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 Coelred of Mercia.
Indeed a great battle is said to have taken place in Slain
Hollow, just beyond the gardens, between Coelred and King
Ine of Wessex.
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, about where
the Forbidden Valley Sky-Ride station now stands.
Picture from souvenir guide book.
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
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
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.
A little different
from the coach parties of today.
Picture taken from souvenir guide book.
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 map of the area in 1891
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
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. None of this however has changed the minds of the public,
who still regard Alton Towers as the best day out money can
buy, anywhere in the United Kingdom.