Plan to save clifftop folly that inspired a PD James novel

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The Independent Online

A cliff-top folly that inspired P D James to write a prize-winning detective novel will be moved backwards brick by brick to stop it tumbling into the sea.

A cliff-top folly that inspired P D James to write a prize-winning detective novel will be moved backwards brick by brick to stop it tumbling into the sea.

The Grade II-listed Clavell Tower, which prompted the crime novelist to write The Black Tower in 1975, will be demolished, shifted 80ft back from the edge of the 150ft cliffs in Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset, and rebuilt exactly how it was, if planning permission is granted.

James, who is backing a campaign to save the derelict tower, said she was grateful for its inspirational properties, and had returned many times since she first saw it in 1973. "It gave me the novel," she said.

"It was a very windy day so there was a strong sea forming below. That was set against the cliffs that were covered in this black limestone and on top of it all was this extraordinary tower.

"The whole scene looked amazing and very dramatic. All of a sudden I had this dark picture of a woman in a wheelchair being pushed over the top of the cliff and that formed the story of the Black Tower."

The tower had further literary resonances because it was where Thomas Hardy took his first love, Eliza Nicholl, she added.

"It is just appalling to think of that wonderful setting without Clavell Tower. If it was lost then that part of the English coast will never be the same again," she said.

"I am giving the project my full support and hopeful the publicity will make other people aware of how desperate the situation is."

Plans to move the folly were proposed by the Landmark Trust, which restores historic buildings and rents them out for holidays. It would do the same with Clavell Tower.

The proposals need to be approved by the local council and rubber-stamped by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, because the scheme would involve the demolition of a listed building.

The project architect, Andrew Brookes, said: "English Heritage accepts that a building without a use is unlikely to be saved. It will be dismantled under archaeological supervision. This is an important landmark and a Grade II listed building loved by walkers along the Dorset coast. It is definitely going to fall down if we leave it. The most pragmatic and cost effective way route is to take it down and rebuild it."

Clavell Tower, built in 1830 by the Rev John Richards, is 40ft high and comprises four rooms stacked on top of each other.

It used to have Napoleonic cannon standing upright around the structure but they have been removed and the building has been neglected for many years. The final cost of dismantling and rebuilding the towerwill be £500,000. The trust still requires £400,000 to undertake the project.

Peter Pearce, from the Landmark Trust, said: "All who have walked this wonderful stretch of coast will know Clavell Tower. It is an essential visual punctuation mark in a classic and treasured view of Dorset's Kimmeridge coastline.

"It would be a real and tragic loss if it were to crumble into the sea. We have a chance to save it and give it a new and sustainable life as a landmark, but only if we rebuild it before it is lost for good. Time has almost run out and the future of the tower hangs in the balance. This really is the building's ilast chance."

James's novel The Black Tower won a Silver Dagger award for crime writing in 1975 and was adapted into a BBC film in the Eighties, starring Roy Marsden as Inspector Adam Dalgliesh.

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