Peel Monument, or Holcombe Tower as it is often referred to locally, is a well known landmark standing high above Bury. It was erected shortly after the death of the Bury- born Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel. There are two main reasons that Peel is remembered, and we’ll first look at these and then turn to the building of the tower.
Peel is best known for his creation of the London police force in 1829. To avoid any confusion or association with the army, the police were dressed in blue tail coats and top hats, and carried truncheons. This distinguished them from the army, who would wear red jackets and be armed with guns and were not a popular presence on the streets. Ten years later, his police force model was rolled out to the rest of the country.
The second thing Peel is remembered is for abolishing the much-hated Corn Laws. Bread was a staple food of most of the population and was of particular importance to the poor. The Corn Laws imposed tariffs on grain imported from abroad, and these tariffs kept the price of bread artificially high. This benefitted the landowners, who had a guaranteed price for their grain. However, it meant that grain was not imported even when there were food shortages, such as at the height of the Irish famine.
Many of his Conservative MPs represented the land-owning class and were keen defenders of the Corn Laws. Peel however was very interested in tariff-free trade with other countries, and this may have been the main motive for his decision to repeal the Corn Laws. The decision split his Conservative Party and led to the downfall of his government.
The Raising of the Monument
Peel died in 1850 and almost immediately a campaign was started to raise a statue to him in Bury, and place a large monument on the top of Holcombe Hill. (Author’s Note: the tower stands on land that is part of Harcles Hill, but it is known locally as Holcombe Hill). Local industrialists were quick to form a Monuments Committee headed by William Grant, part of the wealthy and influential Grant family of Ramsbottom. As chairman, he insisted that the tower be built in line with St Andrews Church (which he had constructed in 1832) when viewed from the front door of his own Nuttall Hall. (For more on the Grant family and their own monument, Grant’s Tower, see our page here).
The tower cost £1000 to build and the stone to construct it was quarried from the top of the hill, right next to the tower. Visitors today can still see the hole left behind (a recent piece of local folklore has claimed this is a bomb crater from a Zeppelin attack – we explore the truth at the Lancashire at War website here). The monument stands at 128 feet tall. In the middle of its large base section is the entrance way with the word PEEL above the door. The base supports the tower, which has four stages of mullioned windows. Both the base and the top of the tower have battlements.
On 8th September 1852, Edward Hodges Bailey’s statue of Peel was unveiled in Bury town centre. The next day, a separate ceremony took place on top of the hill for the opening of the tower. Joshua Knowles, owner of Tottington calico works gave a speech, as did Peel’s son Frederick, who was guest of honour. Frederick stated that the tower was a splendid memorial both to his father and to free trade. A special train had been laid on from Salford to Ramsbottom, but the passengers arrived too late for the ceremony and speeches.
The Duke of Buccleuch was the owner of the land where the tower stood and had not been consulted for his permission to build it. He later granted a lease on the site for seven shillings and six pence and allowed that the tower trustees could charge an entrance fee.
Later History and Repairs
By 1929, the monument needed to be repaired. As well as general renovations, the rotten wooden internal stair case was replaced with an iron one. Part of Peel’s resignation speech which had already featured on his town centre statue was now replicated on carved marble and placed within the base of the tower. It states “It may be that I shall leave a name sometime remembered with expressions of goodwill in the abode of those, whose lot it is to labour, and to earn their daily bread with the sweat of their brow – when they shall recruit their exhausted strength with abundant and untaxed food the sweeter, because it is no longer leavened with a sense of injustice.”
In the 1930s, a local farmer named Percy Vickers took over the running of the monument, charging a entrance fee to all those who went inside for the climb. During the Second World War the tower was used as a look-out post. Just two years after the war, the iron stairs were so badly rusted they were judged to be unsafe and so the tower was closed to the public. Ownership passed to Ramsbottom Borough Council and although external repairs were done from time to time over the next few decades, few locals ever thought the tower would be reopened.
However, in 1985, thirty eight years after it was closed, it was finally reopened when a new concrete staircase was put in place. The monument is now owned by Bury Metropolitan Borough Council and once a month volunteers are on hand to open the doors so that people may enter in and trek to the top. (See the website details of when it is open here.)
It is always worth a visit to the top of Holcombe Hill, whether the tower is open or not. Peel Monument is an impressive memorial that has stood the test of time and is well worth viewing up close. The views from the top of the hill are spectacular on a clear day.
Site visited by A. and R. Bowden 2019
The exterior of the tower on top of Holcombe Hill can be viewed at any time. Park at the free car park on Lumb Carr Road B6214 . Cross over the road and follow the public footpath signs up the hill to the tower. Although locals call the place the tower is built on Holcombe Hill, it is strictly speaking Harcles Hill as that is what is shown on the Ordnance Survey maps.
To view the interior of the monument and climb the steps to the top, you can visit on its open days which are held each month. See the Visit Bury website here. The volunteers also fly a flag when the tower is open.
Nearby, just a walk away
Ellen Strange memorial cairn and stone
Ivory Towers & Dressed Stones: Vol 1: Lancashire, Jim Jarratt (1994), Cicerone Guide
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