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The Mad King's Monument.

May 30, 2017

     King George III, the first Hanoverian king of Britain who spoke English as his main language, had been on the throne for nearly forty years. Unlike his German father, he was born in Britain and had never been to Hanover. Some called him mad George because he suffered periods of insanity. American colonists resented paying taxes on tea and newspapers that his government levied. They rebelled and, following a bloody war, gained their independence.

     'George has lost us America,' cried the people. Unkind commentators called him Farmer George because he preferred gardening and growing vegetables to matters of state. But, as George got older the people grew to admire the pious and modest man he had become.

     'We must do something to celebrate the king’s golden jubilee,' announced the splendidly named Reverend Whitehall-Whitehall Davies. The reverend, a local squire, wrote to his friend Lord Kenyon and they formed a committee to decide what to do.

     'Let’s erect a giant tower,' they said and sent for a famous architect. The architect, Thomas Harrison, got to work and produced a design for a 115 foot tall tower that would look like an Egyptian temple.

     'We need to put the tower somewhere high, so it can be seen from miles away. Moel Famau would be perfect,' suggested the Reverend and the committee agreed. Moel Famau or ‘Mother Mountain’ was the highest Moel in the Clwydian Range and the planned monument would be visible for miles.

On the 24th October 1810, the year of the king’s jubilee, Lord Kenyon laid the foundation stone. Special sermons, to commemorate the event, were preached in Mold and Ruthin. Then, dignitaries rode horses to the top of Moel Famau, accompanied by a band of musicians and beautiful female attendants. More than 5000 people climbed to the top of Moel Famau to witness the great occasion. Pits were dug and filled with wood to roast oxen and ‘cwru da’ - ‘good beer’ was served to aid the day long festivities.

     Following the laying of the foundation stone, things began to go wrong. The Wrexham surveyor Thomas Penson had calculated the cost of building the tower to be £3235. A public fund had been started to pay for the work but it only raised £1129. The people of Denbighshire and Flintshire loved their king, so it seemed, but not quite enough to pay for such an extravagant monument. Lord Kenyon added £650 to bolster the fund and building work began.      From the start, there were problems. Lack of money and constant bickering between the architect and the surveyor resulted in the project slowing to a snail’s pace. By 1815 Penson and Harrison were no longer cooperating and it was clear that the original design was unaffordable. Things dragged on until, in 1817, a more modest and less costly design was agreed. Construction progressed for a while until the money ran out and work on the half finished jubilee tower stopped.

     The monument remained as it was for the next 29 years. The residents of Denbighshire and Flintshire had lost interest in their celebratory jubilee tower. In 1846, one corner of the tower collapsed. Poorly constructed foundations and shoddy workmanship had left the structure unsafe; urgent repairs were needed. Another fund was started and, with the £500 that it raised, limited repairs could be made to the tower.

     In October 1862, following two days of storms, the half built jubilee tower collapsed. All that remained was the plinth and a pile of rubble. Local people pilfered material to build stone walls and the remains of the tower became an eyesore visible for miles.

     King George III died in 1820, after almost sixty years on the throne. By then he was blind, deaf and permanently insane with what we now call dementia. He was, at the time, the longest serving British monarch. Later Queens, Victoria and Elizabeth II would reign longer. In 1970 the site of the jubilee tower was tidied up to look as it does today and it is now part of a country park. From a distance, the plinth, which is all that remains of the tower, looks more like a mausoleum than the base of an Egyptian tower, built to celebrate the reign of mad King George, who lost us America.

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Orielton Banqueting Tower - Doesn't everyone need one?

October 6, 2019

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