Scrabo Tower

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Scrabo Tower
CIMG1495 ScraboHorizView.JPG
Scrabo Tower, May 2007
Coordinates 54°34′48″N 5°42′56″W / 54.58010°N 5.7155°W / 54.58010; -5.7155Coordinates: 54°34′48″N 5°42′56″W / 54.58010°N 5.7155°W / 54.58010; -5.7155
Built 1857-1859
Architect Lanyon & Lynn[1]
Listed Building – Grade B+
Designated 1977
Reference no. HB24/11/031[2]
Scrabo Tower is located in Northern Ireland
Scrabo Tower
Location in Northern Ireland

Scrabo Tower (/ˈskræb/[3]) is a 19th-century lookout tower or folly that stands on Scrabo Hill near Newtownards in County Down, Northern Ireland. It was built as a memorial to the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry and was originally known as Londonderry Monument.[4] The tower is a landmark that can be seen from far.



The tower commemorates the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, who was born Charles William Stewart in 1788. He fought in the Napoleonic Wars.[5] He became rich by marrying Frances Anne Vane and changed his surname to hers. He succeeded his half-brother Viscount Castlereagh as 3rd Marquess in 1822 and became owner of the family estate in County Down. The estate's great house, Mount Stewart, became his Irish residence.

In 1854, when the 3rd Marquess died, some of his family and friends decided to build him a monument. In fact two monuments resulted: the tower discussed here and the Londonderry equestrian statue in Durham, England. A committee was formed in Newtownards to raise funds by subscription for a monument in Ireland. The local gentry and the late marquess's friends, among which Napoleon III,[6] donated most of the money, with some tenants also contributing. Sources disagree about the 3rd Marquess's attitude to his tenants. Debbie Orme noted that the "Marquis was held in high regard in the land for his attempts to alleviate suffering during the potato famine",[7] whereas the entry for the tower in the Historical Building List states that "rather than the object of tenant affection, the 3rd marquis had alienated many of his tenantry through his unbending attitude during the tenant right campaign of the early 1850s".[2]

The funds raised allowed a budget of £2000 for building the monument. At first the monument was to be in the town, but it was later shifted to Scrabo Hill where it could be seen from Mount Stewart and where suitable building stone was quarried. In December 1855 the committee decided to hold a design competition.[8] The deadline was 1 February 1856.[9] Four entries were considered: an obelisk and three towers. The first prize went to the obelisk, which was submitted by William Joseph Barre.[10] However, the obelisk came to nothing and indeed none of the first three projects was executed. When the committee called for tenders from building contractors, all the submissions for the three best-rated entries exceeded the budget and were therefore rejected. Finally, a tender by Hugh Dixon[11] from Newtownards for the fourth project was accepted. This design had been submitted by the firm Lanyon & Lynn, a partnership of Charles Lanyon and William Henry Lynn that lasted from 1854 (or 1855?) to 1860.[1] A tower also allowed the Londonderries to out-trump their neighbours the Dufferins, who had recently built Helen's Tower nearby.

Watercolour of the Londonderry Monument[12], believed to represent the original project by Lanyon & Lynn

A watercolour at Mount Stewart gives an artist's view of the Londonderry Monument.[12] It shows three towers linked by two stretches of crenellated wall. The middle tower resembles the one built. The others are much smaller. Engravings similar to this picture have been published in the Illustrated London News[13] and the Dublin Builder.[4] It seems that these pictures represent the original project before simplification to cut cost. Lynn's obituary in the Irish Builder attributes the design to Lynn.[14]

The foundation stone was laid on 6 May 1857 in a ceremony attended by the 4th Marquess, his wife, and Robert Knox, Bishop of Down.[15] The construction generally followed the accepted plans, but the tower's height was shortened to 135 feet (41 m)[16] by omitting a storey and its form was simplified by omitting the crenellated walls and small wing towers. Work ceased in 1859 after the cost had risen to £3010.[16] The contractor was ruined, and the interior was left unfinished.

