Friday, March 24, 2006

It's Not Just The Rides

I’m guessing 99% of visitors to Alton Towers go for the likes of Rita, Nemesis and The Flume. The decaying stately home that stands overlooking the park much ignored by the majority. I’d count myself as one of the ignorant. While I admire the beauty of the gardens as they wind to the Churnet Valley and the imposing Gothic Architecture I’ve never been that bothered by them. Over the last few visits that’s changed. I’ve started wondering more and more about the Towers and on Tuesday decided to forgo the rides for an hour and explore the ruins.

It was stunning. The Towers are huge, bigger than they look. Sadly, due to neglect in the early 20th Century and it’s time as a training camp in WW2 the Towers are no more than just a shell but it’s not what they are now that amazes – it’s what they must have been.

Although the Alton Towers site has been occupied since the 8th Century it was the 15th Earl of Shrewsbury, Charles Talbot (b.1753) that began to transform the site into what we know today. His passion was the gardens. Completely transforming them with Chinese Pagoda fountains, huge conservatories and of course the Gothic splendour of the Towers themselves.

Sadly in the 1920s the Shrewsbury line was in financial decline and Alton Towers sold off to a group of local businessmen. By this time it was already open to the public and attracting hundreds to explore the stunning gardens – lovingly restored by the new owners.

It’s not entirely sure how The Towers got into the ruined state it is now. When the Army took over in the 40s they boarded the state area up leaving it un touched. Perhaps no maintenance for a whole decade wasn’t helpful but they certainly didn’t purposely damage the house.
At some point post war the lead was stripped from the roofs of Alton Towers leaving the house open to the elements. Rumours of a fire in the East Wing (now the most ruined part) probably hold some truth but thankfully current owners Tussauds are starting to turn things around. They’ve made much of the house safe to explore and are slowly renovating parts of it. Sadly at the speed they’re going don’t expect any grand banquets in the great hall very soon but I’d definitely recommend putting aside an hour of them park fun to explore this magnificent building.

For more on the history of Alton Towers.

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