On Tuesday 09 January at 2.30p.m. popular speaker Dr Amy Frost makes a welcome return to Gold Hill Museum to provide an update on the progress of the restoration and reinterpretation project at Beckford’s Tower and Museum at Lansdown, Bath. During her compelling 2022 Teulon Porter Memorial Lecture on William Beckford After Fonthill, Amy confessed that she had sufficient material to fill another lecture – and this is it. More to the point, a number of exciting discoveries have been made during the year-long closure of Beckford’s Tower, where Amy is Curator.
The aims of the part Heritage Lottery Funded Project included the physical restoration of the Tower, which was being damaged by water ingress, and bringing the story of William Beckford’s complex and controversial life to a wider contemporary audience. The Beckford family fortune, which had funded the building of first Fonthill Abbey and then the Tower, was created by slave labour on sugar plantations in Jamaica. Beckford’s bi-sexuality had led to his status as a social pariah, with none of the movers and shakers of Georgian society being willing to visit Fonthill until Beckford had put the estate up for sale and left for Bath.
Beckford’s morning routine, once he had built the Tower, was to ride with his dogs from his home in Lans- down Crescent through a landscape maintained by his gardeners, to stables at the Tower. En route were a tunnel under a public path and a fashionable rock-cut grotto, which has been excavated during the Project. Having only ever seen one partial historic drawing of the Grotto steps prior to the excavation, uncovering the extent of them, Amy observes, has been a wonderful surprise for us all – and a real career highlight for me.
For the past several years, Amy has been excavating the Beckford archive in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. She has made hitherto unsuspected links between Beckford’s letters and sketches to surviving artefacts and paintings of interiors, showing his meticulous planning and positioning of items of furniture and artworks. This 1845 painting of objects in Beckford’s collection was one of several commissioned by his daughter after his death. The higgledy-piggledy arrangement would have been intolerable to her father.
Most recently Amy has published an article on Beckford’s Doodles in volume 29 of The Beckford Journal. Many were scribbles on the address pages of letters just received by Beckford and may reflect his immediate response to the content – boredom perhaps? – and some were quite elaborately drawn town or landscapes. There is no danger of any tedium in Amy’s animated and enlightening presentations. Her talk is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society, while seats should be available from 2.20p.m. to non-members on payment of £3 at the door.