Later events[edit]

After the tower's completion in 1859, William McKay, a foreman of the quarry, moved into the tower as caretaker. His family ran a tearoom in the tower until 1966[7] despite the lack of water at the top of the hill. The tower and the ground on which it stands were then acquired by the state. In 1977, the tower was placed on the list of Grade B+ buildings.[2] The Department of Environment spent £20,000 on the tower in 1992, repairing windows, repointing the masonry, adding lightning protection and fitting in a wooden floor between the second and third floor, which had been omitted in 1859 to cut costs[17]. The tower now stands in the Scrabo Country Park, which is managed by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).[18] In 2014, the NIEA announced that water ingress had damaged the electricity supply, and citing safety concerns, closed the tower to visitors.[19][20] By 2015, the tower opened occasionally,[21] and in 2017 it was fully reopened to the public.[22]


Top of the tower in 2009. The frame added near the top carries two aircraft warning lights.[2]

The tower's style is Scottish baronial[23]. The tower consists of a base, a main body and a complex crenellated and turreted roof. The base (or plinth) has battered (sloped) outer surfaces. The limit between base and the vertical walls of the main body is marked by a moulding. The base and the main body are square in plan and comprise a round stair tower that projects from the SE corner. The square part is surmounted by a short setback cylindric part covered by a steep conical roof. The transition from square to round is achieved by a platform ornamented with four corner turrets linked by machicolated battlements. The turrets are round and also wear steep conical roofs. These five roofs are entirely in stone. The SE turret sits on top of the stair tower, whereas the other three sit on corbelled bases. The turret over the stairs is bigger than the others.[2]

The tower's entrance door is on the north face. It is approached by a short outer stair. The door is surmounted by a commemorative plaque in a bluish black stone, probably slate. The inscription (see frame) dedicates the monument to the 3rd Marquess. Following his change of surname in 1829, he is called Vane rather than Stewart. The post-nominal KG stands for Knight of the Garter. The "& c" should be read "et cetera" and means that the marquess's many lesser post-nominals were omitted.

KG & c


Inscription surmounted by a relief showing Londonderry coronet, crests & motto

Above the plaque is a recess filled with a relief in white limestone or marble showing the coronet, two crests (dragon and sword arm), and the motto of the marquesses of Londonderry. The relief is carefully carved and deeply undercut under the coronet and behind the dragon's wing. The coronet is decorated with three leaves and two balls as befits a marquess. The dragon crest represents the Stewart family. The arm (more precisely "cubit") with the hand in a gauntlet holding a sword represents the Vane family. The scroll below the coronet and the crests shows the motto (in Latin), which reads: METUENDA COROLLA DRACONIS (the dragon's crest is to be feared).

The tower should have had six levels according to the placement of its windows: the ground floor in the base, four floors in the main body and one in the cylindric setback under the main roof on the roof platform. When work stopped in 1859, only the ground floor and the first floor had floors and ceilings. All the space in the tower above the first floor's ceiling right up into the conical roof was left empty. The ground floor was the caretaker's apartment. The first floor was planned as an armoury but was never equipped and used as such. This armoury is covered by a brick groin vault, which is the reason why the spacing between the armoury's windows and those of the second floor is wider than those between the other levels in the main body. A proper second floor was created later by inserting a wooden floor as part of the repairs and upgrading done by the Department of Environment. This second floor was thus gained on the remaining undivided space.

Two types of stone were used in the tower: whitish to pinkish Triassic sandstone[24] and dark-grey dolerite. The sandstone, more suitable for fine carvings, was used for quoins, window dressings, stairs, corbels, copings and roofs, as well as for courses that mark limits: the moulding between the base and the main body and the one that separates the stair tower from the turret above it. The dolerite, also called whinstone, is described in the list of historic buildings as 'basalt'.[2] This material is harder and more resistant to weathering than the sandstone but difficult to work. It was cut into blocks of variable size and laid in frequently interrupted courses. The outer surfaces of these blocks were left in rough rustication with many blocks quite prominent.

Surroundings and view[edit]

Scrabo Hill rises to an elevation of 540 feet (160 m) above mean sea level. The viewing platform or parapet walk of the tower, reached by climbing 122 steps, provides views over Strangford Lough and its islands, as well as the towns of Newtownards and Comber. On clear days Helen's Tower in the north, the Copeland Islands with their lighthouse and the Scottish coast (Mull of Kintyre, Isle of Arran, Ailsa Craig and Rhins of Galloway[7]) beyond the North Channel in the NE, the Isle of Man in the SE, the Mourne Mountains in the South, as well as Divis Mountain and Cave Hill over Belfast in the west can be seen.

Scrabo Country Park, in which the tower stands, includes parts of the top and the eastern and southern slopes of Scrabo Hill as well as Killynether Wood.[25] The eastern part of the hill is of geological interest because outcrops in the South Quarry reveal contacts between sediments (sandstone) and locally cross-cutting sills of intrusive rocks (dolerite). This eastern part, which includes the site of the tower, has been declared an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).[26] Much of the plateau on top of the hill to the west of the tower is occupied by Scrabo Golf Course.

