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29 June 2024, Bath – Beckford’s Tower and Museum is reopened today (29th June 2024) following a £3.9million refurbishment funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and other public and private funders. The project, which began in October 2022, has gone beyond essential repairs to encompass reimagining the museum and creating new interpretation, installing renewable energy sources, plus a full excavation of a hidden grotto, which visitors can now experience for the first time ever.

Open gate onto the path to Beckford’s Tower. Image by Casper Farrell

New displays showcase pieces from Beckford’s varied collections, including: furniture, such as an oak coffer cabinet and stand commissioned by Beckford for the tower; design objects, including over 30 silver teaspoons bearing the Beckford family crest and making a material link between the source of Beckford’s wealth – sugar plantations – and his prolific collecting habits; and fine art, such as a Willes Maddox painting commissioned by Beckford’s daughter after his death, depicting a combination of his rare historic pieces and new designs made by skilled craftspeople.

Fundamental to the project has been bringing the story of William Beckford’s complex and controversial life to a wider contemporary audience. Beckford’s wealth came from his ownership of sugar plantations in Jamaica and the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved people. This wealth gave Beckford immense privilege and power, which he used to collect and commission precious art and objects, and to create influential buildings and landscapes. These intertwined themes of wealth and power, exploitation and abuse are addressed in the tower’s new exhibition spaces, developed through extensive consultation with a diverse cross-section of the local community so that new voices are part of the tower’s next chapter.

Accessible visitor experiences and digital resources have been created alongside a new school learning programme, all offering fresh opportunities for volunteering and community engagement.

Key highlights of the project include:

Patrizia Ribul, Director of Museums at Bath Preservation Trust and the lead for the “Our Tower” project says:

“We are so excited to welcome people back to Beckford’s Tower and to show them the culmination of the last three years’ work. The grotto in particular forms a really intriguing part of the visitor experience, expanding the visitor route far beyond the previous climb up the tower; it has been great to witness visitors’ reactions so far.

People are able to book behind-the-scene tours up the architecturally iconic staircase to the tiny golden lantern at the top of the tower, with extraordinary views over Bath. We would like to thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Lottery players, Historic England and all the other generous individuals 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”.

Amy Frost, Senior Curator at Bath Preservation Trust says: “William Beckford’s obsession with collecting objects and building towers was funded by his involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. This means that the creation of Beckford’s Tower and the collection within it was all underpinned by the exploitation and suffering of thousands of enslaved people. It has been vital that we work with others to tell this story as openly and accurately as possible. The end of this project is actually the start of a future programme of changing displays and new research at the museum, ensuring that even more previously untold stories are discovered, and voices that have previously been silenced are heard.

Collaborating with our local communities and advisors we have worked together to create an expansive, interesting and inclusive experience; this tower used to be a space reserved only for one privileged man, now we want everyone to feel welcome here.”

Tickets to Beckford’s Tower and Museum are available to purchase from the website: https://beckfordstower.org.uk/.

The museum is open weekends and bank holiday Mondays, 10.30am-4pm, 29 June 2024 to 31 October 2024, then from 1st November – 15 December open at weekends, 10.30am-3pm. Tickets cost £7 and include free return visits for 12 months. Concessions are available for Bath Discovery Card holders and others, and children’s entry is free of charge.

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