Old John Tower –Leicestershire’s most famous landmark
This Folly or Prospect Tower was built in 1784 by the 5th Earl of Stamford. The circular stone tower replaced a former wooden windmill (which had been made unsafe in an earlier storm) and stands on Bradgate’s tallest hill and Leicestershire’s second highest point – some 690 feet above sea level.
Constructed in local granite stone with two circular rooms, one above the other, connected by a narrow spiral staircase and complete with timbered floor and three glazed and shuttered windows on first floor, slate fireplaces and castellations around the top of the structure. The windows and castellations may have been incorporated a few years after the Tower was built.
Lord Stamford and his guests would have used the Folly to watch his horses gallop around the racecourse laid out at the base of the Hill, to enjoy the magnificent views over his Estate and as a vantage point to watch fox hunting (another of his favourite sports) across the Park and neighbouring countryside.
By 1792 an archway was attached to the Tower and the legend of Old John Tower’s ‘beer tankard’ outline was born.
The Tower is periodically open as part of the Country Park’s Guided Walks programme. The Hill, on which the Tower stands commands fine views across Leicestershire and surrounding counties.
The Legend associated with Old John Tower
Legend tells us that Henry 4th Earl of Stamford, raised a great bonfire on the Hill to celebrate the christening of his Grandson, George Harry, (later to become the 6th Earl) who was born on 31st October 1765.
Twenty one years later, another huge open-air fire was built on the Hill by the 5th Earl on 31st October 1786 as part of the festivities to mark the coming of age of George Harry. At the height of the celebrations, a bonfire timber burnt through, falling amongst the guests and accidentally killing an old retainer of the Bradgate Estate called John (could he have been the old miller who was called John?)
After the accident, the 5th Earl is reputed to have decreed that the Tower be named in affectionate memory of “Old John”. It is reputed that the stonework at the side of the Tower was altered so it looked like a handle – perhaps knowing the old man’s liking of ale, it was deliberately modelled to give the Tower its familiar beer tankard shape of today.