By James Speakman
A daring couple are set to be given a real-life fright night with the chance to sleep in an abandoned tower.
The bare, dusty tower was once the favourite spot of one of Britain’s most successful businessmen and his wife.
The historic Pigeon Tower at Rivington Gardens in Rivington, Lancs, was lovingly built by the founder of the Unilever empire for his wife – but has stood empty for 80 years following their deaths.
William Hesketh Lever, known as Lord Leverhulme, constructed the tower for Lady Elizabeth Leverhulme to use as a drawing and sewing room as she surveyed the panoramic views over the landscape.
It formed the centre piece of Rivington Gardens, which Lord Lever Hulme created as his playground to retire to at weekends.
His power and influence were so great that even King George V came to visit him at the gardens.
Lord Leverhulme commissioned noted landscape designer Thomas Mawson to create the gardens between 1905-1922 and he included a Japanese lake and garden, an Italian lake and garden, and the Orchestra Lawn.
The centrepiece was the haunting pigeon tower, which dominated the skyline and commanded views over all the land.
Since the mid 20th century the gardens have fallen into disrepair and most of the buildings are round them, including the pigeon tower, were sealed off and condemned.
But a £4.2million restoration project has been kicked off to get hem suitable for public visitation.
As part of the fundraising effort, Rivington Heritage Trust is offering the chance to stay one night in the spooky tower.
Andrew Suter, Heritage Project Manager at Groundwork Cheshire, Lancashire and Merseyside, which is leading the restoration project, said: “The tower really has a fantastic sense of history and spending the night there will be a great opportunity for a one-off spot of glamping.
“It is a unique experience, but I can imagine it might be spooky being up there at night.
“There is nothing there. The fireplace is lined with Lever’s motto in Latin, which translates as ‘I spurn the fear to change’. That’s the only feature.
“It was created as a reading and sewing room for his wife so she could have a commanding view over all the gardens.
“You get a fantastic view from up there but it’s quite bare now. It’s a real shame the tower fell into a state of disrepair and we are determined to open it up to the public again.
“Lord Leverhulme was a philanthropist and a leading figure in the area. He created the gardens to retreat to at the weekends to enjoy.
“At its peak there would have been around 130 gardeners working full time to maintain them properly. That gives you an idea of their scale.”
The project has already received £3.4million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and work is expected to take a year, beginning today (MONDAY).
To make up the final £800,000 Rivington Heritage Trust, along with landowners United Utilities and Groundwork Cheshire, Lancashire and Merseyside, have received further funding from other businesses.
Volunteers are also putting in more than 5,700 hours of work to make sure the project runs smoothly.
Organisers are also holding a fundraising dinner at Spring Cottage on the site, which is where the chance to stay at Pigeon Tower will be auctioned off.
Andrew said: “Restoration attempts have been going on since the 1980s, but it hasn’t really worked before.
“There were attempts to get the money together but it’s a huge job.
“A lot of the gardens and the buildings are in a sorry state, but they are listed and precious and certainly worth protecting.
“We are not looking to get the gardens back into pristine condition. That would take too much work to maintain.
“But we really want the gardens to be available to the public again and we want to maintain that secret garden aspect.”
The chance to stay in the tower is being auctioned off on May 31 at Spring Cottage.
The Rivington Heritage Trust will set up sleeping equipment on the top floor of the tower and bring dinner and breakfast to the brave winners who take up the challenge.