Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Penshaw Monument (NZ334544)

(from Wikipedia)

Perched high over the River Wear on a grass-covered mound at a height of some 450ft stands the distinctive outline of one of the region’s most prominent landmarks: that of Penshaw Monument.  Offering outstanding panoramic views to those who take the trouble of scaling its lofty heights across the Wear basin and beyond towards the vast tracts of lower Tyneside, this most classical and unlikely of creations dominates the skyline for miles around.

Formerly known as Pensher Hill Monument, the site itself is perhaps best known as the night-time lair of the legendary Lambton Worm (though some claim that nearby Worm Hill is the better bet).  The medieval monster, whose dirty deeds are recalled in many varied versions of prose, is said by one such account to have slept coiled “ten times round Penshaw Hill”, from which it crept nightly to prey on local livestock and young children.

It was in honour of a Lambton, in fact, that the present structure was ultimately erected many centuries later in 1844.  The famous County Durham family had long owned the hill, and it was to the memory of one of the most famous of their clan that the temple was raised by his contemporaries.  Radical ‘Jack’ Lambton, later to become Sir John George Lambton, enjoyed an illustrious career prior to his somewhat premature death at the age of 49 in 1840.  Having represented the county of Durham for fifteen years as an able Member of Parliament he went on to become the first Earl of Durham, and ultimately held the prestigious offices of Lord Privy Seal and that of the first Governor-General of Canada (among other titles).  By all accounts he was a well respected gentleman: humanitarian, well and widely educated, multi-talented and amiable, he would most probably have been embarrassed by the lavish tribute afforded him by his colleagues and subjects in the wake of his death.  No expense was spared: top local architects – the father and son partnership of John and Benjamin Green (who had only a few years previously completed two of Newcastle’s most famous landmarks, the Theatre Royal and Grey’s Monument) – were commissioned to the task, and soon the plans were complete.

The opening ceremony – the laying of the foundation stone – took place on Wednesday 28th August 1844, and was conducted by Thomas, Earl of Zetland, who bore the illustrious title of Grand Master of the Free and Accepted Masons of England.  Over 30,000 locals are said to have witnessed the occasion.

The finished monument – based on the famous Temple of Hephaestus (or Theseus) in Athens – measured, or rather measures, 100ft by 53ft in length and breadth, and is 70ft high, with eighteen columns in the classical style, each 6ft 6in in diameter.  A monument fit for a god, never mind a Lambton!  Make no mistake, Penshaw Monument is no folly – nothing could be further from the truth.  Now in the capable, caring hands of the National Trust, it is open to the public all year round during daylight hours – though access to the top of the monument itself is restricted to weekend tours in the summer.

[ this is one of many articles to appear in my Aspects of North-East History, Volume 1 – see ‘Buy My Books’ at top of blog ]

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