Beckford’s Tower and Museum

William Beckford (1760–1844) was a figure who flouted convention. Born to vast wealth from the sugar plantations, he developed discerning literary and architectural tastes at an early age, as well as a penchant for wild parties and unsuitable affairs. He wrote the Gothic novel Vathek (1786), and was paymaster for Wyatt’s ill-fated Fonthill Abbey – a Gothic leviathan that collapsed in a heap of stonework in 1827. Wealth did not necessarily bring contentment. “Some people drink to forget their unhappiness,” wrote Beckford. “I do not drink. I build.”

In 1822, now aged 62, Beckford left draughty Fonthill for Lansdown Crescent in Bath. A few years later (sometime between 1825 and 1827) he built a Tuscan tower on the hillside above, overlooking the city and topped by a gilded belvedere resembling the ancient Tower of the Winds in Athens. He made it his private museum – richly decorated rooms housed his collection of art and exquisite objets de vertu. Every day Beckford would ride up from the crescent below, accompanied by his dogs and a faithful dwarf servant, to contemplate his treasures.


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