Visitors to be welcomed back to Beckford’s Tower after three-year, £3.9m repair and ‘reimagining’

June 25, 2024

Bath’s Beckford’s Tower and Museum is to reopen this weekend following a £3.9m refurbishment – with visitors being able to step inside a 19th century grotto hidden for more than 100 years.

The project, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and other public and private funders, began in October 2022 on the tower, pictured, which was built between 1826 and 1827 and is now owned by Bath Preservation Trust (BPT), the organisation that promotes the celebration of the city’s history and heritage. 

The work has since gone beyond essential repairs to encompass reimagining the museum and creating new interpretations as well as installing renewable energy sources, plus a full excavation of a hidden grotto, pictured below - which visitors can now experience for the first time. 

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 to offer fresh opportunities for volunteering and community engagement.

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 more than 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.

There is also fine art, including 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.

BPT director of museums Patrizia Ribul, who lead the ‘Our Tower’ project said the trust was excited to welcome people back to Beckford’s Tower, starting this Saturday, and to show them the culmination of the past 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; we really look forward to seeing visitors’ reactions,” she added.

“People will be 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.”

BPT senior curator Amy Frost added: “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.”

BTP also owns No.1 Royal Crescent, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy and the recently reopened Museum of Bath Architecture.

It receives no statutory funding and is supported by visitor income, grants, legacies, donations and members who share a passion for the city and its environs

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