High on a hill over looking the Cwm Towy and the meandering Afon Towy stands an improbable memorial to ego and money. A huge gothic tower glowers down on all below it. It’s not old by UK standards and was built by William Paxton in 1795. This is the same Paxton who lived at Middleton Hall, now the site of the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Now Paxton wasn’t a local man, but a Scotsman who had amassed a fortune in India. He joined the navy as a young man, but quickly realised he could make more money working with the East India Company. After a few years he became Master of the Calcutta Mint, and as they say the rest is history. In 1785 he returned to the UK very rich and determined to become a country gentleman, purchased Middleton Hall, then a run down estate. He built a new country house, designed by Samuel Cockerell.
Now having money, a nice house and garden wasn’t enough for this ambitious man. He also wanted recognition of his own perceived importance. The local nobles apparently didn’t accept him, maybe because of their own snobbery of new money, but maybe also be due to the fact he may not have been a very pleasant man. Especially in his dealings with the locals. So Paxton decided that politics would be the best way to win hearts and minds. Before the days of universal suffrage, being elected was subject to who could ‘buy’ the most votes. He became Mayor of Carmarthen and was knighted. During this time as Mayor, Paxton entertained Admiral Lord Nelson who was visiting the town. But this was never going to be enough for him.
A bigger stage was needed, and so he stood for Parliament. In 1802 his campaign started, bribes included buy beer for voters and including a number of promises, the prime one of an intent to build and pay for a bridge over the Afon Towy. He wasnt elected, possibly because of rumour spread by one of his opponents claiming he was insolvent. It then seems he decided to sulk, and spent the bridge money on an ego project. Cockerell was commissioned to build a tower, to dominate and stand proud on the hill near to Middleton Hall. Cockerell originally designed a gothic tower, reminiscent of Paxtons Barth place of Edinburgh.
The tower is a huge 3 sided statement of money and power. The entrances are large enough to allow carriages driven up from Middleton Hall to pass through so that the pampered passengers could alight in the dry, then climb the stairs to the grand dining room. Originally the rooms were marble clad, and stained glass windows celebrated Nelsons victories over the French. It’s not possible to climb up the tower now and the windows are long gone leaving the tower with an unloved and forlorn feeling when you are standing underneath it. However that doesn’t detract from the fabulous views across the Towy and beyond. From there its’ possible to see three castles, Carreg Cennen, Dryslwyn and Dyserth. It’s claimed that you can see 7 counties from here, but I think this relates to the old counties of Wales.
Eventually Paxton was successful in being elected to Parliament. Did he build the promised bridge? Did he heck!