‘Tower of Strength on a Hill of Dreams’
The Folly Tower holds a special place of affection in the hearts of all native Pontypudlians. The tower was built c.1765 by John Hanbury Esq. of Park House, Pontypool. It served no practical purpose in that it had no floor or roof originally. It is said that it was fashionable at the time for landed gentlemen to build to 1,000 ft high, and the tower was built on the highest part of the ridge in order to achieve this. It was however 2ft short when completed! It commands views of both the rugged and beautiful parts of Gwent and it is said that no fewer than seven counties are visible from the tower on a clear day.
The tower was renovated by Capel Hanbury Leigh in 1831. Various notes of its importance are recorded, with a school trip by Griffithstown Infants School in 1914, using the tower for general revisions of geography. By 1924 it had become a popular place of pilgrimage on bank holidays with many 100’s of people taking a picnic and enjoying the air.
In May 1935, it was estimated that over 15,000 people watched the lighting of a bonfire to celebrate the silver Jubilee of King George V and saw the surrounding hilltops being lit with similar fires in celebration.
By the late 1930’s the tower was slowly failing into decline and shortly afterwards a notice was placed on the tower stating its danger. However, its significance on the local community was still noted and in 1937, Myfanwy Haycock, a renowned poet and illustrator wrote a poem about the tower.
On 9th July 1940 at the onset of the 2nd World War, this famous landmark was demolished by order of the Ministry of Defence. It was feared that it would guide German bombers to the nearby Royal Ordnance factory at Glascoed.
Shortly after the end of the war, in 1946 and again in 1948 campaigns to rebuild the tower were launched, which were unsuccessful, due mainly to house building being more urgent priority.
In 1990, a number of prominent local historians and conservationists decided that the time was right to try to restore the Folly Tower and a committee was formed to apply to various funding bodies as well as open negotiations with the National Park Authority.
At that time there were no drawings available of the dimensions of the Tower but initial site excavations managed to unearth the foundations which were used as a base to prepare the new drawings.
The assets of the original committee were transferred to a new company. CROFT Pontypool, standing for ‘The Campaign to Rebuild the Old Folly Tower’. This company then launched its ‘Sponsor a Stone’ public appeal which was a great success.
Following consultation with the National Park Authority, planning permission was granted subject to certain planning conditions including a car park at the top of Folly Lane.
The campaign to raise funds to build the Folly Tower continued throughout 1990 and 1991, with stone from the demolished Cwmffrwdoer School being donated along with press articles in the leading local and national papers on the campaign.
During 1993, the rebuilding carried on apace with the burial of a time capsule within the walls and the laying of the foundation stone by Sir Richard Hanbury Tenison.
Sponsorship by Avesta Sheffield of a stainless steel door and grant aid from the European Regional Development Fund and the Prince of Wales’ Committee ensured that work continued.
By September 1993, the Folly Tower had risen to approximately 20ft and was then a visible sight on the ridge. During the winter months the work to continue building the next stage of the Folly Tower was placed out to tender and was awarded to Davies and Jenkins, a local builder.
1994 was the 25th year of the investiture of the Prince of Wales and as part of his itinerary he officially opened the Folly Tower on 22nd July, so work pressed on.
By July work on both the exterior and interior was completed, the scaffolding removed and a brochure outlining all the work to date produced.
On 22nd July 1994, the Prince of Wales performed the official opening ceremony and the Folly Tower once again stood proudly on the ridge as a landmark for all.
Hopefully it will remain a ‘Tower of Strength on a Hill of Dreams’ for many generations to come.
Access to the Tower is through a field which may be muddy and contain livestock. All dogs must be kept on a lead.
Last Modified: 05/11/2015
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