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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:

Date of Construction:
1840 - 1859

Address :
Helen's Tower Clandeboye Estate Bangor Co Down BT19 1RN


Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
06/01/1975 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J4894 7739

Owner Category


Exterior Description And Setting

A four-storey, square-plan Scottish-baronial style memorial tower dated 1848 and built to the designs by William Burn. Located in Tower Hill Wood in the southern reaches of Clandeboye Estate; west of Conlig and north of Newtownards. Principally flat asphalt roof with natural slate over turrets; cast-iron rainwater goods; square hopper-heads breaking through below parapet level with circular down pipes. Rubble coursed basalt walling with long-and-short quoins and projected plinth course; sandstone string course and detailing to corbelled turrets. Replacement timber casement windows inset to single and bipartite sandstone surrounds; chamfered cill and reveals rising to impost; round arched with keyblock over. Triangular-headed timber sheeted door with modern ironmongery screened by heavy-duty iron security door; inset into plain sandstone porch with chamfered surrounds; feathered stone hipped roof with square date stone “1850” and initialled “D&A” (Dufferin and Ava) encased by a label mould with figurative stops and surmounted by a diminutive pediment. The principal elevation faces south and is asymmetrically arranged. Battered ground floor level with a single window on the right side first floor; single window to the left side second floor and bipartite window centrally located on third floor. Parapet level with dropped centre section; corbelled bartizan on the left with single arrowloop opening; rising above coping level to an inward curving conical roof, slated at the lower courses with a lead cap surmounted by a ball finial. Diminutive corbelled bartizan to the right serving as a chimney stack; surmounted by various clay pots. The west elevation matches the south in detailing. Single centrally positioned window at ground floor level with security screen; matching second and third floor window arrangement. Matching bartizans to either corner. The north facing elevation matches in detailing and is asymmetrically arranged with a four-storey stair-tower projecting from the northeast corner. The window arrangement to the main part of the tower matches the south elevation. The four-storey round stair-tower is terminated by a corbelled squared turret; crow-step gable ended with pitched roof. Round-headed arrowloop openings at varying levels to corbel level with slightly larger arrow loops embraced by a gablet breaking eaves level on north and south face and centrally located on east face; gun-loop at parapet level on north face. The east elevation is asymmetrically arranged. The porch entrance is located at the re-entrant of the main tower and the four storey stair-tower. The porch has a single round headed arrowloop located centrally on the east face. Single window located centrally on the third floor of the tower. The chimney turret is located on the left side of the parapet. Setting The tower is located on an elevated site surrounded by woodland. It is accessed by a long curving road leading to a large gravel car park area, bounded by a timber stake fence and security gate. The tower rises above the tree canopy offering full panoramic views of the estate and surrounding areas. Roofing: Asphalt/natural slate Walling: Random basalt Windows: Timber RWG: Cast-iron


