The Morrises at Broadway Tower

Fiona Rose

Broadway Tower, located just outside the village of Broadway in the Cotswolds, looks like a mini Saxon castle but was actually built only in 1800 by the Earl of Coventry. It's thought the Earl built this folly, on one of the highest points in the Cotswolds, for his homesick wife so she could see her home county of Worcestershire from the top. Inside the tower are 3 rooms with a present day small exhibition dedicated to William Morris. But why? What Morris connection does the tower hold?

William Morris held the Cotswolds in great affection. His country home, Kelmscott Manor near Lechlade, he called "heaven on earth". He considered Bibury "the most beautiful village in England". In his writings about the English countryside he praised the work of the local stonemasons and he took inspiration for several of his designs from the area including Willow Bough, Windrush and Evenlode. In the summer of 1876, William's friend from his days at Oxford, Crom Price, took a summer lease on the tower. William made several visits to stay, delighting in the wildness of the place. He also took his daughters Jenny & May to visit the folly and they were enchanted by the sense of freedom the place bestowed. In her memoirs May Morris recalled their visits:

"The most inconvenient and delightful place even seen - to simple folk like ourselves, who could do without almost everything with great cheerfulness. The tower was certainly absurd - the men had to bathe on the roof, when the wind didn't blow the soap away and there was water enough... but how the clean aromatic air blew the arches out of our tired bodies, and how good it all was".

William loved most the view from the top of the tower: on a clear day you can see 16 counties. It was during one of his journeys to Broadway that he made a distressing discovery at Burford. A group of workmen were scraping off the medieval plasterwork in the parish church in the name of Victorian "modernization". William was horrified and outraged and it was during the next few days at the tower that he set about planning an ambitious campaign to safeguard the ancient buildings of England. The result was the formation of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB which is still very active today) and for the rest of his life he was tireless in promoting its cause. Without William's vision and energy the view from Broadway Tower could have looked very different today.

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