Monument to commemorate Duke of Wellington fully repaired after complex two-year project

The restored Wellington Monument - John Miller

A memorial to the first Duke of Wellington which stands high above the Somerset countryside is to open to the public once more after a complex restoration project.

The repair of the 175 feet high Wellington Monument presented a major challenge which cost £3.1m and took almost two years – including the builders working through lockdown.

The monument, built near the town of Wellington – after which the Duke had taken his name – commemorates him following his victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The tallest three-sided obelisk in the world, it has had a complicated history from the outset of funding shortfalls and associated structural problems. As early as 1890, the local press described it as ‘dilapidated’.

This has been the first major restoration to tackle all those problems and the Trust believes the monument is now possibly in better condition than when it was first completed.

The Grade II listed monument had been added to Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register but following the repair project it is expected to be removed from the register at its next update.

Since taking ownership of the Monument in 1934, the Trust has carried out maintenance and repairs but the legacy of early building difficulties, the exposed position and the failure of previous repairs meant a major restoration project and fundraising was needed to secure its future.

The National Trust said the repairs would not have been possible without the massive support of the local community in and around the nearby town of Wellington, including the local MP Rebeca Pow.

Community fund raisers in the town and wider area generated support for the project and had a number of their own creative initiatives, even swapping fragments of stone from the crumbling monument for donations towards the cost of repairs.

Helen Sharp, the National Trust’s project manager said:

“This has been a huge undertaking and to see it completed is a special day for us and the people of Wellington. A glance at the monument shows the extent of new stones which have had to be added – 1,508 in total, all of which had to be hand-tooled by qualified masons from Sally Strachey Historic Conservation, our contractors for the project – which will weather-in with time.

“The pyramidion – the triangular section at the top – had to be almost completely replaced with only the original capstone remaining.  The new design reduced the number of joints by using larger stones in a special design to prevent water ingress.”

Helen continued:

“Wellington’s own memorial to the Duke of Wellington and his victory at the Battle of Waterloo is a significant place for so many from the local community. It is a place where people walk regularly with their dogs, come for family picnics and where they remember personal events – we’ve heard tales of first kisses and engagements here which make it important in many hearts.

“The local community have really rallied round to help us with the fund raising that will ensure this striking landmark remains a feature of the Somerset landscape. We’d like to thank all the supporters and donors who helped to make the future of the monument much more secure.”

The project also received funding from the Chancellor using LIBOR funds, from Highways England’s Designated Funds; Historic England’s Heritage Stimulus Fund, which is part of the government’s Culture Recovery Fund; Viridor Environmental Credits; War Memorial Trust; Somerset West and Taunton Council; Wellington Town Council and the Duke of Wellington.

Rebeca Pow, Member of Parliament for Taunton Deane said:

“I vowed to support the project to restore the iconic Wellington Monument and I am absolutely delighted at this remarkable success story. Having secured the initial £1m from the Libor Fund during my first term in Parliament I backed the campaign to reach the £3.1m total. Working with the National Trust, together we secured additional grants, superb community support and the Duke of Wellington’s keen interest as the restoration progressed. A final injection of funds from the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund meant that work continued throughout lockdown so we can now celebrate this exceptional achievement.”

Wellington Monument has had a chequered history of ambition, funding shortfalls and patchwork construction. The monument was originally funded through public subscription – some of the first donors included the Duke of Cambridge, the youngest son of King George III, and Field Marshal Prince Blücher, the Prussian General who came to Wellington’s assistance at the Battle of Waterloo.

The foundation stone was laid in 1817 but soon after problems started when money began to run short. There were two major breaks in construction, the first of which left the monument unfinished at 121 feet high in around 1830. Structural damage was caused when it was struck by lightning twice and an effort to repair and continue the build followed the Duke of Wellington’s death in 1852 – two years later it had reached 170 feet.

The work was not high quality and by 1890 the monument was described in the local paper, the Wellington Weekly News, as “in a very dilapidated and I might say dangerous condition.”

It was again repaired and extended to its final height at 175 feet at the start of the 1890s.  It came into the National Trust’s care in 1934. By the end of the 20th Century, the exposed position, failure of previous repairs and the legacy of the early construction problems had left it in a very poor state again.

Helen Sharp continues:

“It will continue as a landmark for the people in this part of Somerset and for those using the M5. Crucially the repairs – inside and out – mean that people will once again be able to climb to the top and we can remove the fence from around the base.”

Andrew Page-Dove, South West Regional Director for National Highways, said:

“We are delighted to be partnering with the National Trust and Historic England on this fantastic project to preserve the iconic Wellington Monument, which is very much seen as a South West landmark by M5 road users as well as nearby communities.

“The work that has been undertaken will ensure the preservation of the monument and allow people to safely climb to the top once again, taking in the incredible views and helping to attract more visitors to the area and so help the local economy.

“Our designated funds programme was developed so that we can invest in improvement projects like this, which go beyond traditional road building and maintenance and have a positive impact on people and communities, as well as protecting cultural heritage and leaving a positive legacy for future generations.”

John Ette, Partnerships Team Leader at Historic England South West, said:

“We are delighted that the Wellington Monument is now fully repaired and standing proud in the Somerset landscape. This is a significant achievement in view of the scale of the monument and conservation challenges it faced. We have worked closely with the National Trust and their expert team for the last four years providing technical advice and grant funding. We hope that this unique and special part of our national heritage can now be enjoyed for generations to come.”

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