In fiction[edit]

The Tower of Trufandom, which features in the Enchanted Duplicator, a story by Walt Willis and Bob Shaw, was inspired by Scrabo Tower.[27][28]


  1. ^ a b "Lanyon & Lynn". Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720-1940. Irish Architectural Archive. Retrieved 22 July 2018. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Scrabo Tower - Historic Buildings Details". Department for Communities. 
  3. ^ Pointon, GE (1990). BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 217. ISBN 0-19-282745-6. 
  4. ^ a b "The Londonderry Monument, Scraboh Hill, Co Down". The Dublin Builder. vii (130): 124–125. 15 May 1865. Retrieved 22 July 2018. 
  5. ^ Vane, Charles William (1828). Narrative of the Peninsular War. London: Henry Colburn. 
  6. ^ McCavery, Trevor (1994). Newtown - A history of Newtownards. Belfast: The White Row Press. p. 140. ISBN 9781870132701. the list headed by the emperor Napoleon III of France 
  7. ^ a b c Orme, Debby. "The History of Scrabo Tower - Guardian of the North Down coast". Retrieved 7 April 2018. 
  8. ^ McCavery, Trevor (1994). Newtown - A history of Newtownards. Belfast: The White Row Press. p. 140. ISBN 9781870132701. In 1855, it was decided that the memorial should be erected on Scrabo, and that the design should be subject of a competition with the cost of the work not to exceed £2,000. 
  9. ^ "1857 – Scrabo Tower, Newtownards, Co. Down". Archiseek. The architects designs were to be received before February 1 1856 
  10. ^ Dunlop, Durham (1868). A Memoir of the Professional Life of William J. Barre, Esq. Belfast: James Magill. 
  11. ^ "Co. Down, Scrabo Hill, Londonderry Monument". Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720-1940. Irish Architectural Archive. Retrieved 17 July 2018. 
  12. ^ a b "Londonderry Memorial Tower on Scrabo Hill". National Trust Collections. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
  13. ^ "Memorial To The Late Marquis Of Londonderry, In Course Of Erection On Scrabo Hill, County Down, Ireland". The illustrated London News (March 28 1857). p. 299. 
  14. ^ "Obituary: HW Lynn". The Irish Builder and Engineer. 57 (25 September 1915): 431. 
  15. ^ "Ceremony Of Laying The Foundation-Stone Of A Memorial To The Late Marquis Of Londonderry, On Scrabo Hill, County Down, Ireland". The Illustrated London News (March 28 1857). pp. 298–300. 
  16. ^ a b McCavery, Trevor (1994). Newtown - A history of Newtownards. Belfast: The White Row Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-1870132701. In the end, however, the 135 feet high monument actually cost £3,010. 
  17. ^ Brett, CEB; Merrick, Anthony CW (2002). Buildings of North County Down. Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. p. 272. ISBN 978-0900457579. Having fallen in considerable disrepair, it was taken into public ownership, and £20,000 was spent on its restoration in 1992. 
  18. ^ "Scrabo Tower and Country Park". Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  19. ^ "Scrabo Tower shut for foreseeable future". UTV News. 22 April 2014. 
  20. ^ "Scrabo Tower: County Down monument closed to the public". BBC News. 22 April 2014. 
  21. ^ "Scrabo Tower - for EHOD 2015 - European Heritage Open Day cultural event - 12-13 September". Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Retrieved 13 September 2015. 
  22. ^ "Scrabo Tower reopens to the public". BBC. 7 July 2017. 
  23. ^ Williams, Jeremy (1995). A Compagnon Guide to Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921. Dublin: Irish Academic Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-0716525134. The Scrabo memorial is a multi-storied Scottish baronial tower... 
  24. ^ Hull, Edward (1872). The Building and Ornamental Stones of Great Britain and Foreign Countries. London: Macmillan & Co. pp. 269–270. 
  25. ^ Department of Environment. "Scrabo Landscape Character Assessment (LCA 101)" (PDF). Department of Environment. Retrieved 20 July 2018. 
  26. ^ "Declaration of Area of Special Scientific Interest at Scrabo Co. Down (ASSI-91)" (PDF). Retrieved 16 July 2018. 
  27. ^ Willis, Walt; Shaw, Bob (February 1954). "'The Enchanted Duplicator'". Retrieved 25 February 2009. 
  28. ^ Nielsen Hayden, Patrick and Teresa (August 1987). "'Aspects and Inclinations' - Hyphen Magazine - Number 37". Hyphen. Retrieved 1 May 2008.