Daniel Morris chats to Rev Richard Hayes, chairman of the Friends of Lord Hill’s Column, about the restoration of its staircase.
It stands as a proud sentinel overlooking our county town, and has recently benefited from a wonderful spot of restoration work.
Lord Hill’s Column is one of Shrewsbury’s most notable landmarks and, at 40.7m, it in fact stands taller than Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.
Commemorating Rowland Hill, 1st Viscount Hill of Almaraz and Hawkstone, the column pays tribute to one of Britain’s most trusted 19th century generals, who fought beside the Duke of Wellington in Spain, Portugal and France. From 1828, when Wellington had to relinquish the post of Commander-in-Chief of the British Army on becoming Prime Minister, Lord Hill succeeded him and held the post until 1842.
Built between 1814 and 1816, Lord Hill’s Column has honoured this eminent son of Shropshire for over 200 years, and thanks to the work of its supporters and the public at large, its inner staircase has recently been returned to its former glory.
“The renovation that has been done is to the cast iron balustrade up the spiral stairs inside the column,” said Reverend Richard Hayes, chairman of the Friends of Lord Hill’s Column.
“Each step of the 172 stairs has a banister on it, and on each banister, which is very plain, is a roundel in the middle with a letter on it. In a very old guide book of about 1835, it states that the letters were originally gilded.”
Richard and the Friends were keen to explore the truth of this, and, if this were the case, look at a restoration.
“We asked Dr Patrick Baty to come up from London,” said Richard. “He is a leading paint analyst. He came and took lots of micrographs of the layers of paint on the banisters.
“There were seven layers of paint, and he discovered that at the bottom the original colour was a dark blue-green, and that the letters had indeed originally been gilded.”
With this, the Friends set to work on the project.
“We then had to get an estimate to see if we could afford to pay for a restoration of that paint scheme,” Richard added. “We were able to proceed and a local painter, Clive Parry, from Shrewsbury, brought his team and we painted the whole of the balustrade in dark blue-green and gilded all of the letters.
“The result is wonderful – the letters stand out much more clearly against the dark blue-green than they did before, and it makes the message much easier to read.”
As for the message, what is the nature of the previously obscured script that has now been revealed to visitors?
“It tells us who gave the staircase – or who built it, who provided it – and also a little bit about the beginning and ending of the building of the column,” said Richard. “It reads, ‘This staircase was the gift of John Straphen the builder as his donation towards erecting this column. The first stone of the foundation was laid December 27th 1814 and completed 18 June 1816 the anniversary of the glorious battle of Waterloo’.”
So far, public reaction to the restoration has been very positive.
“We opened to the public for the first time since the restoration work was completed on July 15,” Richard said. “We had about 160 people climbing the column. I could tell that they were clearly, genuinely interested because the letters were clear to see, and so they were going to have fun as they walked up, identifying what the next word was going to be.
“I think that the important thing here, from Shropshire’s point of view, is that we’ve got a notable attraction in the column.
“It’s a remarkable building in itself. There aren’t that many around the country, and ours is one of the fine ones.
“But the message on the balustrade makes it truly unique, and I hope that we’ve actually raised the flag for people becoming more conscious of the treasures that we’ve got.”
The Friends of Lord Hill’s Column work in close collaboration with Shropshire Council to open the column to the public in the summer months and contribute to its restoration.
“By becoming a ‘friend’ of Lord Hill’s Column, you are joining hundreds of others who wish to help preserve this precious Shropshire landmark,” added Richard.
Richard and the rest of the Friends hope that the recent restoration work will continue to pull in enthusiastic visitors keen to celebrate this impressive piece of our county’s rich heritage.
“It would be wonderful if more people were to visit and become more aware of an architectural treasure which belongs to the people of Shropshire. They built it, it’s their money that has restored the paintwork up the stairs, and they should enjoy it.
“And as much as anything, there are superb views from the top over the whole county and into Wales. On a good, clear day they are truly fantastic.”