The Folly Tower was built in 1935 by Lord Berners. The grand opening was Nov 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 Heber Percy in 1983 and once a month it is opened to the public.
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.
A temporary test light from a 1,960’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.
Folly Hill. 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.’
Extracted from: 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.