The Victoria Jubilee Tower on Castle Hill — more commonly known as the Victoria Tower — was opened in 1899 to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and is arguably the most prominent and recognisable landmark in the Huddersfield area.
During 1849, the Victoria Prospect Tower Company was formed in Huddersfield with the aim of raising money to erect a tower on Castle Hill in honour of Queen Victoria, perhaps inspired by a similar scheme in Derbyshire which saw the building of the Victoria Prospect Tower at Matlock in 1844.
Plans for the tower were prepared by architect William Wallen (who also designed the George Hotel and later the Castle Hill Hotel) and a scale model was exhibited in the various shops in the town. It was even suggested by Wallen that the elevation of the tower would provide a vantage point to view the North Sea.
The proposed tower was to have been 80 feet high on a base measuring 12 square yards, and would have comprised:
The Leeds Mercury noted the expected cost as being about £700.
A correspondent to the Huddersfield Chronicle wrote in July 1850 to suggest that the tower could be used as a base for "colossal" statue of Sir Robert Peel.
Despite raising £560 and having a number of notable locals on the committee — including B.N.R. Batty, Thomas P. Crosland, Charles W. Brook, Cookson S. Floyd, Frederic Schwann and William Willans — the scheme was abandoned when George Lock, the Ramsden Estate agent, made it clear that permission to build on Castle Hill would not be granted.
In December 1852, in a slightly rambling letter, "Tancred" wrote to the Chronicle to suggest that the proposed tower should be erected not to Queen Victoria but instead should be in remembrance of the the late Duke of Wellington and be named the "Wellington Tower".
The 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria's coronation in 1897 saw a large number of public schemes proposed throughout the country. In Huddersfield, along with a proposal to build a public library, there was renewed interest in erecting a monument on Castle Hill.
Isaac Hordern, cashier of the Ramsden Estate, reportedly approached Sir John William Ramsden but once again the suggestion of building a tower was rejected. Around the same time, engineer and antiquarian George W. Tomlinson wrote to the Huddersfield Chronicle proposing the idea of erecting a 100 foot tall tower, whose top would be 1,000 feet above sea level. Whilst the Chronicle supported the idea, its rival, the Examiner suggested a tower would "mar the landscape" and "serve no useful end".
A public meeting held at Huddersfield Town Hall on 6 April 1897 formally adopted the proposals of building a public library and to finance local district nurses as the town's official commemorations of the Diamond Jubilee. Undeterred, Tomlinson and the Chronicle immediately began their fund-raising scheme to raise the estimated £1,500 required to build the tower. By the end of the first month, over £800 had been subscribed. More importantly, it seems Sir J.W. Ramsden had finally been won over and had granted his permission.
By the start of June, a committee had been formed with the task of raising the remainder of the money and to select a design for the tower. The Diamond Jubilee took place on 22 June 1897, with the local celebrations including the lighting of a bonfire atop Castle Hill. By then, the subscriptions towards a tower had reached £1,366 1s. 3d., but is seems Jubilee fatigue soon set in and the scheme had failed to reach its target when Tomlinson died on 21 August aged 60. As a token of respect, manufacturer John A. Brooke submitted a cheque for £100 to the committee. Along with several smaller sums, the final total subscribed to the fund was £1,567 18s. 5d.
Around 30 designs for the tower were submitted — including the one shown here by Edward C.H. Maidman and another by an inmate of a local workhouse — and the committee met on 31 August to select their preferred designs. After initially reducing the number to six, the committee then selected the top three to be forwarded to Sir J.W. Ramsden for his final approval:
In their summary, the Leeds Mercury noted that:
It is satisfactory to know that in selecting Mr. Jones's design the committee have hit upon the one which seemed to meet with chief favour on the part of those [members of the public] who visited the exhibition [where the designs were displayed]. It provides for a high, square, feudal tower, with a modern projecting window at the base, giving ample light to the caretaker's house and the various offices connected therewith. The architect had evidently studied the requirements of the scheme on the spot, and had sent in a charming sketch of the tower as erected on the site likely above all others to be chosen. Messrs. Haigh, the second competitors had fixed upon for their design a massive square tower, having a circular tower from base to summit at each angle of the square, and it must be said that this design also met with a good deal of favour locally. The third competitors, who had signed their designs "Clutha," had produced a charming sketch, showing a handsome tower, harmonising more with what may be called the architecture of the age than those who resorted to more feudal times for an exemplar. This was a square tower, surmounted by an attractive lantern, including among the few items of ornamentation stone work indicating in bold characters the idea which the tower aims to commemorate.
Although Sir J.W. Ramsden approved the design by Jones, he requested the addition of a turret "in order that it might break the plainness of the top" of the tower.
Following the submission of tenders for the construction of the tower, it became apparent that further funds would be required and a second round of subscriptions began in order to bring the total to around £3,000. At a meeting held on 25 February 1898, it was suggested that the principal donors to the original fund might wish to double their original subscriptions.
