Details Series of 3 x c-type photographic prints, dried meat and vegetables, plinth
Installation Solo Exhibition, ArtSway, Hampshire
Dates 18 April — 14 June 2009
Photo Credit Gayle Chong Kwan
'The Folly of Peterson', Peter Bonnell, in 'The Grand Tour'
by Gayle Chong Kwan (excerpt)
Mrs Girling, who led a sect often referred to as ‘The Girlingites’ and at other times ‘The New Forest Shakers’, was alternately feared and revered, claiming to be the new messiah and someone who could not die (but died nonetheless in 1886). She based her sect in Hordle, nearby to Sway, where her followers would whip themselves into a religious frenzy, dancing barefoot and entranced until exhausted. Rumours of sexual deviancy quickly began to circulate in the local community – no doubt due to reports of overly orgiastic worship, and the fact that on being evicted in 1875 the group consisting of almost 200 people, owned just seventy-seven beds. Girling claimed to be a spiritualist medium, and it was during one séance – involving Judge Peterson – that she claimed to channel the spirit of Sir Christopher Wren. Wren, being quite dead, wasted no time in magnanimously gifting the impressionable Peterson plans for a new structure to be built on the Judge’s property, constructed from the new and untested material of Portland cement.
In 1879 Peterson zealously set about realising Wren’s plans for this structure – a 200-foot tower that has, over the following 130 years, been known alternately as Peterson’s Folly, Peterson’s Tower and Sway Tower. A workforce of 40 local men constructed the tower, with the atypically Victorian Peterson being keen to provide work for local unemployed labourers, and most importantly work for idle hands. Over the years Sway Tower has been utilised as a private residence and hotel and has become a local landmark. Peterson even intended it as a private mausoleum, with his remains being interred in the cellar of the tower after his death aged 93 in 1906, but exhumed in the 1950s, in mysterious circumstances, by his descendants.
The legacy that Judge Peterson left behind, built on the sweat and toil of local men – and dubiously inspired by the spirit of one of England’s greatest architects – is not a building that could be considered classic or even handsome in appearance. It is, however, every inch a monument, a reliquary even, to two of the most important questions that preoccupied the Victorians: the first being the search for proof of life after death; the second, prescient even today, of what to do with the unemployed working-class poor.