views from Folly Hill
Reference: The Changing Faces of Faringdon and Surrounding Villages – Bk1 p45, Bk3 p60. By Rosemary Church, Jim Brown, Millie Bryan and Beryl Newman. Robert Boyd Publications.