The Blackdown Hills Trust

Wellington Monument

 

One of our Trustees is a monument Champion and we as a trust support the National Trust

see below

 

The Wellington Monument is the tallest three sided obelisk in the world and was built to celebrate the Duke of Wellington’s successes.  It is much-loved by the local community and well known by users of the M5, from where it is visible.  However, the condition is deteriorating and the risk of falling masonry has led to it being fenced off.  We need to apply to the HLF for £3m of the total £4m project but will need to raise a minimum of £0.5m from other sources to secure its future. We would use every opportunity afforded by the project to bring a wide range of benefits for people and leave a legacy of involvement and participation.

 Background

Wellington Monument is a striking obelisk on the edge of the Blackdown Hillls, near the town of Wellington in Somerset. It is recognisable to hundreds of thousands of people travelling along the M5 motorway every day. At 175 feet tall, it is of international importance as the tallest three sided obelisk in the world and commemorates the victory of the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The surrounding landscape is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and 22 acres around the Grade II* Monument are owned by the National Trust.

 40,000 local people visit the Monument and the surrounding countryside each year, to walk their dogs to enjoy the views and to play with their children. It is an important landmark and symbol for the town of Wellington.  On a clear day, visitors can see to the Quantocks and as far as Exmoor. Veteran oaks, beech and sweet chestnut trees provide the ideal nesting sites for tree creepers, nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers. The grassland is rich in plant life and provides a valuable food source for dragonflies and butterflies such as the common blue.

 The Monument’s History

Whilst the Duke of Wellington is now considered a national hero, the Wellington Monument might be considered a very British underdog. Many local people donated money to build the monument and the foundation stone was laid in 1817. However its construction has faced continuous difficulty. Money ran out, the Monument was hit by lightning and the Duke fell out of favour having entered politics so the project sat incomplete until a second phase of building was prompted by Wellington’s death in 1852. A local architect was commissioned to finish the Monument cheaply, radically altering the original design. This work deteriorated and in 1892 more architects were brought in to repair and complete the obelisk to the full height we see today. It has needed repair almost constantly ever since. 

The site was given to the National Trust in the 1930s. The mixed quality of the construction, its exposed position, failing repairs and water ingress meant that loose stone started to fall from the Monument and the Trust was forced to close it in 2005 after cracks were found in the masonry. Barriers were placed around it to stop people getting too close. With no endowment fund and in need of constant investment to maintain it, the Monument is now fenced off with no access via the 232 internal steps to the viewing platform at the top.  The site is due to be placed on Historic England’s Risk Register in October 2016. 

Survey work

Over the last 18 months, The Trust has appointed specialist teams to conduct surveys and monitoring studies to help understand this unique and complex structure. A giant cherry picker and even abseiling have provided access for closer inspection. A photogrammetric survey of all three faces identified where there are cracks and which stones are loose. There has also been a monthly monitoring of new stone loss from the monument to show the size of the problem. Wind and movement sensors have surprised us by showing that the Monument doesn’t flex in the wind quite as much as we expected, and ground penetrating radar has given a detailed picture of the thickness of the stone cladding, and helping to spot voids and gaps behind the cladding. The evidence from all these surveys has been assessed with experts from the University of Southampton, who have processed the data and used computational fluid dynamics to help to identify where the stresses and strains are.

 Saving the Monument

This detailed survey work has given us, for the first time, the understanding required to develop the best repair options, and to discount other options with more confidence. It is now clear that to repair the Monument and to open it up for public access again, will cost approximately £4m. The repair solutions require a combination of re-building the areas in the worst condition and replacing stone as required; adding mechanical ties to strengthen the structure and, filling voids behind the facing Ashlar stone and re-pointing.  The top third of the monument has perhaps the biggest problems, because it was built in phases and by the latter stages the money was running out.  Water has been washing away lime mortar inside the walls, some of the covering stones are too thin and corrosion on pins holding the stairs in place has made them unsafe.  The exterior stonework will be largely replaced using larger facing stones so there is less pointing and attached properly to the core to correct faulty construction techniques; stainless steel bars will be used to improve structural strength; and the gaps inside the walls filled by grouting.

 This will safeguard the Monument for the long term and, perhaps most excitingly, make it accessible again for the public. Once again, local people will be able to climb inside the Monument and some will be able to get more involved by being a volunteer. The repair project will also benefit local people who may be employed in traditional construction techniques.

 Why now?

October 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone. We want to take this opportunity to apply for a large HLF grant and secure match income from other sources. The local community are extremely passionate about the site.  They would like to see the structure restored and are keen to support where they are able to do so.

 If successful with an HLF application, work would begin on site in 2018/19 and be completed during 2020/21. The construction would be accompanied by a programme of wide engagement, audience development and skills training. We are very committed to ensuring that as many people as possible – including those who wouldn’t normally get the opportunity – benefit from our project and that continued engagement if a legacy of the investment made now. This includes developing volunteering opportunities, skills training and working with groups of people who are at risk of exclusion including people living with a physical or mental disability, a mental health problem and those suffering economic deprivation and the knock-on effects of this.  We also want to enable the local community to take more ownership of the site.

 How people can help now

A permanent solution to the deterioration of Wellington Monument is close at hand, although there are still challenges ahead and success is far from certain. There is a final and expensive survey which needs to be carried out, on the core samples of the foundations. This is our best bet to reveal any further hidden problems which could scupper restoration and will be carried out in Autumn 2016. In December 2016, we will submit an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a significant contribution towards the total costs. If we are successful, (we will hear in Spring 2017), we expect to still need to raise £500,000 from other external sources. 

 We are not able to launch a formal public fundraising campaign until the outcome of the HLF application is known, and the core sample survey confirms that restoration is feasible. At this point we hope that people will get behind the effort so please stay in touch.
 Important role of the champions

The role of the Champions was developed to be the first and important step towards thinking about how to enable the local community to have more ownership of the site.  In the first instance, the role takes us to Christmas and the Champions are being asked to support work required for the HLF application.  This includes some work on the ground to help with surveys and events in addition to helping us plan the detail of the project and how best to develop community engagement. If we are successful with the HLF bid we hope the Champions will then be instrumental in developing and implementing many elements of the project as we proceed with increased confidence.

 

The Blackdown Hills Trust is a company limited by guarantee and registered in England no. 07181053. Registered Charity no . 1138327 The Registered Office : c/o Park Farm Wellington Somerset TA219NP
© 2017 The Blackdown Hills Trust - all rights reserved

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