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:
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:
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:
Andrew Page-Dove, South West Regional Director for National Highways, said:
John Ette, Partnerships Team Leader at Historic England South West, said:
More information is available on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wellington-monument