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History of Wellington Monument

Aerial view of Wellington Monument, Somerset, famed by the sun
Aerial view of Wellington Monument | © National Trust Images/Mike Calnan

Standing high on the Blackdown Hills, the Wellington Monument is the tallest three-sided obelisk in the world. The story of its troubled construction repeats itself in the story of its conservation and repair up to the present day. From abandoned bouts of building, lightning strikes and failed repairs, the monument has certainly had a rocky history.

Early beginnings

The idea to erect a monument to the Duke of Wellington was first proposed in 1815 after the Duke's victory at the Battle of Waterloo. Following an architectural competition in 1817, Thomas Lee Jnr was appointed to design it.

He proposed a triangular pillar supported on a plinth and surmounted by a massive cast iron statue of the Duke. The whole structure was intended to be 140 feet (43m) high.

Building work halted

Funds ran out in a matter of months and building work ceased, by which time the pillar was only 45 feet (14m) high. Work eventually resumed in fits and starts for a number of years. By this time public interest in the project had waned and as a result the original design was pared down considerably.

It was finished in the 1820s with the pillar at the proposed height. The cast iron statue was never commissioned, however, and so the monument became an obelisk rather than the intended plinth.

Cannon near the Wellington Monument, Somerset
Cannon near the Wellington Monument | © National Trust Images/Juliet Turner

Lightning strikes twice

Lightning strikes in the late 1840s caused considerable structural damage. Charles Giles, a local architect, declared it a public danger. He was instructed to prepare a scheme for the repair and completion of the monument. This coincided with the death of the Duke of Wellington.

A new design

Giles came up with something very different from the original plan. He set out to transform the monument from a statue-bearing pillar into the tallest obelisk in Britain.

However by 1892 the monument had again fallen into disrepair. The top of the plinth was rebuilt and the shaft extended to the height we see today.

National Trust restoration

The National Trust took over management responsibility in 1934. Since then the monument has needed careful renovation every 10 to 15 years; an expensive and unsustainable process given its height.

Its condition deteriorated to a critical point in 2018. A team of specialists was then brought in to examine and diagnose the reasons behind this.

Installing the pyramid stone on top of the renovated Wellington Monument, Somerset
Installing the pyramid stone on top of the renovated Wellington Monument | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Important examination work

The monument’s exterior was studied using a 54m elevating platform; a Ground Penetration Radar (GPR) survey was carried out by abseiling down it; and wind anemometers were fitted to reveal how the obelisk moves in the wind.

The findings confirmed major construction disparities. The top third of the obelisk was in the worst condition, while the curtain wall around the bottom was also in a poor state of repair.

Following these findings the National Trust launched a national appeal to help fund its full repair, which was costed at more than £3 million.

The present situation

The monument is now in great condition following the successful repair project. Thanks to everyone who was involved, it is once again open for the public to climb to the top.

A visitor walking two dogs next to the Wellington Monument

Discover more at Wellington Monument

Find out when Wellington Monument is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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Wellington Monument, Somerset

Things to see and do at Wellington Monument 

On your visit to Wellington Monument, learn about its history, go on one of the great walks, take a tour of the monument or simply enjoy all the wildlife this little corner of Somerset has to offer.


Repairing Wellington Monument project 

Find out how the Wellington Monument in Somerset has been conserved for future generations and discover how the work was funded.

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