By 2002, historic Clavell Tower was deemed to be at serious risk of collapsing under the crumbling Dorset coastline at its base. The most technically, socially, and financially feasible solution was to simply dismantle the empty tower and reconstruct it further away from the cliff’s edge on more stable footing. This resulted in a reinvigorated heritage site saved from the dangers of coastal erosion.

Based on information from The Landmark Trust

General description

Located high on a cliff on the Dorset coast of southern England overlooking Kimmeridge Bay, Clavell Tower is a four story circular tower originally built in 1830. The soft and easily erodible shales of the cliff had been steadily crumbling and retreating towards the tower since its construction.

The responsible organisation for managing Clavell Tower, the Landmark Trust, decided that the most feasible solution for this kind of coastal erosion threat was to dismantle the ageing tower and re-erect it on a more stable base further away from the cliffs edge.

The eroding coastline for which Clavell Tower calls home happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Jurassic Coast. It is a popular tourist destination for its natural beauty and geological significance. As such, it is unlikely that more intrusive coastal erosion measures that could be used to stabilize the cliff would be approved. Relocating the tower itself was a more socially acceptable solution.

Innovative & Cost-effectiveness aspects of the measure

Dismantling and re-erecting Clavell Tower was simply the most technically and financially feasible solution for the Landmark Trust to undertake. Four years of fundraising efforts and external funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund allowed the project to commence by 2006. To offset some of the costs and ensure future revenue for maintenance and heritage preservation, the Landmark Trust also currently manages Clavell Tower as a hotel.

This kind of heritage conservation strategy is clearly the most intrusive possible and would not have been undertaken if it was not the most suitable option. Conservation staff carefully recorded and surveyed all the physical aspects of the tower so that the replication was as true to the original as possible. Sightlines from the tower across the bay and landscapes were also replicated as best as possible when orienting the tower in the new location. Lastly, the new tower was built in such a way as to allow additional future relocation should the eroding cliff’s edge make it necessary again.

Key lessons learnt

Even in heritage conservation, where intrusion and alterations are avoided whenever possible, sometimes drastic measures must be taken to combat the threat of coastal erosion. Relocating heritage sites to safer ground is a suitable solution, especially when the eroding coastline is deemed globally significant and has challenging terrain. Dismantling and re-erecting Clavell Tower was not a decision taken lightly, but it has proven to be a successful measure in preserving the tower’s positing as a valued historic landmark on a World Heritage Site.

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