The history of Darwen Tower

Darwen Tower has was built during 1897/98 as a monument to the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria. 120 years later, and after withstanding much weathering from the wild Lancashire moorland weather, the tower still stands strong on the hill above the town of Darwen, Lancashire.

The History of Darwen Tower - the beginnings

The beginnings

Plans to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee were in planning in the immediate years prior, with a competition within the town of Darwen held for designs of a momument to best celebrate the event. David Ellison, a local office clerk (who also happened to be the son of the borough treasurer) won the competition and the wheels were set in motion with the idea of the momument to be built on Darwen moors. Robert William Smith-Saville - David's boss - was set the task of planning architectural reality of the monument (you can find out a little bit more about Robert in his obituary.

The Reverend William Arthur Duckworth

The resented Reverend

The official reason for constructing Darwen Tower was of course to honour Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, however, Darwen residents had extra reason to celebrate the moors above Darwen. The landowner of Darwen moors at that time, the Reverend William Arthur Duckworth, had attempted to prevent access to the moors for years, hiring gamekeepers to roam the moors as a deterent to those who tried to wander the paths.

Many locals ignored the landowners restriction, beleiving historical rights of way were their legal entitlement to roam the moors. After many legal negotiations, the local authority obtained the land and the moors above Darwen became free to roam once more. Interestingly, the Reverend himself claimed that he had not known of the issues of access to the moors as, as an absentee landlord, had let agents decide how to manage the land.

Sunny Bank Saw Mill, Darwen

The builders

James Whalley, of Sunny Bank Saw Mills, had a tender of £773, 3 shillings and 5 pennies (about £71,000 in today's money, and well below the £2,000 raised by public donations) accepted. He soon got two of his stonemasons (Harry Flew and Peter Brindle) on the job - using stone from the nearby Red Delph quarry.

The stonemasons apparently walked several miles every day from their homes before they even got going with work!


The first sod was cut by the mayor of Darwen at the time, Alexander Carus, on 22 June 1897. A commemorative spade was presented to him for the occasion (pictured below). The builders worked through the seasons and some terrible weather to finish construction by September of 1898.

The spade used to cut the first sod in the construction of Darwen Tower

Over three thousand people gathered for the official opening of the tower on 24 September, 1898. Ironically, it was the Reverend Duckworth who conducted the opening ceremony, making sure that people noted not to disturb the game population on the moors!

Later Years

The tower has really been through it over the years since it was built:

  • During World War II, suggestions were made to demolish the tower, with some fearing that German planes may use the tower as a navigation point.

  • The dome on top of the tower was blown off during the stormy winter of 1947.

  • Graffiti and vandalism was always an issue, but as the tower became more neglected this became a problem for the council.

  • As the tower deteriated it was suggested many times that the tower should be closed to the public, or even permanently bricked up.

  • The dome was once again blown of in the storms of 2010 - but was greatfully restored via both donation, building and fitting of a new dome by the local firm, WEC Group (you can see a video summarising the project below).

  • A major restoration project started in 2021, costing £300,000, with the tower due for re-opening in September 2022. You can find out more about this restoration on our Darwen Tower preservation page.