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Beckford’s Tower is pleased to announce a new bursary scheme, designed to help tradespeople, artisans and apprentices in Bath to develop practical building conservation skills. The bursary scheme is part of the Beckford’s Tower redevelopment project, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The aim of the bursary is to increase practical building conservation skills – particularly where these are in decline. The new funding will cover course fees delivered by third parties offering suitable training courses, plus a contribution towards travel and subsistence costs. Each applicant can secure funding for one course of their choosing, with training to be undertaken in summer/autumn 2024.

Applications for the funding are open now. Those interested in applying for the bursary should email [email protected]. Bursaries will be awarded to eligible applicants on a first-come, first served basis.

Patrizia Ribul, Director of Museums at Bath Preservation Trust, says: “Thanks to the generosity of The National Lottery Heritage Fund and lottery players, we are now in a position to offer help to local tradespeople and apprentices who are seeking to improve their skills in the field of building conservation. Bath Preservation Trust is committed to promoting the conservation, sustainable enhancement and celebration of this unique historic city and green surrounds, and bursaries like these enable us to shape the future of Bath, by giving means and agency to the people who live and work here.”

Built between 1826 and 1827, Beckford’s Tower was intended to house the collections of books, furniture and art that were owned by William Beckford, whose wealth was gained from his ownership of plantations and enslaved people in Jamaica. Beckford would ride up to the Tower from his townhouse in Bath’s Lansdown Crescent every morning before breakfast, and enjoyed its solitude and the panoramic views from the Belvedere at the top.

Today Beckford’s Tower is owned and run by Beckford Tower Trust, part of Bath Preservation Trust. The landmark is a Grade 1 listed monument and is the only museum in the world dedicated to the life and work of William Beckford. In 2019, the Tower was added to the National ‘At Risk’ Register, sparking a major project to raise the necessary funds to repair and restore the Tower, transform the museum, open up the landscape and create opportunities for volunteering, formal learning and community engagement. In 2022, thanks to a £3 million grant from the Heritage Fund, the fundraising target of £3.9 million was reached. £480,000 of partnership funding had already been secured, with support from Historic England, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Medlock Charitable Trust, Historic Houses Foundation, Pilgrim Trust and several other organisations, as well as £50,000 in public donations.

This weekend, following a year of research and development in conjunction with Beckford’s Tower and The National Lottery Heritage Fund, State of Trust performed a dance interpretation of the novel ‘Cane Warriors’ by Alex Wheatle to a live audience at The Arnolfini in Bristol.

‘Cane Warriors’ tells the story of Tacky’s Rebellion, an uprising of Akan people fighting for their freedom that took place in Jamaica in 1760, and included enslaved people on a plantation owned by the Beckford family. Viewers of the performance described it as “moving” and “powerful”.

The project was funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and is the product of a year-long collaboration between Beckford Tower Trust, Alex Wheatle and State of Trust. State of Trust is the charitable arm of production and performance company State of Emergency Limited.

The Arnolfini performance marks the completion of the initial collaboration between Beckford’s Tower and State of Trust.  However, State of Trust are seeking funding and sponsorship for the development of Cane Warriors, to create a full scale performance in other parts of the country.

In collaboration with Zubr Curio, when we reopen we will be introducing new digital experiences to Beckford’s Tower, including an animated video which explores the root of William Beckford’s wealth.

This video will display a visual depiction of the Beckford family’s plantation ownership on Jamaica, telling the story of their involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, and the power and privilege that was passed down the generations to William Beckford.

The above gif shows just a snippet of the full-length animation, and offers a mere snapshot of the extent of the exploitation and abuse the Beckford family wrought in their quest for wealth.

Researching in-depth the extent of the Beckfords’ complicity in the trafficking and enslavement of African people is a priority for the museum working in partnership with Robert Beckford, Professor of Climate and Social Justice.

Beckford’s Tower will reopen to the public in summer 2024. Visitors to the Tower who find the content upsetting will be supported by trained members of staff.

