The last Thomas Sandby building
Built in about 1780, Luttrell's Tower was built for Temple Simon Luttrell, who owned the Eaglehurst Estate at the time. Despite being wrongly thought of as the work of architect James Wyatt, it wasn't until 1990 when Roger White of the Georgian Group uncovered the truth. He recognised the tower and Thomas Sandby was revealed as its true designer. The significance of Luttrell's Tower is heightened by the fact it is possibly the only surviving work of Sandby, who was the first Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy. Despite its exposed position and need for constant attention, the tower was in good condition when we took it over in 1968, and it only needed some practical adjustments to its layout and a few cosmetic changes.
A private tower on the shores of the Solent
Set just back from the shores of the Solent, this Landmark can sleep up to four people and is close to the New Forest. Whilst the coastline is perfect for walking and there are many places to settle down for a picnic, nearby Exbury Gardens are particularly lovely, especially when the daffodil meadows are in bloom. Those keen on the motor history or shipbuilding will find nearby Beaulieu Motor Museum and Buckler's Hard especially interesting. You can wave at passing ships from the Tower’s roof, just like Marconi’s wife and daughter did as the Titanic sailed past. There is direct access to the beach down a tunnel once said to have been used by smugglers.
Luttrell's Tower was the subject of a segment of BBC's Great British Railway Journeys.
‘A beautiful and tranquil place. We have enjoyed every minute of it.’
From the logbook
More substantial than most follies
Luttrell’s Tower was built in around 1780 for Temple Simon Luttrell, owner of the Eaglehurst Estate at that time. For a long time, on stylistic grounds, the Tower’s architect was thought to be James Wyatt. However, in 1990 Roger White of the Georgian Group recognised the tower in a drawing, by architect Thomas Sandby, at Vassar Art Gallery in New York State. Thomas, whose brother was the better known Paul Sandby, designed few buildings.
Comparison of the drawing with Luttrell’s Tower proved the tower to be by Thomas Sandby, the only one of his buildings known to survive. It is built in the so-called Gothick style, made fashionable by Robert Walpole’s house at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, a whimsical harking back to the forms of the Middle Ages.
In the 18th century, the Tower was known both as Eaglehurst, after the estate on which it stood, and Luttrell’s Folly, for it belongs to that class of buildings that are built more for fun than serious intent. This tower, however, was more substantial than most follies, since it contained bedrooms and kitchens as well as a fine top floor with views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. It seems even then it was used as a retreat for the family. An account written in 1790 tells us that ‘Several subterraneous passages lead from the area to a number of marquees, to which the family retires when the turbulence of the weather renders a residence in the house disagreeable. In these tents there are several beds, and also a kitchen. The house being small, these retreats are both cool and agreeable. At their backs stands a yew hedge, which protects them form the severity of the north and north-west winds. From hence another passage leads to a bathing house on the beach. All these retreats are well bricked and floored: but so very wet at times that they are impassable.' J. Hassall, Tour of the Isle of Wight (1790)
Temple Simon Luttrell belonged to a colourful and well-connected Irish family. His father, Simon Temple Luttrell, was created Earl of Carhampton in 1785. Temple Simon Luttrell had two notorious sisters, Anne and Elizabeth. Anne married George IV’s younger brother, the foolish Duke of Cumberland, who employed Thomas Standby as his deputy for his own role as Ranger of Windsor Park, which may have been how the commission at Eaglehurst came about. Elizabeth ‘played high and cheated much,' which was no doubt what led her to be imprisoned in a debtors prison and convicted as a pickpocket in Bavaria. Temple Simon Luttrell had quite an eventful life himself, including being arrested by revolutionaries in Boulogne in 1793, who exhibited him as the captured brother of the King of England. We do not know for sure why he built the folly. Local tradition claims he built it for smuggling, with its underground tunnel to the beach. Graffiti in the tunnel suggests it may predate the Tower, so perhaps there was earlier smuggling activity here. Certainly, smuggling was rife along this part of the coast in the 18th century, but there is no firm evidence that our Luttrell was a smuggler.
After Luttrell’s death in 1803, the Tower came into the ownership of the 7th Earl of Cavan, a distinguished soldier in the Napoleonic Wars and commander of the British army in Egypt. It was he who brought back the enormous pair of feet that reside at the top of the steps down to the beach, thought to be the base of a statue of Ramses II of the XIXth dynasty, perhaps brought back as ballast in a supply ship. It was Cavan who built the house at Eaglehurst, one of the first houses in England of any size to be built as a bungalow. The future Queen Victoria, visiting when she was 14 years old, in 1833, was very taken by it. ‘They live entirely on the ground floor like tents' she wrote in her Journal. She was also impressed by Lord Cavan’s mummy, a piece of whose linen wrapping she was given to keep. Later, as queen, Victoria seriously considered buying the house at Eaglehurst as her seaside residence before finally deciding on Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. In 1844, the 8th Earl sold the estate and the Tower to a local, Dr Drummond, who bought it to prevent its development as part of the seaside boom. For the next hundred years, the house and Tower formed the venues for smart parties thrown by a succession of tenants.
The most famous of these tenants was Guglielmo Marconi, pioneer of radio, who rented the Tower from 1911 to 1916 because it was conveniently close to another station near the Needles. He used the top room of the Tower as a radio laboratory and would disappear there for hours. His daughter recalled that the family dog once bit him as a stranger. She also recalled climbing to the very top of the Tower with her mother, to wave a red scarf to the Titanic as she sailed from Southampton, on her doomed first and only voyage.
The next tenants, Sir Guy and Lady Granet, commissioned architect Clough Williams-Ellis (who built Portmeirion in North Wales) to design the steps from the Tower down to the beach. As Williams-Ellis also recalled in a letter in 1975, he ‘had the fun of restoring & embellishing the Gothick tower folly & surroundings & contriving a "perspective" garden etc.’ During the Second World War, the RAF requisitioned the Tower as a lookout, removing its white flag pole as too conspicuous to the enemy. After the war, the Tower was bought by Colonel Gates (of Cow & Gate) who repaired it and made some minor alterations. In 1965, he made the Tower habitable year round by installing a modern bathroom and kitchen, laying wooden floors and replacing all the chimney pieces except that on the ground floor. The cellar was plastered and painted, the wine bins built, the sea tunnel re-opened and the iron gates re-hung. The top room, which Marconi had used, was restored: the plasterwork was re-done and the shell frieze put back with new shells and the room became Colonel Gates’s bedroom.
Close and regular attention
After all this work, relatively little needed to be done by the Landmark Trust when we acquired the Tower in 1968 (the main house and gardens are privately owned). Under architect Philip Jebb’s direction, the Tower’s bathroom was made to exit onto the stairs rather than through the first floor bedroom and a new lavatory was constructed off the stairs. A new kitchen was put in on the top floor, where there had been an ensuite bathroom to the Colonel's bedroom and the sitting room was moved from the ground floor to this top floor.
The front door was moved back to the bottom of the stair turret, having been replaced earlier by French windows into the garden from the ground floor room.
Luttrell’s Tower’s exposed position by the sea makes it a difficult and expensive building to maintain and it requires close and regular attention. A major repair and refurbishment campaign was carried out in 2003/4, giving greater emphasis to the Tower’s Georgian origins in its decoration. Luttrell’s Tower continues to be one of the most popular of Landmark buildings and has brought great enjoyment to countless visitors over the decades it has been in Landmark’s care.
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