Tall (tower) tale and ghostly story for Christmas with Sir Christopher Wren

Torbay Weekly

I recently had to accompany my partner on a business trip to the New Forest. One of her clients lived there, and, thanks to Covid, thus far, all their meetings had been conducted online. With Christmas approaching it was decided now would be a good time to finally meet face to face. The client very kindly offered to put us up in an hotel and so it was that we found ourselves spending a couple of nights in the charming village of Sway.

I always check out the spooky credentials of anywhere new that I’m staying. Sway didn’t disappoint! It’s main claim to fame is a tall, free-standing tower made out of concrete that has no internal structural supports, making it the only structure like it in the world. I’ve always been interested in oddities of architecture, I guess I get that from my father, who was a civil engineer

Sway Tower stands in the grounds of a property called The Tower, and as I approached, I spotted a dapper gentleman polishing the bonnet of a classic car in the driveway.

The guy looked like he had money, you certainly needed it to maintain such a folly and a classic car, and I guessed a spot of eccentricity came with the territory judging by his Victorian style of outfit. It reminded me of the  Steampunk gear I have a predilection for wearing. He could see I was taken by the tower, “she’s an impressive monument, isn’t she, Sir?” the man said. “Yes, she is,” I replied, “I’ve always been fascinated by quirky architecture.” “Would you like to see inside?”, came the unexpected offer.  “Yes please!” I enthusiastically shot back, and so it was that I found myself being ushered through the arched, Gothic style doorway, to the foot of a stone staircase in a smaller tower attached to the larger one. My guide, who introduced himself as Tom, led the way. He informed me the tower was 218 feet high, consisting of 14 floors, with a stunning view from each. “The best is from the viewing platform at the top,” he said. “Come and meet my muse, Christopher!” “You certainly need to be fit to live here!” I commented in between breaths. “Oh, it was never intended to be lived in,” Tom replied, “it’s just a folly to admire the countryside from!” The views were stunning! Not only could you see out over all the trees of the surrounding New Forest, but across to the Isle of Wight. I spotted a figure leaning against the wooden railings gazing out to sea, seemingly lost in his thoughts.

“That’s Christopher”, said Tom, “He likes to come up here to gain inspiration for his great works!” I realised his apparel also echoed a bygone era, even down to his powdered wig. This realisation made me feel a bit light headed, almost as though I couldn’t quite focus on what I was seeing. Putting it down to the altitude, and my breathlessness from the climb, I felt it was time to take my leave of the two gentlemen. I did so and Tom apologised for not seeing me out, saying his goodbyes as he walked towards his friend...as he neared him, he too seemed to go out of focus...

As I walked away, a voice said: “can I help you?”. It was a lady, that I hadn’t noticed as she knelt down tending to her borders. I replied: “Tom was kind enough to show me around the tower.” “Who’s Tom?” she said “That tower has been locked for years!”  I looked back at the door and noticed the big rusty padlock and chain holding it securely locked...and where was Tom’s bright shiny car? The woman said: “You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” “Make that two!” I replied, “Tom, and a guy called Christopher, wearing a powdered wig.” At that the penny dropped with the woman. “Oh, you mean Sir Christopher Wren! Mr Petersen, the gentleman who built the tower, he always preferred to be called by his middle name Tom, rather than Andrew, they do say he was inspired by Wren in the first place. They communicated via a medium...”  I hurried on my way, back to the hotel. I was heartened by the fact that the two architects had now been brought together in spirit...an idea for my next article was starting to take shape...