Standing on the highest hill in southeastern England, the Leith Hill Tower is one of many follies found throughout the countryside. Follies are structures that are often whimsical in design and built for no other purpose other than the entertainment of the upper class of the time.
The hill on which the Gothic tower stands is thought to have been a famous battlefield in the war between the Saxons and Danes in early English history. The hill itself is approximately 964 ft. high, just 36 ft. shy of the 1000 ft. mark that distinguishes a mere hill from a mountain. This situation offended a nearby resident named Richard Hull and he proposed construction of a tower on the hill high enough to put it over the mark.
With permission from the owner of the surrounding lands, construction on the 64 ft. tower was completed in 1766 and opened to the public. A small telescope was installed and visitors could see nearby London from the top of the tower.
Richard Hull was interred in the tower on his death in 1772. In 1835 the poet Lord Alfred Tennyson visited the tower and surrounding gardens penning the poem “The Sleeping Beauty” here and beginning others such as “The Black Bird” and “Sir Galahad.”
The tower fell into disrepair and was eventually filled with rubble to deter entrance. A decision to reopen the tower in 1864 lead to the construction of a side turret with its spiral staircase necessitated by the inability to safely remove the rubble in the main tower.
Reconstruction was completed in 1984 with removal of the rubble and the rediscovery of Richard Hull’s tomb. Today, a small cafe lies on the bottom floor of the tower and visitors are once again able to make the climb to the top for a view of the surrounding countryside.
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