The History of The Towers

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The History of The Towers 2017-02-26T15:47:13+00:00

Although you may be familiar with the resort in its present form, you’re probably aware that Alton Towers has lots of history to discover. We’ve produced an incredibly comprehensive article covering the goings-on at The Towers from many centuries ago, allowing you to uncover the development of some rural landscape into the magical theme park environment it is today!

Earls of Shrewsbury occupied the castle from 1412 when the Lady Ankarat de Verdun married Sir John Talbot – the title remained in the same family until the 1920’s.

It was the 15th Earl, Charles Talbot, born in 1753, who tamed the landscape surrounding the Towers. With the help of hundreds of artisans, mechanics and labourers, “He made the desert smile” and the Alton Towers dream was born.

Charles ensured that every details and plan was original, and only consulted other artists in order to avoid imitation. The two principal garden architects were Thomas Allason (1790-1852) and Robert Abrahams (1774-1850), and it was this combination of financial resources, architectural talent and an eye for beauty, which made the gardens the grandiose yet stunning sight they are today.

Under the direction of the 15th Earl, Abrahams designed and built the Chinese Pagoda Fountain as an exact copy of the To Ho Pagoda in Canton. To supply this fountain, Talbot had to skilfully dig out lakes, pools and terraces encouraging the flow of water from a spring at Ramshorn into the lower extremity of the valley gardens. This particular fountain had the capacity to throw a volume of water 90 feet above the tree tops, where it now seemingly teases the Skyride cable car which crosses the valley gardens.

The Bath Fountain was constructed under the directions of John Talbot. The small yet beautiful pond with a figure of Triton, blowing water through a conch shell, would have been the immediate view from Le Refuge. It was totally renovated in summer 1994 when a new base was installed using stone excavated from the hotel site.

The Grand Conservatories were designed and built by Abrahams and are a breath taking architectural structure stretching 300 feet in length and made of galvanised iron and plate glass. The elegant domes are richly gilt. They have already been restored and are now filled with various geraniums and fuchsia.

Le Refuge was originally built as a recess for repose and refreshments, and the fireplace ensured that Her Ladyship could retire in comfort on even the most wintry of nights. Although Charles Talbot was a man with little concern for spending money on shows and entertainment, he housed a blind Welsh harpist in a quaint thatched cottage, known then as Swiss Cottage. The harpist was employed to fill the garden with music for the delight of the Earl, his family and their guests.

Scattered around the gardens are numerous examples of statuary, which would have instantly added to the overall artistic mood of the surroundings.

The Grand Conservatories and the surrounding terrace house several intricate and charming statues including Hercules and the Nemean Lion, the Warwick Vase, the Infant Bacchus and Goat and the Italian Antique Torso. On the second terrace, adjacent to the distinctive Yew Tree Walk, stood the statues of the Four Seasons.

The Dutch Gardens, which stand to the left of the conservatories, are formed from a raised circular garden designed by John Talbot in the late 1800s. The two lions which stood proudly at the entrance have now been replaced by secure sturdy plinths, and there are hopes to ensure that the water from the lion fountain at the rear of the Dutch Gardens flows naturally again from the River Churnet.

On entering the lavish gardens, visitors will notice a grand monument, which stands proudly opposite the white bridge. This was built as a cenotaph to Charles Talbot. Modelled on the celebrated Choragic Temple of Lysistrates (Athens 344 BC) this distinguished feature houses a marble bust of the 15th Earl. An appropriate inscription was made on the base of the pedestal reading “He Made the Desert Smile”.

When the 15th Earl died in 1827, he had achieved a great proportion of his aspirations; the gardens of Alton Towers were vastly different in character and style to almost any other in England. The curious designs of elegant bedding plants and the rich masses of foliage enhanced the general ambience of the landscape. The wild ferns and numerous rhododendrons similarly added to the romantic air of semi-wilderness. Nevertheless, gardeners continued to further improve this beauty when Charles Talbot was succeeded by his nephew John. The 16th Earl was a flamboyant character, full of enthusiasm to continue his uncle’s great works and he succeeded in completing both the formal gardens near the Towers and the valley gardens.

The Shrewsbury family remained in residence until 1923, after a sometimes turbulent 700 year history. Since then the development of both the parkland and grounds has been astonishing, housing as it does the UK’s number one paid for tourist attraction.

Historical Timeline

8th Century – 18th Century

Alton Towers dates back as far as the 8th century when the Towers site became a fortress held by Ceolred, King of Mercia. The Earls of Shrewsbury occupied the castle from 1412 when the Lady Ankarat de Verdun married Sir John Talbot – the title remained in the same family until the 1920s.

It was the 15th Earl, Charles Talbot, born in 1753, who tamed the landscape surrounding the Towers. With the help of hundreds of artisans, mechanics and labourers, “He made the desert smile” and the Alton Towers dream was born.

Charles ensured that every detail and plan was original, and only consulted other artists in order to avoid imitation. The two principal garden architects were Thomas Allason (1790-1852) and Robert Abrahams (1774-1850), and it was this combination of financial resources, architectural talent and an eye for beauty, which made the gardens the grandiose yet stunning sight they are today.

19th Century

The gardens were first opened to the public in 1860 and thirty years later, garden fetes attended by as many as 30,000 people were common. However, towards the end of the century the fortunes of the Shrewsbury’s began to decline, resulting in the eventual sale of the house and remaining land in 1924 to a consortium of local business men.

20th Century

1920 – The park was taken over by some local businessmen and the main shareholder was William Bagshaw who was an estate agent from Uttoxeter. After he died it was taken over by his two sons, Denis and Anthony.

1924 – House and Gardens form Alton Towers Ltd. The gardens are restored and attract crowds throughout the roaring twenties and thirties.

1939 – World War II starts and the house is requisitioned as an officer cadet training camp. The house and grounds remain under the control of the war office until 1951.

1952 – The gardens reopen. The house is by now very dilapidated, but a tea rooms operates in the once grand Banqueting Hall and travelling fun fair rides are to be found in the grounds.

1973 – John Broome entered the scene when he married the daughter of Denis and became involved with the family business. A short while later he was able to buy a majority stake in Alton Towers. Marrying the owner’s daughter surely must have helped! But he was already a wealthy man through his dealings in the property market. The 1970s were a progressive stage in the development of Alton Towers with many of the rides and areas that we see today built and/or installed.

1980 – This is the year when the Corkscrew rollercoaster was opened!

1980s – Massive development of the site saw the introduction of the Pirate Ship, Log Flume, Black Hole, Enterprise, Congo River Rapids, Vintage Car Ride, Tea Cups, Skyride and Monorail. Many of these rides still exist on the site today in some guise or another!

1990 – Alton Towers acquired by the Tussauds Group.

1990s – More massive investment and development throughout the 1990s, with rides such as the Runaway Mine Train, Haunted House, Energizer, and Ripsaw. Major rides such as Nemesis (1994) and Oblivion (1998) were also installed during this time period, and the first Alton Towers Hotel opened in March 1996.