Burn, William

Historical Information

The tower was designed by William Burn and his drawings dated 1848, showing the tower as executed, have survived. ‘Helen’s Tower’ first appears, captioned, on the second edition OS map of 1858. It is listed in Griffith’s Valuation (1856-64) as ‘Helen’s Tower and land’ and the value given to the building is £8. The tower is situated in over 240 acres of land valued at £100. Burn’s design captions the building, ‘Gamekeeper’s Tower’ and it may be that this was its original purpose, but Stamp states that the tower was possibly built as ‘part of the expensive improvements to the Clandeboye estate undertaken by Lord Dufferin after he attained his majority in 1847 to relieve the unemployment and the destitution caused by the Famine.’ (Stamp, p.29) According to Howley, by the mid-nineteenth century memorial towers were becoming ‘very common’ throughout Ireland, Helen’s Tower and Scrabo being two of the finest examples in the country. (Howley, p.54) Stamp calls the tower, ‘a product of twin mid-Victorian obsessions; with the revival of Romantic and historical building traditions and with the raising of towers’. (Stamp, p.29) In November 1850 the completed tower was christened Helen’s Tower, as a tribute by the first Marquess of Dufferin and Ava to his mother, Helen Selina Sheridan, granddaughter of the playwright and statesman Richard Brinsley Sheridan. However, the internal fitting out of the building was not described as ‘finished’ until October 1861. (Stamp, p.29-30; Howley, p.55-6) A manuscript notebook entitled, ‘The Book of Helen’s Tower’ contains a collection of poems requested by or given to Lord Dufferin, some of which are engraved on the internal walls of the tower. One of the most well-known is that by Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Helen’s Tower here I stand Dominant over sea and land. Son’s love built me, and I hold Mother’s love in lettered gold Would my granite girth were strong As either love, to last as long. I should wear my crown entire To and thro’ the Doomsday fire And be found of angel eyes In earth’s recurring Paradise.’ Further poems were composed by Robert Browning, Thomas Carlyle, Sir Edwin Arnold, Rudyard Kipling, Richard Garnett and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, some of these after Helen Sheridan’s death in 1867. According to Howley, some years after the inauguration of the tower a small privately printed edition of the Book of Helen’s Tower was produced giving details of the inauguration ceremony and including a poem by Lady Dufferin to her son. The book concluded with three poems by Byron, Coleridge and Thomas Moore dedicated to Lady Dufferin’s grandfather, Sheridan. (Stamp, p.29-30, Howley, p.55-6) Stamp suggests that the interior of the tower, with its Gothic feel, may be the work of Benjamin Ferrey or Lynn, Brett favouring Ferrey. (Stamp, p.29-30; Brett, p.270) Some work to the interior of the tower may have taken place at around the turn of the twentieth century, correspondence having survived which talks of proposed plans for decorative plasterwork and panelling. Certainly the tower contained some grand apartments including a bedroom with four-poster, a library and the sitting-room with carved and diapered ceiling. However, the tower became somewhat neglected in the early part of the twentieth century and is described by Harold Nicolson in his history of the Dufferin family entitled, ‘Helen’s Tower’ as ‘mingling the living savour of an Irish bothy with the dead scent of closed rooms, of Victorian hardwood, of camphor and of decaying brocades.’ (quoted in Howley, p.56) The tower was ‘thoroughly restored’ in 1989 under the supervision of Colin Deane. (Brett, p.270) After World War One, the design of the tower was repeated, on an enlarged scale, in a memorial at Thiepval in northern France. The tower commemorates the men of Ulster who fell during the War and was erected by subscription from the public of Northern Ireland. Helen’s Tower was chosen for the design because many soldiers from the Ulster Division camped and trained at Clandeboye before being deployed in France and the tower would have been one of the last buildings they saw before being sent to the Somme. (Patton, p.48-9; Stamp, p.33; Brett, p.270) The building has recently been leased to the Landmark Trust who have carried out interior renovations to the ground and first floor with a view to letting the property as a holiday rental. Clandeboye Estate have built a car park at the base of the tower. References: Primary Sources 1.PRONI OS/6/3/6/2 – Second Edition OS map 1858 2.PRONI OS/6/3/6/3 – Third Edition OS Map 1900-01 3.PRONI OS/6/3/6/4 – Fourth Edition OS Map 1920 4.PRONI OS/6/3/6/5 – Fifth Edition OS Map 1920-39 5.PRONI VAL/2/B/3/2 – Griffith’s Valuation Map (1856-64) 6.PRONI VAL/2/B/3/1C – Griffith’s Valuation (1856-64) 7.PRONI VAL/12/B/23/7A-K – Annual Revisions (1866-99) 8.PRONI VAL/12/B/23/8A-C – Annual Revisions (1894-1923) 9.PRONI T3020/22/1-2 – William Burn’s design for Helen’s Tower, 1848 10.PRONI D1071/A/P/15 – Catalogue of Helen’s Tower Library 1901 11.PRONI D1071/H/B/J/7/1-10 – Letters from G Jetley 1897-1900 Secondary Sources 1.Brett, C.E.B. “Buildings of North County Down” Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 2002 2.Howley, J “The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland” New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993 3.Patton, M, “Bangor, An Historical Gazetteer” Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1999 4.Stamp, G in “Clandeboye” Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1985

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form H-. Alterations detracting from building I. Quality and survival of Interior J. Setting K. Group value

Historic Interest

V. Authorship W. Northern Ireland/International Interest Z. Rarity


A four-storey, square-plan Scottish-baronial style memorial tower dated 1848 and built to the designs by William Burn. On completion the tower was christened Helen’s Tower, as a tribute by the first Marquess of Dufferin and Ava to his mother. It is one of the two finest memorial towers in the country, the other being Scrabo Tower (HB24/11/031) and as such is a rare example of its type. The external appearance is picturesque exemplified by the style associated with the architect. Rising above the tree canopy, glimpses of the building can be seen from the surrounding area and beyond, however, the immediate setting has been compromised by recent levelling and construction of a large car parking area. The tower is well proportioned and retains much historic fabric of fine quality and craftsmanship. Of significance owing to its relationship to the Clandeboye Estate and the architect William Burn, as well as being the inspiration for the Thiepval Memorial in Flanders, commemorating World War I and the Somme.

General Comments

Date of Survey

05 October 2010