Leamington’s Lost Towers

Leamington has lost, over the last hundred years or so, three towers. None of these has been of any great architectural merit, although they all have had a measure of curiosity value.

losttowers4The earliest is the so called ‘Pepper pot chapel’, although the Milverton Chapel was its formal title. The chapel, as it was not even technically a church, was built in 1836 to satisfy those parishioners of Milverton, who objected to worshipping across the parish boundary in Leamington, but did not like the journey to their own parish church of St James, far away in what is now called Old Milverton.

The architect would seem to have intended to create a Classic temple in the then fashionable Greek Revival style. This was based on ancient Greek ideas centred around the Tower of the Winds in Athens, although it was more of a pastiche than a direct copy.

In the event the circular tower on the roof was derided as resembling a pepper pot, hence the name ‘the Pepper Pot Chapel’. The locals failed to appreciate the classical references.

Eventually the church was made redundant by the building of St. Marks as the parish church of the newly created parish of New Milverton, although why it could not have continued in use as the parish church is not explained. Perhaps it was too close to the Leamington parish boundary, or was thought to be too small by Victorian standards.

The chapel was demolished in 1879 and the site was used for the construction of the large villas which can be seen on the site at the top of Church Hill. It is claimed that some of the masonry can be found in the Dell park, although this information tells us nothing about the original chapel. If the Pepper Pot had survived into modern times it almost certainly would have been listed and preserved, even if its quirky design did not quite represent a specific style of architecture.

losttowers1The second of the demolished Leamington towers was Tower House which seems to have been removed in the early sixties. It certainly has gone from the street directories by 1965, whether that means it had been demolished or was just left empty, awaiting demolition is not known. It was situated in the eponymous Tower Street, which is on the left, just before the canal bridge going south along Clemens Street. The reason for the building is at best uncertain, if not mysterious. Tower House appears to have been a modest early Victorian cottage, but with an added tower.

No sensible reason for the addition of a tower to an otherwise ordinary cottage has yet been advanced, suggestions range from a chapel for rent, to accommodation for workers. The first owner, and the builder, would appear to have been Richard Booth from Coventry, who also had interests in Charlotte Street. In 1830 Richard Booth appears in the street directories as living in Charlotte Street and his wife is later recorded as living at 55 Charlotte Street and in 1871/2 at Bute House, in Charlotte Street.

Another suggestion is that the chapel, if that is what it was meant to be, was for the use of his tenants. This seems a little over-generous, especially as the Congregational Chapel was just across the road on Clemens Street. Leamington Library has an hand written note to suggest the building was used as a church by the early Roman Catholics and Wesleyans, but gives no reference for this information, although Dudley mentions a tradition to this affect, and then dismisses it. However the1833 Fairfax’s guide to Leamington lists the local founding Baptist minister, the Rev. George Cole, living at 2 Tower Street, as does Pigot’s 1835 guide. Whether this address is that of Tower House is uncertain.

Later the builder’s widow ran a boarding house in Charlotte Street and Tower House was also rented out. In the 1841 census fourteen people are listed in Tower Street, divided into two families, each with a servant girl. The census does not give any house numbers, so it is not possible to separate Tower House from any other properties on the opposite side of the street, although later street directories indicate that No.4 was Tower Cottage. On at least one occasion Tower House reached the giddy heights of being listed in a street directory as a villa.

It is possible that initially Tower House was visible from Clemens Street, but later housing developments, sometimes known as Booth’s Terrace, blocked it from view. An idea also suggested by an article in the Leamington Courier from 1912. This also states that the tower had a bell and a clock, and that the house, which was only 10 or 12ft square, was originally built as accommodation for Mr. Booth’s carpenter and his gardener. One of the 1841 families mentioned above was headed by a carpenter. The 1912 article ends by suggesting that ‘it was for the convenience of the tenants’ that the tower was provided with a clock.

It is difficult to come to any firm conclusions as to the reason, or reasons for the building of a tower on a small cottage. Perhaps it was just a whim by a man who could, so he did.

losttowers3The third Leamington tower to have disappeared, albeit a lot more recently, is the Lockheed water tower, which survived the demolition of the rest of the original factory, only to be demolished later. The original Lockheed factory, or rather the second factory, as the initial works was the ex-Congregational chapel on Clemens Street, was on the high ground on Tachbrook Road, right on the edge of the parish. The high situation meant that a steady water supply pressure was likely to be a problem, hence the need for a water tank, mounted up high to serve as a reservoir, or a very large header tank. A similar feature can be found on the outskirts of many villages and small towns.

The reason for the delay in the demolition of the Lockheed water tower was that the Lockheed company had taken the opportunity of the high position of the tower to rent out space to a variety of suppliers of radio channels. Somehow this fact was overlooked by the new owners of the site, and only when the demolition was imminent was the true situation realised. That is the story according to the demolition contractors on site. The result was that the factory was demolished, leaving the water tower in all its previously unseen splendour.

Events soon caught up with the lone survivor and it was also removed to leave a nice clean open space ready for the new buildings.

Mick Cullen, 2011

 

Postscript:  The Tower House    (Leamington Spa Courier 5 September 1913)

Mr Herbert Callow writes with reference to the Tower House off Clemens Street, as follows: ….  I have made enquiries about the Tower House and find that it was used by the Anglicans for about six months for divine services, but, being found too small for convenience, the services were afterwards held at Christ Church.  It is now divided into two rooms and the vestry is now a pantry.  A building such as this, with clock and bell, would surely never be erected for a gardener to live in or even as a tool house.  The weather vane is still on the tower”