 

QODA Light have installed lighting to illuminate the gilding on the lantern. Now that the scaffolding is coming down, the gold tip of the Tower can be seen by day and by night.
Click the thumbnails below to see the lighting in action:

The “Our Tower” project is beginning to near completion, and we are hoping to reopen Beckford’s Tower and Museum to visitors this summer. Through our new interpretation, visitors will discover how William Beckford used the profits of slavery to build the Tower.
Please be aware that the Museum and landscape explores subjects of abuse, enslavement and exploitation. We have tried to tackle these sensitively but know they may trigger strong emotional responses. Trained staff will be on hand to support visitors

Learn more about the Our Tower project here. 

Following months of research and development, tickets are now on sale for a public performance of ‘Cane Warriors’, a dynamic dance theatre adaptation of the novel ‘Cane Warriors’ by Guardian Prize winner Alex Wheatle MBE. The “expressive and emotional” performance will take place at Bristol Arnolfini on 23 March 2024, 19:30-21:00, with tickets priced at £11 (£8 concession).

Tickets are available for purchase here

 

This project is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and is the product of a year-long collaboration between Beckford Tower Trust, Alex Wheatle and State of Trust. State of Trust is the charitable arm of production and performance company State of Emergency Limited.

‘Cane Warriors’ tells the story of Tacky’s Rebellion, an uprising of Akan people fighting for their freedom that took place in Jamaica in 1760, and included enslaved people on a plantation owned by the Beckford family.

The new interpretive dance performance will put a spotlight on the link between the Beckford family and the rebellion and aims to engage with a wide cross-section of people in the process, particularly young people in the community and online.

The performance, which will be filmed for posterity, will encourage attendees to engage with one of the most troubling aspects of William Beckford’s legacy: his claiming in ownership of enslaved people, which funded his lifestyle and his vast collections. The aim is to build awareness around the effects of enslavement and colonialism on the culture and psyche of modern Britain and improve community relations through greater understanding of the shared history.

The research and development phase, featuring State of Trust’s team of exceptional performers, has resulted in brand new choreography, music, photography and film.

Commenting on the upcoming performance, Director of Museums Patrizia Ribul said: “William Beckford’s ownership and exploitation of enslaved African people is the most harrowing aspect of his legacy, and one which underpins our Museum’s interpretation. State of Trust’s performance is incredibly emotional and really brings these important themes to the fore. While Beckford might have built and owned the Tower as well as assembled the collection, we are determined to open up this space to everybody. Including a multitude of stories and projects like this really helps us to reach new and more diverse audiences ahead and beyond of our reopening in May 2024; it’s not just Beckford’s Tower – it’s Our Tower, and everybody is welcome. I would like to thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund and our other supporters for making this project possible.”

Deborah Baddoo MBE and Steve Marshall, the Directors at State of Trust and State of Emergency Limited, said: “This first iteration of ‘Cane Warriors’ as a dance theatre performance should be considered a ‘work in progress’. What we are able to show now was miraculously achieved through an intensive seven days of experimentation, and two of rehearsal, at the University of Bedfordshire during October, and it is testament to the outstanding talent and commitment of our team that such a valuable piece of work was created in just nine days. We aim to continue with this project beyond March 2024, and to seek further funding, to realise our creative vision for a full length ‘Cane Warriors’ dance musical in the near future. For us, it’s a story that must be told.”

Alex Wheatle, author of Cane Warriors, said: “I would also like to thank all our partners for making this project possible. It’s based on a true story that everyone needs to know, especially following the Black Lives Matter campaign and the hauling down of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol that was tossed into the harbour. For me, education of the stories untold is the next step.”

Built between 1826 and 1827, Beckford’s Tower was intended to house the collections of books, furniture and art that were owned by William Beckford, whose wealth was gained from his ownership of plantations and enslaved people in Jamaica. Beckford would ride up to the Tower from his townhouse in Bath’s Lansdown Crescent every morning before breakfast, and enjoyed its solitude and the panoramic views from the Belvedere at the top.