Once again, the editor of the Huddersfield Chronicle offered to publish the subscription list, with the following appearing on 26 February 1898:
|Mr. T.J. Hirst, J.P.||100||0|
|Mr. J.A Brooke, J.P.||100||0|
|Mr. C.I. Armitage, J.P.||20||0|
|The Mayor (Ald. W.H. Jessop, J.P.)||10||0|
|Mr. John Watkinson||10||0|
|Mrs. S.H. Brierly||10||0|
|Mr. J. Jessop||2||0|
|Mr. Jas. Beaumont (Honley)||2||0|
|Councillor E.A. Beaumont||1||1|
Work had begun on digging the foundations by late April and workmen soon made a discovery:
At about 11ft. from the surface a shaft 5ft. 6in. square was opened, and it has been excavated to a depth of 30ft. In it bones of dogs or wolves and horned sheep were found, and stones which appeared to have been burned, and of a kind which is not found in the neighbourhood. In consequence of the discovery of the shaft a fresh site will have to be selected for the tower [...] Antiquaries are on the look out for coins and pottery.
In June, official permission to name the tower after Queen Victoria was granted:
The Under Secretary of State
Home Office, London, S.W.
Whitehall, 23rd of June, 1898.
Sir, with reference to your letter of the 14th instant, requesting permission to call a Tower to be erected in Huddersfield, in commemoration of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee, the "Victoria Tower," I am directed by the Secretary of State to acquaint you that he has laid the application before the Queen, who has been graciously pleased to grant the desired permission.
I am, sir,
Your obedient servant,
The corner stone of the tower was laid by Sir J.W. Ramsden's son, John Frecheville Ramsden, at a ceremony on Saturday 25 June 1898 in front of "thousands of people". A ceremonial trowel and mallet were provided by the tower committee and contractor Ben Graham respectively. A photograph taken at the ceremony shows that the construction of the base of the tower was already well underway.
At the time of the ceremony, the second subscription had raised £698 6s. 7s. and Mrs. H.B. Swallow had promised to donate a telescope to the value of £30 for use on top of the tower. A few months later, the firm of Read Holliday & Sons Ltd. promised to donate "an acetylene gas machine and apparatus for lighting the tower, signalling, &c."
Cid, a regular correspondent to the Huddersfield Chronicle, penned the following for the occasion of the corner stone laying:
Hill of our homeland, glowing memories
Surround thy stately head and speak of thee
In every clime where Agbrigg’s sons have roamed.
Beneath the shadow of thy noble brow,
Within the sight of thee for league on league,
A people live, brave, strong, manly, and free,
Who gaze on thee with pleasure night and day,
And claim thee as a landmark of their history.
Emblem thou art of changless constancy,
So be thou emblem of our fealty ;
As our hearts warm at sight or thought of thee,
So let them warm towards our native land,
Towards our fellow-men, our Queen, our God.
And as the world is ruled by sentiment,
As well as by deeds of utility.
Let as add to thy God-reared monument
A Tower, that generations yet unborn
Might view with love for noble ancestry,
Who marked their loyalty towards the Throne,
And honoured Queen Victoria’s Longest Reign,
By building high on thee “Victoria Tower.”
By January 1899, the second subscription had raised £892 14s. 8d.
The tower was constructed using local Crosland Hill stone with walls 4 feet thick at the base and 2 feet thick at the top. During construction, the foundations had moved slightly, due to the shaft that had been discovered previously, and this necessitated remedial repairs. Work was completed by March 1899.
Rather than wait until the official formal opening ceremony in June — which would also commemorate Queen Victoria's 80th birthday — a decision was made to open the tower prior to the Easter holidays in order to help recoup some of the remaining debts. However, the opening ceremony officiated by Isaac Hordern on Saturday 25 March 1899 was poorly attended due to strong winds accompanied by rain and snow. The Easter weekend saw fine weather and "hundreds of people" visited the tower.
Victoria Tower was formally opened by the Earl of Scarborough late on the afternoon of Saturday 24 1899, a year after the corner stone laying ceremony and two years after the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. According to Stanley Chadwick's 1958 pamphlet about the tower, the ceremonial gold key presented to the Earl failed to unlock the door and the proceedings were delayed slightly until an ordinary key could be located. After ascending the tower and unfurling the Union Jack flag, a 60-strong male voice choir sang "Here's Life and Health to England's Queen" from the top of the tower, although the strong winds meant the listeners below struggled to hear anything.
I know of nothing that has been built in this district that has had such an elevating tendency as the erecting of the Victoria Tower. Go where you will you are involuntarily drawn towards it. Without obtrusion it insists upon being seen. You feel it almost your duty to look for it, indoors or out. As it is set on one of the most beautiful eminences you cannot escape it, and thus are made to look up, even though you feel down, and be benefited thereby. Old and young espy it from the most unlikely places. They see it from their windows as they retire in the moonlight, and catch a sight of it at dawn, and throughout the day, from street or ally, workshop, mansion, or cot, and even vie with each other in relating the number of places in the town from which it may be seen. At times it will come upon you with startling suddenness, so much so that you doubt for a moment what and where it is. It really haunts and dominates the district. [...] Visit it in the morning if you would to appreciate its vantage ground ; watch the sunsets from its summit if you would thoroughly appreciate the value of sight ; but above all, if you would appreciate the grandeur of the universe, and the blessings of solitude, you must stand on its dome beneath a clear sky at midnight.
