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ATAPark History › History of the Towers

The history of Alton Towers is long and varied. Built in an area called Bunbury Hill, it started its life as an iron age fort before 1000BC, until about 700AD when it became a fortress for the Saxon King Ceolred of Mercia.

The land had many owners and uses, until the 1100's when a crusader by the name of Bertram de Verdun was given the land for his work during the Holy Land Wars. Eventually, the estate was in the hands of the Talbot family, who originated from France. The first Earl of Shrewsbury, John Talbot, fought alongside Henry V for much of his life, and the family were always close to the hearts of the rulers of the country.

The house and estate itself, was called Alveton Lodge, or Alton Lodge, during it's early life, and was the summer residence for the Earl and his family. When Charles, became the 15th Earl, he took more interest in the house and its grounds, and decided to extend it. Work began in 1800, and continued, with major work being done, or planned every year until 1852.
One of Charles' biggest wishes was to develop the dry valley to the east of the house into Britain's finest example of a stately homes garden. The lakes, and pools you see today were dug by hand, and water was diverted from a spring at Ramsor, two miles away. In the years 1806-1807, 5,000 conifers, and 8,000 other trees were planted in the grounds.

View of the Towers from across the gardens in the mid to late 1800's View of the Towers from across the gardens in the mid to late 1800's, about where the Forbidden Valley Sky-Ride station now stands

Major work on the house began in 1811, and after this was renamed to Alton Abbey, though it could hold no actual claim to be called an Abbey. If you examine closely enough, you can still see some of the remaining parts of Alton Lodge today.
In 1827, Charles died, but his nephew, John, shared his vision for the estate, and took over his work. A monument was erected to Charles in the gardens, with the words 'He Made The Desert Smile'. John, would over the next few years, complete the gardens, and the house.

In 1837, the Shrewsbury's main residence in Heythrop burned to the ground and everything that was recovered, was moved to newly renamed Alton Towers. Now the halls and galleries were covered with valuable works of art, and paintings by artists like Raphael and Van Dyck.

Further work was done on the house from 1839, when Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, began working for the Earl. Much of the house as it is seen today is the work of Pugin, and he also continued to develop the surrounding grounds and gardens.

When Earl John died in 1852, the history of the Towers would change forever. Legal battles began by family members believing to have right to the estate, very costly legal battles as it would turn out. Henry Chetwynd Talbot, won the battle for the house, but due to the massive costs incurred by this, he would next sell the contents of the house.
In 1860, with the Earl needing to raise money to restore parts of the house that were in dire need of repair, he decided to open the grounds to the public. That year he raised enough money from this to refurbish parts of the house.

View of the Towers from across the lake in 1880 View of the Towers from across the lake in 1880

It was the 20th Earl of Shrewsbury, Charles Henry Talbot, who then began to develop the estate as a tourist attraction in the early 1890's, He organised fetes, illuminations and firework displays, as well as exhibitions of instruments of torture, and balloon festivals. In the early 1900's, he developed the Talbot motor car, that would soon become the first motor car to travel 100 miles in one hour.

A little different from the coach parties of today A little different from the coach parties of today

Four years earlier, the Earl and his wife had gone their separate ways, with the Earl moving out of the Towers, leaving his wife there. He agreed to pay her an allowance, but due to him never paying this, the Towers began their journey into decline.

It was in 1918, that much of the Shrewsbury properties were sold, and ultimately, in 1924, the Alton Towers estate itself was sold to a group of local businessmen. Once again, an auction was held, and all the contents of the house were sold to the highest bidder. The estate was still open to the public during this time, and some of the rooms were converted into cafes and rest rooms for the thousands of visitors it received every year.

Shortly after the outbreak of the second World War, the estate was requisitioned by the army to be used as a cadet training centre. During this time, no repairs were carried out, and so the buildings continued their demise. It wasn't until 1951, that the Towers were returned to the Alton Towers Company, and due to the post-war shortage of metals such as copper and lead, the whole interior of the house was removed for sale leaving what we see today, with only small glimpses of what once adorned the bare brick and stone walls.

The whole house was abandoned, with the exception of the Chapel, that housed a model railway, and the Armoury, that became a gift shop. In the 1970's, the new owners, decided to restore parts of the house, and reinforced the floors and ceilings to allow public access. A few attractions were constructed in the grounds to keep the public amused while they strolled around the estate.

Then, in 1980, with John Broome in charge, things began to turn around for Alton Towers. He decided to turn the 500 acre site into a leisure park for the family. The park already had a few attractions, but he knew they needed something more. On land to the east of the Towers, he constructed the U.K.'s first double corkscrew rollercoaster. Visitors began to come from all over the country, and from the then on we know what happened.

Broome continued to add more rides and attractions to the line up, until 1990, when it was bought by the Tussauds Group, which itself was bought by the Charterhouse group in 1998. Charterhouse then sold Tussauds to Dubai International Capital in early 2005, who subsequently sold it on to Merlin Entertainments in March 2007. None of this has changed the minds of the public however, who still regard Alton Towers as the best day out money can buy, anywhere in the United Kingdom.