Today Beckford’s Tower is owned and run by Beckford Tower Trust, part of Bath Preservation Trust. The landmark is a Grade 1 listed monument and is the only museum in the world dedicated to the life and work of William Beckford. In 2019, the Tower was added to the National ‘At Risk’ Register, sparking a major project to raise the necessary funds to repair and restore the Tower, transform the museum, open up the landscape and create opportunities for volunteering, formal learning and community engagement. In 2022, thanks to a £3 million grant from the Heritage Fund, the fundraising target of £3.9 million was reached. £480,000 of partnership funding had already been secured, with support from Historic England, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Medlock Charitable Trust, Historic Houses Foundation, Pilgrim Trust and several other organisations, as well as £50,000 in public donations.

To find out more about Beckford’s Tower and State of Trust visit www.beckfordstower.org.uk and www.stateoftrust.net

To find out more about the Beckfords and Esher Plantation visit the Legacies of British Slavery website: www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/estate/view/111

Yesterday Beckford’s Tower welcomed a small group of guests, including Bath Preservation Trust staff and trustees, for an exclusive first look at the newly restored Lantern. Guests were given the opportunity to climb the scaffold and see repair and conservation works to the iconic Lantern up close.

After a tour, there was an opportunity for guests to ask questions and take a closer look at the extensive refurbishments before the scaffolding is dismantled from the Tower and the team prepares to reopen to the public in 2024.

Patrizia Ribul, Director of Museums at Bath Preservation Trust and the lead for the “Our Tower” project says: “It was a priority for us to give staff and supporters the unique opportunity to see the lantern restoration up close while the scaffolding is still in place. Bath Preservation Trust is now very much looking forward to the Tower reopening in spring 2024. We would like to thank the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England and all the other generous individual and group funders who have helped us in supporting this momentous project. We would also like to thank our wonderful members for their constant and vital support of the Bath Preservation Trust”.

The “Our Tower: Reconnecting Beckford’s Tower and Landscape for all” project has transformed the museum and opened up the landscape with the provision of new footpaths and a sensitive conservation of the grounds. It has also provided accessible experiences and digital resources alongside a new school learning programme with fresh opportunities available for volunteering and community engagement.

From the outset, in addition to the physical restoration of the tower and its environs, it has been a key objective to bring the story of William Beckford’s complex and controversial life to a wider, contemporary audience. Beckford’s wealth was secured from his ownership of plantations and enslaved people, a crucial theme which the Tower will be addressing in its new exhibition spaces and interpretation.

Following a visit earlier this year, pupils from Abbot Alphege Academy returned to Beckford’s Tower again on 17 November 2023 to spend a day with videographer Justin Towell, learning technical and interviewing skills in order to make some new films.

The children remembered everything Justin taught them at their last session about perspective, using the ‘rule of thirds’ and how to hold the iPads to take films in a way that is slow and steady. In this session, the children were taught how to hold the camera when interviewing and working in pairs or small groups. They had great fun practicing this skill interviewing each other. After lunch, the children set off to test out their new skills on a visit to Beckford’s Tower.

The Tower is currently closed to the public while we carry out essential renovations, but we gave the children and staff special permission to go on site to look at the Grotto. The children were able to interview our Head Building Contractor Felix Emery, from Emery Building Contractors, about excavating the Grotto and they went inside the Grotto to take photos and films. Back in the classroom, Justin taught the children how to edit the clips and photos into a continuous film, working with transitions.

You can watch the finished films here:

Alternatively you can watch the full series of videos here.

On October 25th 2023 we held our third and final webinar in partnership with State of Trust. The panelists Alex Wheatle, Michael Joseph and Steve Marshall discussed the process of interpreting and repurposing the Cane Warriors story from the original novel into the medium of dance theatre. Terry Baddoo facilitated the webinar.

Watch the webinar here:

With thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for enabling this project.

For the first time in over 100 years, William Beckford’s hidden Grotto Tunnel is publicly visible again. A team of archaeologists and building experts have uncovered the original steps and retaining walls, along with various historic objects including clay pipes smoked by the stonemasons who first built the Grotto in the 1820s.

