The Towers Complex
A registered charity that assists in the preservation of the historic buildings collectively known as Buckden Towers, Bugden Towers, Buckden Palace or Bugden Palace in the County of Cambridgeshire, UK
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Registered Charity Number:  273480
First Registered: 5 May 1977  
Copyright © FOBT 1999 - 2013
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Clicking on the links below will take you to a brief description of the various facets of The Towers Complex. Some descriptions will contain further links to more detailed items.

Plan of The Towers Complex & General Description

To see a larger plan of the complex, please click on the plan alongside.

The Towers complex in Buckden, West Cambridgeshire, occupies a site bordered on the northern edge by St Hugh's Road, on the eastern edge by Silver Street, on the southern edge by St Mary's Churchyard and Church Road and on the western edge by High Street.

The site is listed in the Domesday Survey of 1086 as a manor belonging to the Bishop of Lincoln, valued at just over £16, consisting of a church, a mill, a few cottages and a wood a mile square.

Some of the current buildings date back to the 15th century (The Great Tower, parts of the Inner and Outer Gatehouses and some of the exterior walls). The Main House is a Victorian addition and the Church, its chapels and St Stephen's Hall are mid-20th century additions.

The 15th century buildings are the remnants of the Palace of the Bishop of Lincoln. The first such palace was built on the site in the 12th century to act as resting place for the Bishop and his retinue as they travelled from Lincoln to London. The Outer Gatehouse, fronts on to High Street, which was the main road (the Great North Road, later annotated as the A1) through the village. The A1 now, as a dual carriage way, splits the village in two).

Click on the picture to see a larger image

The Great Tower

The foundations were laid about the year 1479 by Bishop Rotherham (1472-80), but this work ceased upon his death in 1480 and was not recommenced by his successor, Bishop Russell, until 1491. The lowest storey resting upon the vaulted arches of the great cellar, formed a large dining hall, the large apartment immediately above it being called the King's Lodging. The Great Tower also contained ten other rooms. The restoration of the tower was undertaken by the Claretian Missionaries in 1957 and used as dormitories and play room for the junior seminary. The top picture on the right shows the state of the Tower prior to this work commencing.

The original restoration work did not last for very long and another major refurbishment project was required to replace the roof and bring the rest of thre building up to modern required standards. This work was completed in 1996 and the Tower has now four levels connected by two spiral staircases. The upper two levels have been converted into dormitories each level containing about twenty beds, rooms for group leaders, showers, wash basins and toilets.  The lowest level has been converted into a dining room and fully equipped kitchen and the remaining level has been converted into a large meeting room complete with period fireplace. The whole Tower is now centrally heated and has electric light and running hot and cold water.

The Inner Gatehouse

The majority of the Inner Gatehouse was constructed by Bishop John Russell (1480 - 1494), who was also responsible for the majority of the extensive rebuilding on the site. His arms can be seen over the entrance arch to the Inner Gatehouse (1480) and on its south gable front.

After the War, in 1919, The Towers complex was sold to an eccentric historian from Durham, Dr Robert Holmes Edleston. He rebuilt the northern half of the Inner Gatehouse, demolished by Marshall, and he was responsible for the inscription "Napoleon III" above the right hand doorway which was to have been the entrance to a small museum of the Emperor's relics.

Home to the Claretian Missionaries - the current owners of the complex, the Inner Gatehouse also contains four self-catering apartments, each with its own character and style. The Friends Refectory on the ground floor at the southern end of the Gatehouse is occasionally used as tea rooms.

The Outer Gatehouse

The Outer Gateway and some 400 feet of the 14 feet high western perimeter wall remain in their original positions, with but minor modifications to the Gatekeeper's Lodge and the substitution of 19th century iron gates for the original hewn oak pair.

The Visitor Centre and Bookshop in the Outer Gatehouse was opened in July 1993 to help meet development costs at The Towers. For many years it flourished selling books, cards, religious items and a whole range of gifts. On 16 March 2003 the Bookshop closed and for some years it served as office accommodation.

For a while it was run by the Friends as a charity shop but in November 2011 it was rented out as a student centre for the ever-expanding Stageworks organisation.

The Victorian House

The Victorian House which was built by Arthur Wellington Marshall in 1872. During the construction of the house the moat in front of the Inner Gatehouse was filled in. Arthur Marshall left The Towers in late 1910/early 1911 to reside in Folkestone which was considered a better place for his failing health. The house was offered to let in July 1911 in Country Life. Prior to its eventual sale, the House was used as a school and, during the Great War, it was used as a convalescent hospital.

Following the death of Marshall, the house was purchased at auction by Dr. R Holmes Edleston in July 1919. As a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, he was more interested in the ancient buildings, but he did keep the house in habitable condition and used it to host influential friends. During the Second World War, The Towers was used to house evacuees from Tollington School.

On the arrival of the Claretians in 1956, the House was the first building to be brought into use. Over the years that it was used as the Junior Seminary, rooms were converted to meet its requirements. In more recent years, as with many houses of this age, dry rot and woodworm have proved to be a recurring problem. In 1992 the House received a new roof, other essential repairs have been carried out and the house survives.

The most recent changes to the house occurred around Easter 2004 when the accommodation upstairs was modernised to provide additional bedrooms for visitors using the Claret Centre. There are now 15 bedrooms, most of which are twin-bedded but there are also several family rooms and two single rooms.

Garden and Grounds

The field beyond the car park, fenced off from the rest of the estate in 1993, is leased at certain times of the year to a local farmer for grazing his sheep and it has also been the site for traction engine and caravan rallies.

Leaving the car park by the footpath starting in the north-west corner and following the 17th century raised footpath round the perimeter of the estate, you will come eventually to the 17th century fishpond, originally four separate ponds, which in the early 1990s was dredged and restocked with over 2,000 bream by the National Rivers Authority, who also cleared fallen and dangerous trees from the lake and west bank. Following the walk, the house, church and tower will come back into view as do the orchard or the limes walk. The recreation of the 16th century orchard was completed by 1993 thanks to the generous donation of trees and hard work by the Buckden Gardeners’ Association. Mulberry, medlar, quince, apricot and peach trees, all of which would have existed in the Tudor period, were planted. At roughly the same time, the lime walk comprising an avenue of pleached limes was also planted.

The Queen Katherine Knot Garden

St Hugh's Church and Chapels

St Stephen's Hall

Originally built in 1962 as a recreation hall for the Claretian's Junior Seminary, it served after the Seminary's closure as the Parish Hall and it was used for many varied events ranging from barn dances to wedding receptions to Easter Vigil Services.

In January 1986, it was quite seriously damaged by a fire in the kitchen. The Hall needed a new ceiling, new wiring, a new floor, insulation and acoustic lining on the walls, and the kitchen and toilets replacing at a cost of about £25,000. Then in 1994, following a cascade of water which appeared in the ladies’ toilets, the whole roof had to be replaced.

In order to increase revenue to the estate, the Hall was hired out to a series of nursery schools. Changing regulations eventually led to the last of these finding new accommodation in the Village and the Hall is now leased to ‘Stageworks’ - a performing arts training company who have converted the Hall so that it has two floors housing three studios, reception and waiting areas, a shop, café and changing rooms.

Restoration Work

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Last Updated: 28-Jul-2012