Thursday, 1 November 2018

St Michael's Tower, Montacute

St Michael's Tower is a prospect tower or folly located on the top of St Michael's Hill (139 metres above sea level), which is located to the west of the village of Montacute.  It is 15 metres high and there is a 52 step spiral staircase inside it.  It currently has no door and you can climb to the top of the tower but not out onto the roof.

In Saxon times a miraculous cross was discovered on the hill and taken to Waltham in Essex, where it performed miracles and a church was built to house it (Waltham Abbey).

A Norman called Robert, Count of Mortain built a castle on top of the hill by 1086.  Robert was the half-brother of William the Conqueror. It was one of only two Somerset castles mentioned in the Domesday Book (the other was Dunster) and it may have been built of stone. The Normans named the hill Mons Acutus (meaning steep hill) and the village of Monacute is named after it. 

In 1086 the castle was briefly and unsuccessfully besieged by the English, who were upset that the castle had been constructed on the site where the holy cross had been found.

In around 1102 a monastery was built at the bottom of the hill and on its eastern side by William, Count of Mortain (Robert's son).  The castle was demolished and a chapel was built on the top of the hill.  Stone from the castle was possibly used to build the monastery.  The chapel on the hill was dedicated to St Michael the Archangel.  Churches and chapels on top of hills are often dedicated to him. 

The Phelip's family purchased the monastery from the Crown after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s and built Montacute House using some of the stone from the monastery.  The chapel survived until c1630.  In 1760 Edward Phelips built an eyecatcher or prospect tower on top of the St Michael's Hill using the local golden coloured Ham stone.

St Michael's Tower is now owned by the National Trust, which acquired Montacute House in 1931.

St Michael's Tower

St Michael's Tower

St Michael's Tower

Looking down from the top of the spiral staircase

Fireplace at the top of the tower

View from the top of the tower

Graffiti at the top of the tower - artistic in its own way

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