Since the summer of 1830, Clavell Tower has stood sentinel on a wild and open stretch of the Dorset coast. It was built by a seventy-year-old clergyman, The Reverend John Richards Clavell, who unexpectedly inherited the Smedmore Estate, on which it stands, in 1817. Why he built the tower is not clear; it has served as both folly and seamark since. With its twelve columns and pierced parapets all of local stone, a journalist reporting its completion called it ‘as elegant a building as any the county of Dorset can boast of ’. The young Thomas Hardy used the tower as a frontispiece for his Wessex Poems and courted a local coastguard’s daughter here.
The geology of this coastline is at once a glory and a threat: it brought designation as a World Heritage site, but the friable Kimmeridge shales also cause gradual erosion for which there is no remedy. By 2002, Clavell Tower (which had stood empty and increasingly derelict since the Great War) was left perilously close to the edge of the crumbling cliff.
Desperate remedies were needed if it was not to be lost forever. We considered all the options, and were left with the difficult conclusion that the only feasible way to save the tower was to dismantle it and re-erect it on sounder footings, further back from the cliff’s edge, carefully positioned to capture as many of its original site lines within the landscape as possible.
The result is at least as elegant as the original and has saved a well-loved local landmark, known to many who have walked the South West Coastal Path past its door. You too must walk, for ten minutes or so, up to the tower on the cliff top, leaving your car below. The effort will be worth it to stay in this unparalleled spot.