Somerset West and Taunton Council has been working in partnership with the National Trust, Historic England and other stakeholders on a major restoration project to save Wellington’s landmark memorial.
Located on the Blackdown Hills just south of Wellington, the striking Grade II* listed monument was originally constructed in the 1800s to commemorate the Duke of Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Waterloo. At 175 feet (53.3m) high, it is the tallest three-sided obelisk in the world.
Due to a history of structural problems and lack of funding for repairs however, the monument’s condition had deteriorated to the extent that it had to be closed to the public in 2005. A full restoration project and fundraising was needed to secure its future.
Since 2017, SWT’s Heritage at Risk Officer and Planning team have been working in partnership with the National Trust and Historic England to deliver the listed building repairs.
The repair work was complex, taking almost two years to complete and involved 8 miles of scaffolding poles, over 500 mechanical ties and 344 metres of spiral rods to hold the stonework in place and minimise movement in the structure.
South West Consultancy Manager for the National Trust, Helen Sharp, said: “This has been a huge undertaking and to see it completed is a special day for us and the people of Wellington. A glance at the monument shows the extent of new stones which have had to be added – 1,508 in total, all of which had to be hand-tooled by qualified masons from Sally Strachey Historic Conservation, our contractors for the project – which will weather-in with time.
“The pyramidion – the triangular section at the top – almost had to be completely replaced with only the original capstone remaining. The new design reduced the number of joints by using larger stones in a special formation to prevent water ingress.”
To mark the completion of the project, the National Trust held a virtual reopening ceremony on Thursday, 26 August for all the stakeholders, including council officers; Executive Member for Planning and Transport, Cllr Mike Rigby; and Member of Parliament for Taunton Deane, Rebecca Pow. The event ended in the illumination of the monument using newly installed display lighting and the offering of a toast to celebrate its longevity for future generations.
Cllr Rigby said: “Our Heritage at Risk Programme seeks to protect heritage assets of regional and national importance and as the Local Planning Authority, we’ve been working with the National Trust and other partners to preserve the iconic Wellington monument. It’s thanks to this partnership that the Trust believes the monument is now in the best condition it’s ever been in, and as indicated by Historic England, it’s expected to be declassified as ‘Heritage at Risk’ during their next update.
“Ultimately, the preservation work will once again allow people to climb to the top to take in the stunning Somerset landscape, as well as attracting more visitors to the area. I’d like to give thanks to all the supporters and donors who helped secure the monument’s future for the benefit of generations to come.”
Total funding for the project amounted to £3.1m of which SWT (Taunton Deane Borough Council at the time), contributed £10k. The project also received funding from the Chancellor using LIBOR funds, from Highways England’s Designated Funds; £1.08m from Historic England’s Heritage Stimulus Fund, including £736k from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund; Viridor Environmental Credits; War Memorial Trust; Wellington Town Council and the Duke of Wellington.
Local communities in Wellington and Somerset were also influential in generating support for the project through a variety of creative initiatives, including exchanging some of the original stone fragments for donations to the repairs.
Rebecca Pow, Member of Parliament for Taunton Deane said: “I vowed to restore the iconic Wellington Monument as your MP and I am absolutely delighted that in a remarkable success story this has happened.
“Having secured the initial £1m from the LIBOR Fund during my first term in Parliament and started a campaign to reach the total, it was a welcome step when the National Trust prioritised the scheme and together with additional grants, superb community support and the Duke of Wellington’s keen interest, the restoration progressed. A final injection of funds from the Governments’ Cultural Recovery Fund meant that work continued throughout lockdown, so we can now celebrate this exceptional achievement.”