Senior Curator at Bath Preservation Trust Dr Amy Frost. (c) Wessex Archaeology

 

It is believed that at some point after Beckford’s death, the Tower-end of the Grotto was filled in, leaving the other end open to become what appears to have been a rubbish dump for the then large Victoria villa Hamilton House (on the site where the modern apartment block of Hamilton House now stands). Emery Brothers Ltd and Wessex Archaeology began the full excavation of the Grotto in September 2023, uncovering several historical objects in the process. While the existence of the subterranean Grotto was known, nobody knew exactly how large the interior was. The excavations, involving the removal of tonnes of soil and rock, have uncovered a cavity seven meters long, featuring deliberately naturalistic rock work walls in-keeping with the highly-fashionable grotto aesthetic of the time.

Once uncovered, experts from Wessex Archaeology created a 3D photogrammetric model of the grotto tunnel. Capturing and processing hundreds of overlapping digital photographs that were correlated with targets on the structure using survey equipment, ensured the model was accurate.

Explore this interactive 3D photogrammetry model of the grotto tunnel created by Wessex Archaeology which can be accessed here.

Some of the artefacts identified so far include:

A full archaeological report is to follow.

Patrizia Ribul, Director of Museums at Bath Preservation Trust and the new lead for the Beckford Tower project said: “The Grotto Tunnel is an integral part of the designed landscape of Beckford’s Tower. These new findings reconfirm many of the things that we already knew about William Beckford, such as his attention to detail in design, and his enthusiasm for nature. The Grotto also serves as a reminder of Beckford’s enormous wealth, gained through his involvement with the transatlantic slave trade, which enabled him to devote so much of his time to designing and curating his Tower and pleasure gardens, including the colonial acquisition of exotic specimen trees and shrubs. We look forward to opening up the Grotto to the public for the first time in March 2024, with thanks to the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England and our other generous supporters. I would also like to acknowledge the involvement and hard work of the following organisations: Thomas Ford & Partners (architects); The Morton Partnership (structural engineers); Qoda Consulting (M&E Consultants); Greenwood Projects (PQS); and Biodiversity by Design (Ecology).”

Dr Amy Frost, Senior Curator at Bath Preservation Trust and a leading expert on William Beckford said: “Grottos in English gardens were very fashionable in the Georgian period. Beckford’s father created grottos at the Fonthill estate in Wiltshire, which William then added to, before going on to create his own here in Bath in the 1820s. Unlike many of the ornate grottos of the time which often featured mosaic floors, Beckford was much more interested in a more naturalistic idea of landscape design, and our findings back this up – at first glance the Grotto looks hacked out of bedrock, but upon closer inspection it has been very cleverly cut and shaped. Having only ever seen one partial historic drawing of the Grotto steps prior to the excavation, uncovering the extent of them has been a wonderful surprise for us all – and a real career highlight for me.”

Marek Lewcun, Archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology, said: “Excavation of Beckford’s Tower grotto tunnel began with the removal of three metres of rock and soil, after which we carefully revealed the expertly crafted, naturalistic structure of the grotto. The rock-cut steps that descend into the grotto wind steadily downwards, with the curving rock face hiding the entrance to the tunnel, heightening the sense of mystery for anyone visiting. Near the tunnel entrance, we exposed a series of curved and recessed ledges – the purpose of which is unclear and something we hope to learn more about. It has been a privilege to be a part of the project to excavate and restore the grotto tunnel, which will allow the museum’s visitors to see it once again after 100 years of obscurity.”

Beckford’s Tower is an historic building currently on the “Heritage at Risk” register. Essential capital works – led by Emery Brothers Ltd and supported by grants from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England amongst other funders – will help to preserve and maintain this unique heritage attraction for the future. When the Tower reopens in March 2024, the Grotto will be accessible to visitors as part of their Museum experience.

Geomaticians, Sally and Roberta, undertake a photogrammetric survey of Beckford’s Tower grotto tunnel (c) Wessex Archaeology

 

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On September 27th 2023 we held our second webinar in partnership with State of Trust. The panelists Cleo Lake, Rob Mitchell, Amanda Egbe and Dr Amy Frost discussed the fact that many of Bath’s historic buildings were either directly or indirectly funded by the transatlantic slave trade and the exploitation of enslaved people. Terry Baddoo facilitated the webinar.

Watch the webinar here:

The next webinar, “State of Trust’s interpretation of Cane Warriors for dance-theatre”, will be on October 25th – book here.

With thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for enabling this project.