Historical Follies – the Black Tower of Charmouth (1746)

The Black Tower of Charmouth was created by William James Stonemason in 1746 to provide a watch tower for the local residents.  Manned by the 1st Foot in Mouth (Motto: “I Meant to Say”) the high tower provided a visual point of reference for many of the neighbouring villages.  Although it satisfied the perceived risk of the time from pirates and smugglers, it quickly fell into disuse due to a number of unrealised problems and once abandoned it quickly dismantled; ironically by the very pirates and smugglers it was designed to deter.

What William Stonemason and the local Council had forgotten to take into consideration soon became a catalogue of humorous material for the nearby village comedians.  These considerations included:

  • The two cannon that were mounted halfway up the tower were directed inland rather than out to sea; the turntables that they were mounted on (a major design consideration) only had a 20 degree turn before the cannon would hit the tower walls.
  • Because of the available solid ground to build the tower was limited, the eventual tower was quite slim. This meant that in medium offshore winds the tower would sway – and it was realised that there was no bracing if the cannon were ever used.
  • The tower was only manned during daylight hours during the weekends – the 1st Mouth in Mouth (Motto: “I Meant to Say”) consisted of part time volunteers only and met at weekends as they had other jobs to attend during  the week.  Indeed, the 1st Foot in Mouth (Motto: “I Meant to Say”) were only commissioned so that the village of Charmouth would gain extra funds from the government purse.
  • Most of the villagers (including, it later transpired, William James Stonemason and half the battalion of the 1st Foot in Mouth (Motto: “I Meant to Say”)) gained their income from working with pirates and smugglers and so this was seen as a positive development in the village
  • Pirates and Smugglers increased their attacks and use of the village; the presence of a watch tower providing an additional challenge and the impression that there was more to loot than in neighbouring villages
  • The rock that was used as a base for the build of the tower was not as stable as first thought and tested; within the year following construction a crack was noticed at the base of the rock in low tide; when the tower finally fell (luckily on a Tuesday morning) it was discovered that the rock in fact not cracked, but had capsized due to the increased weight on the top side.
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