By the end of July 1899, the second subscription had raised £936 3s. 8d.
On Saturday 23 September, the tower was struck by lightning during a storm. The copper lightning rod and half-a-dozen of the large stones at the top of the tower fell to the ground, but fortunately no-one was hurt.
The first year of the tower was marred by the death of 35-year-old Edgar North of Belmont Street, who fell from the top of the tower at around 4:20pm on the afternoon of 14 November 1899. The coroner heard that, although there was no evidence to suggest he had committed suicide, North had discussed what it might feel like to fall from a great height with a stonemason prior to the incident. A local farm labourer stated that he had seen North climb over protective iron railings to get onto the tower's turret. The jury recommended that the fencing at the top of the tower be improved to ensure that no-one could accidentally fall. Despite the incident, it was decided to continue to allow visitors to borrow the key to the tower outside of the normal opening hours on payment of sixpence at the Castle Hill Hotel.
The Trustees of the tower met on 24 July 1900, where it was "reported that the Tower is proving a most popular resort, having been visited by thousands this year". The accounts, published in the Chronicle on 11 August, showed that just over £242 had been collected in entrance fees from the 26,176 visitors, along with 12s. 2d. of donations and 2s. 5s. in fees for using the telescope at the top of the tower. The accounts also gave details of the payments made up to the end of June 1900, which included:
|To Isaac Jones for the plans of the Tower||60||7||0|
|Sinking trial holes prior to the building||8||8||10|
|To contractors B. Graham & Sons||2,797||12||4|
|To architects Abbey & Hanson for supervising||78||0||0|
|Lightning conductor, etc||14||2||6|
|Expenses from corner stone laying and formal opening ceremony||30||6||11|
|Cost of trowel (corner stone laying) and golden key (opening)||10||14||6|
|Repairs to turnstiles||1||14||4|
|Wages of caretaker||34||6||0|
By the end of September 1900, the total number of visitors to date was reported as 35,060.
The debts of the tower were cleared by August 1908 when the trustees reported a small balance in hand.
When the trustees met on 4 July 1914, it was reported that the grand total number of people who had climbed to the top of the tower was now 103,263. During the year June 1912 to June 1913, the number was 4,280, and for June 1913 to June 1914, it was 4,199.
In 1925, a "long crack on the northern side" of the tower was repaired. It was reported that this was likely caused by further settlement of the foundations.
The last of the trustees died in 1935 and the Finance Committee of Huddersfield Corporation Town Council was requested to take over responsibility for the upkeep of the tower.
In May 1938, Mrs. F.M. Clough of Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, presented Huddersfield Corporation with a bronze toposcope measuring 31 inches across, which showed the directions and distance to the various landmarks that could be seen from the tower. Mrs. Clough was a descendant of Alderman Thomas William Clough, who was a member of the first Huddersfield Town Council in September 1868.
During the Second World War the tower was closed to the public and it was taken over by the Home Guard before later becoming the headquarters of the Huddersfield Raid Spotters' Association. A suggestion that the tower would be a useful landmark to the Luftwaffe and should either be demolished or camouflaged was dismissed. Two bombs fell at Hall Bower on the night of 29 August 1940, causing minor damage to the tower.
The austerity following the end of the war meant that Huddersfield Corporation was unable to carry out repairs to the tower — reportedly someone had ripped away the entrance door — and a decision was taken on 3 December 1947 to close the tower indefinitely, with a steel door installed to stop trespassers gaining entrance. By then, it was reported that all the windows in the tower were broken and it "appeared forlorn and derelict".
It was not until 1958 that the Council's finances had recovered sufficiently for their attention to return to the tower. The Estate & Property Management Committee were tasked with reporting on the state of the building. Fortunately, the Borough Engineer was able to report that no further subsidence had taken place. A sum of around £6,000 was then spent on repairs and on strengthening the foundations with cement so that the tower could be reopened in time for its 60th anniversary in 1959.
The top section of the tower was removed in 1960 due to concerns about safety, reducing its height below 1,000 feet. The tower's height was restored in 1977 by the addition of a lantern.
As part of the Castle Hill Conservation Management Plan, a survey of the tower was conducted in September 2005 which detailed the structural changes carried out during the 1958/59 restoration:
Victoria Tower is incorporated in the logo of several business and organisations, including the Huddersfield Daily Examiner and Huddersfield Town Football Club.
CASTLE HILL. Almondbury, Victoria Tower. 1897-9. Architect: Isaac Jones, of Herne Hill, London. Contractors: Messrs Ben Graham of Crosland Moor. Hammer-dressed stone. Slightly battered tower, square in plan. Machicolations. Crenellated parapet. Slightly higher start tower corbelled out on north-east corner. Various single-light windows. Built to commemorate Queen Victoria's Jubilee, instead of a Free Public Library, the alternative suggestion.