To the untrained eye it looks like a remarkably well-preserved castle tower, situated on a particularly picturesque rise in the landscape – but upon closer inspection it becomes clear that Broadway Tower is nothing more than a fairy-tale fantasy.
Designed by architect James Wyatt and landscape and garden designer Capability Brown in 1794, the picturesque miniature tower was intended to resemble a Saxon castle to please the tastes of Lady Coventry, who wanted to determine if a beacon light lit at this site could be seen from her home 22 miles away.
Early in the 19th century the tower was used by the book collector Sir Thomas Phillipps to house a printing press. Appropriate to its romantic setting, it was later reserved as a pre-Rafaelite artists’ retreat by the painters William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones.
WWII ushered in a less-romantic purpose for the tower; with views stretching to Wales to the West and Buckinghamshire to the East, Broadway Tower became the perfect choice for the Royal Observers Corps to track enemy planes. In 1943, thick fog almost saw the end of the tower as an Allied bomber crashed into Beacon Hill a mere 200m from Broadway Tower.
As 19th-Century progressed into the Cold War, an underground nuclear bunker and observation post was built next to the tower to monitor nuclear fallout in the event of a nuclear attack. Manned continuously from 1961 and designated as a master post, the bunker was one of the last constructed and, although decommissioned in 1991, the bunker is now one of the few remaining fully equipped facilities in England.
Today the tower stands as a lovely example of the 18th and 19th century mania for follies, artificial ruins and romantic garden structures. The tower is now popular with local hikers, and houses exhibits related to the tower’s history including a William Morris room. The view from the top of the tower is said to take in a 62-mile radius of the local landscape.