Beckford's Tower reopens after £3.9m refurb

Beckford's Tower
Beckford's Tower has had millions spent on it to restore it [Casper Farrell]

An historic tower and museum is reopening after a £3.9m revamp.

The refurbishment of Beckford’s Tower in Bath was originally just for essential repair works but it was extended to reimagine the museum and excavate a hidden grotto, that had been underground for more than 100 years.

Senior curator at Bath Preservation Trust, Dr Amy Frost said it was important to clearly explain William Beckford's connection to the slave trade.

The project, which has also seen new energy sources installed, was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund among others.

A grotto
A grotto has been restored as part of the works [Casper Farrell]

Dr Frost said: “The creation of Beckford’s Tower and the collection within it was all underpinned by the exploitation and suffering of thousands of enslaved people.

“It has been vital that we work with others to tell this story as openly and accurately as possible."

The new museum will have displays showcasing pieces from Beckford's varied collections, including furniture, cutlery and fine art.

The project also aims to bring the story of Beckford's "complex and controversial" life to a wider audience.

His wealth came from his ownership of sugar plantations in Jamaica and the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved people.

"It's a very complex story," added Dr Frost.

"William Beckford built beautiful buildings, created a beautiful collection.

"But there is a brutality behind all of that beauty because all of the funds that paid for it came from the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved African people.

"And that's fundamental to the story that we tell at the museum."

A garden around a tower
The tower has also been connected to its surroundings with new footpaths [Casper Farrell ]

The new exhibition spaces will explore the themes of wealth and power, exploitation and abuse.

Patrizia Ribul, the director of museums at Bath Preservation Trust, said the newly excavated grotto will redefine people’s experience while touring the destination.

“The grotto in particular forms a really intriguing part of the visitor experience, expanding the visitor route far beyond the previous climb up the tower.

“People will be able to book behind-the-scenes tours up the architecturally iconic staircase to the tiny golden lantern at the top of the tower, with extraordinary views over Bath,” she added.

The refurbishment included making a step-free accessible space in the tower’s vault, conservation works to remove the building from the Heritage At Risk register, restoration of lost design elements and building the tower's connection to its wider landscape with footpaths.

Ms Ribul went on to thank the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England, Bath Preservation Fund and group funders for financing the restoration.

The tower will be open on weekends and bank holiday Mondays from 29 June to 31 October, before switching to weekends only from 1 November.

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