Hadlow Tower should allow open days after millions of public money

Pam Mills

Campaigners believe the site should be open to visitors as part of the Heritage Open Days project, from today [September 6-9] and on September 13-16, because of the millions of pounds of public money used to restore the Victorian structure.

The renowned Grade 1 listed building is 175ft high, six feet taller than Nelson’s Column. A covenant ensures the public can access it for 28 days each year and tours used to be held each week.

But it was placed on the market for £2million in the summer, and the owner has made it clear that he does not want the visits to be permitted.

The Heritage Lottery Fund spent £2million on restoring the tower after it was badly damaged in the Great Storm of 1987, following a long period of neglect.

Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council had served a Compulsory Purchase Order on the site and then sold it for £1 to the Vivat Trust, a registered charity that turns derelict historic buildings into self-catering holiday homes.

Fundraising in the local community provided a further £50,000. Yet the tower was sold for just £425,000 in 2016 after the Vivat Trust went into liquidation.

It is currently owned by Christian Tym, who lives there with his wife Becca and four sons. The four-bedroom property is available for rental from December to April for up to £2,400 a week.

Musical impresario Andrew Lloyd-Webber has spoken out about the access, having been instrumental in putting the tower forward for a restoration prize.

He told the Daily Telegraph: “A huge amount of public money was spent on this project. If it’s going to be sold, it should be returned to Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund. It can’t go into the pocket of a private person.”

“I don’t think the public purse should be used to speculate,” he added. “This seems to have slipped through the net.”

The project won two Historic England Angel Awards, which were created by Lord Lloyd-Webber. “Here we are trying to talk about the unsung heroes all over the country, raising money and giving all of their time to get public access for these buildings, and this campaign was a huge success,” he said.

“What we are trying to do with the Angel Awards is to say thank you to those people. With this tower it was the locals who came together and really fought for this. This sort of thing is exactly what we are trying to avoid.”

The Hadlow Tower Action Group financed and provided volunteers to run a visitor centre on the ground floor of the eight-storey structure.

Caroline Elcombe, the centre’s Manager until last September, said: “The new owner did not wish to continue with the public visits that we used to run every Thursday with a group of volunteer stewards.

“His covenants say he must open the tower to the public but we have seen little if any evidence that this is happening.

“We have reluctantly had to remove our exhibition equipment, bought with funds raised locally, and are no longer involved with the tower – much to our disappointment.”

Local activists insist that more than 800 people visited the tower before the centre shut last year.

Diane Huntingford, Chair of the Tonbridge Civic Society, said: “The work that was carried out on this was supported by the local communities and sizeable amounts by Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund. 

“No individual should profit at public expense,” she added. “It is wrong that it is not to open this year under Heritage Open Days, as is required if public money is given.

“Other organisations who have in the distant past received funding from English Heritage, no matter how small, such as The Schools at Somerhill, open their doors once a year for this purpose so the local community and others can visit.”

The agent for the sale of the tower, Strutt & Parker, said: “The owner and agent will not be giving a comment at this time.”

They added: “Hadlow Tower comes with two covenants to the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic England. The sale of the property will not affect the rights or obligations under those covenants.”

PICTURE: HIGH ANXIETY: Local volunteers are no longer involved with Hadlow Tower PHOTO: Strutt & Parker

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