Waterton’s Watchtower

I’D ALWAYS assumed that the stone watchtowers that Charles Waterton(1793-1865) built around Walton Park were primarily birdwatching hides where Waterton, accustomed to life in the tropics, could take shelter on walks around his nature reserve but when I read an account of a visitor to the Park in 1835, I realised that these were intended as sentry boxes. It was all very well for Waterton to enclose his sanctuary with a long high wall but in order to ensure that his pheasants and wildfowl wouldn’t be disturbed by gangs of poachers from the local towns, he had to organise night patrols.

I believe there were four towers originally of which I’ve seen three. Two of them were in ruins and have now disappeared without a trace but the third has been restored. They are positioned in strategic points such as where the stream flows out of the Park under the wall and at the diagonally opposite corner with a view down the slope to the Lake.

On an evening visit to a neighbouring wood Waterton once surprised a poacher. In the ensuing fight Waterton, who was on his own, without the support of his trusty gamekeeper, John Ogden, was wrestled to the ground. Fortunately he fought off his assailant by grabbing him by the cravat and choking him until he ceased his attack and fled.

Again for this illustration I’ve worked from reference, this time from two photographs kindly supplied by John Whitaker, curator at Wakefield Museum. I hadn’t realised that the towers originally had a conical turret roof. When the watchtower was restored a few years ago the roof was omitted, I guess for structural reasons, but what a difference it made when I reconstructed the tower with the roof in place. It changed from looking like a military installation to looking like something out of a fairy tale, the sort of enchanted little tower that a traveller would find on a walk through the woods.

No doubt one or two gangs of poachers were in for a big surprise on the night that they they went down to the woods and first came across the tower and the band of guardians that presumably hid inside it.

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