Friday, January 21, 2011

Smoke And Writs : A Story Of Victorian Enmity


The other day on my Picture Post Blog I featured a photograph that included Wainhouse Tower in Halifax and promised I would relate the story of this strange structure on News From Nowhere. Anyone who is familiar with Halifax in West Yorkshire will have seen Wainhouse Tower - it dominates the valley of the River Calder - but the story behind what is said to be the tallest folly in the world is as strange as the mock-gothic octagonal tower itself. The tower is an abiding monument to, not only Victorian eccentricity, but also the deep enmity between neighbours.

The two neighbours were John Edward Wainhouse (1817-1883) who has been described as something of an  aesthete, a lover of the arts and sciences, and a determined pamphleteer (effectively a nineteenth century blogger), and Sir Henry Edwards (1812-1886), Baronet, Tory MP, Magistrate, High Sheriff of Yorkshire and leading Freemason. Both men had been blessed with a fair amount of wealth and an even more generous supply of eccentricity. Edwards' pet hates included smoking chimneys, linen hanging out to dry, John Edward Wainhouse, and, for some bizarre reason, white cattle. Wainhouses' pet hates were limited to one : Sir Henry Edwards.

In 1870, the Smoke Abatement Act was introduced and Edwards, who was a leading light in the West Yorkshire Smoke Prevention Association, is said to have complained about the smoke emerging from the Washer Lane Dye Works which, at the time, was owned by J E Wainhouse. Wainhouse drew up plans to pipe the smoke to a massive chimney that he would construct near the top of the valley on land that ajoined the home of Sir Henry Edwards. Whilst it was still being constructed, Wainhouse sold the dyeworks and the new owner refused to continue with this expensive, and rather silly, project, but Wainhouse - never being one to let sleeping enmities lie - decided to complete the project himself in order to annoy Edwards. The design was changed, steps were built inside the structure and mock-gothic arrow slits were added. The massive 280 foot tower was crowned with ornate, neo-renaissance style viewing platform. Wainhouse claimed that the reason for this was so that he could carry out astronomical observations and scientific experiments, but the real driving force was to annoy Edwards. The feud between the two Victorian gentlemen continued for years and they continued to fight each other in the courts, and in printed pamphlets.

After the death of Wainhouse, the tower was sold by auction but nobody could think of a viable use for it. For a time the Gothic entrance was used as a chicken coop. One of the strangest uses was as a radio aerial for an early experimental radio station (known as 2KD) which was operated in the first decade of the twentieth century by William Ernest Denison, the Chairman of the local newspaper company, the Halifax Courier. By 1919 there was a danger that it would either be demolished or that it would fall down and the same newspaper led a campaign for it to be bought by public subscription and placed in the care of the local Council. It was bought by the Council in 1919 for £450.  During the rest of the century it was opened a couple of times a year so that local people could make the long climb up 400 steps to enjoy the views from the viewing platform. It was closed in 2007 in order to carry out essential repairs but the Tower is open again. The opening days for 2011 have yet to be published, but when they are I will try to climb my way to the top and let you know whether I can still see Sir Henry Edwards, shaking his fist and waving a writ, from up there.

15 comments:

  1. These long standing vendettas are brilliant! a bit like Belgium having been created my the British to annoy the French.

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  2. Fantastic folly, Alan. How strange that such wealthy individuals could find little better to do than engage in a squabble, though. Oh hang on, this was probably a welcome distraction from counting their money.

    Looking forward to seeing a view from the top. 400 steps, that's about 10.25 books by John Buchan!

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  3. CB : Or Scotland supporters backing any team playing football against England.
    Martin : Those 400 steps could be climbed by 33.3 alcoholics (anonymously of course)

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  4. Isn't it interesting how often wealth and eccentricity go together? haha.

    Are those pigeons on top of the tower in your photo?

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  5. and here we have the hatfields and mccormicks that just shoot at each other in teh mountains, errecting deer stands...smiles.

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  6. A spite tower! I love it! Spite fences are one thing, but a 280 ft. tower is a whole new level of spite.

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  7. Love this. You are a fantastic teacher, Alan. I love your historical snippets. Sir Henry takes eccentricity to new heights! I'm sure the two gentlemen in question had no end of enjoyment scoring off each other.

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  8. fascinating story and wonderful eccentric bit of architecture.

    hilarious to think that it once was a chicken coop, albeit just the entrance but can you imagine if the entire tower was to be repurposed as a chicken house. ha ha!

    a hope the days they open the tower turn out to be clear and fair!

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  9. I can't help but admire a man who would go to such lengths just because of a feud with his neighbor. And what an interesting landmark he left behind.

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  10. Good story... the Hanna Clan (my origin)were known for their hostile, rebel spirits. I have a little spit-fire spirit myself. We'll be waitin' for your report of your step-climbin' Then we'll have some of that good northern beer :)
    Lord Thomas of Wellington

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  11. Wow better man than me if you're going to climb up that thing. It is a rather eccentric building.

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  12. Oh my word! This is one I haven't seen and I am now ITCHING to climb to the top to see the view!!! What an incredible story! I'm so pleased that Wainhouse had 'More money than sense.'

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  13. I just can't see that Gothic entrance being used as a chicken coop! How incongruous is that?

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  14. I've seen the tower but never knew its history. Form the top no doubt you could see right into Mr Edwards' garden - but he wouldn't have his dirty washing on view....or even his clean washing by the sound of it.

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  15. What an interesting story, Alan. Look forward to seeing photos from the top when you make the climb!

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