Sunday, 20 January 2013

The "Salt Pot"

Base of Old Lighthouse on St Catherine's Hill
© Copyright Bob Embleton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
I like strange and distinctive places. So further to Edward Edwards - troubled library pioneer, I just checked out online the location of Edwards' apparently self-inflicted exposure on the downs near Niton, Isle of Wight.  As described in the 1902 Greenwood biography:
The days and nights were getting cold, and he had a fire constantly in his room, which he kept so closely that there was some difficulty in getting him out of it when it had to be tidied. One day early in November, 1885, Edwards said to Mr. and Mrs. Harrison "I am going to Freshwater and may not be back for several days". Nothing was thought of this at the time, as he had often gone away on the top of one of the coaches, and remained away a few days. For some days afterwards nothing more was heard of him, till word was brought that he had been found in a perishing condition on St. Catherine's Down, and was being brought home in a cart. By-and-by the cart drew near, and in it, covered with clean straw to screen him from the curious eyes of the children on their way to school, was Edward Edwards, utterly broken down, with eyes looking wild and streaming with tears, but conscious of all that was going on around him. They lifted him out as gently as if he had been a monarch, dressed in purple and fine linen, and put him to bed at once. There he lay for a full fortnight, nursed with the tenderest care, fed and tended like a child, and during night and day his nurses had to apply all necessary remedies to restore animation to his almost frozen limbs. Edward Edwards had been found in what is known as the Round Tower on the Down. He had been out on the Down without food for three nights and days in inclement weather, and a bitterly cold winter was that of 1885-6. The Round Tower is roofless, and in it he was found, lying on the ground, by a shepherd who was taking provender for the sheep. His hands were stained with dirt, and he had manifestly gripped the earth in an agony of spirit, while crying for death to come and release him from his misery and troubles. During the night the sheep on the Down make for the Round Tower for shelter, and Edwards had been kept warm by them, as his clothes showed. They had evidently kept him warm enough to preserve his life.
- Edward Edwards, the chief pioneer of municipal public libraries, Thomas Greenwood, 1902, Internet Archive ID edwardedwardschi00greeiala

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This structure appears in accounts under various names - including the Salt Pot, the Salt Cellar, the Salt Shaker, and Mustard Pot - all reflecting its relationship to an adjacent structure known as the Pepperpot (St Catherine's Oratory, a mediaeval lighthouse). The Salt Pot was also intended as a lighthouse, but not completed ...
Almost adjoining stands the shell of a lighthouse erected in 1785 by the Trinity Board ; but discontinued when it was discovered, as might at the outset have been surmised, that the mists so often gathering about the crown of the hill would render it of little service.
- page 192, Lighthouses and Lightships, William Henry Davenport Adams, 1870
... and superseded by the present St Catherine's Lighthouse.

undated topographical postcard
The Salt Pot appears in old photos (e.g. above) in much the same state as when Edwards took refuge in it. But it's now enclosed and inaccessible due to the building of a radio installation inside and around it (according to Keeper's Log, journal of the United States Lighthouse Society, a radar installation dating from 1952).There are a number of Flickr images, such as this one; the photographer comments on how it "inexplicably" houses radio equipment. When there was a whole down to build on, it does seem rather strange, by modern standards of conservation, for a heritage structure to be commandeered in this way.

View looking northward from the top of Gore Cliff, May 2012
St Catherine's Oratory (aka Pepperpot), left; "Salt Pot" by mast, right
We were in viewing distance in May 2012 - see The road more travelled ... - but it was a monstrously hot day, and the detour up the hill didn't appeal. Next time maybe.

Check out also Stories descriptive of the Isle of Wight:  there's a slight thematic connection, in that one of these inspirational stories, The Children of St Catherine's Chantry, features a group of children sheltering from a storm inside St Catherine's Oratory.

- Ray


  1. Oh, I do like me round towers. Walking the hills above Glendalough. And, of course, the Martello Tower of Ulysses. Apparently the inspiration for this was Mortello tower in Corsica. (Mortella = Myrtle). Google is great but, and this is definitely to ponder, what if we don't have a range of general knowledge in which to put such trivia? Does Corsica mean anything to the current high schooler?

    1. Yes, in my teens we used to occasionally go down to East Sussex: there are a lot of Martello Towers down there (though I always think of them as Mortadella Towers - used for manufacturing sausages).