After Geoffrey Legge and I visited the monument to Captain Cook at The Vache, Chalfont St. Giles, Bucks. in August 2003 [see Cook’s Log, page 12, vol. 26, no. 4 (2003)] discussions between us led to Geoffrey commissioning a report, on our behalf, on the state of the monument.
Christopher Wallis, C. Eng. MICE, MIOC, inspected the monument and produced a report, waiving any fee. An edited version of his comprehensive “survey of the structure” is given below.
Geoffrey and Christopher met the owners in June 2004 and discussed the state of the monument and ways of improving its condition. Subsequently much work has been undertaken and the effects are clearly visible.
In September 2005 I visited the site again and took photographs, some of which are reproduced here, with more on our web site. Regrettably, some of the vegetation has grown greatly impairing the view of the monument even more. In the pretty (and very friendly) village of Chalfont St. Giles we had an enjoyable picnic by the duck pond.
It is thought that the monument was built by Hugh Palliser in 1780-1, and sited so it was visible from his house, though not too close. It has been described as originally being simple, rugged and strong, without fuss or impediment. It was possibly intended to be seen in silhouette against a lonely sky. However, sometime in the late 19th century or early 20th century another floor was added with some stairs to gain access, giving views over the surrounding land. A yew hedge was planted and the water in the moat has long gone. The writing on the stone was probably intended to be read at waist height when standing on the mound outside the tower, looking through each arch in turn, moving round clockwise. The third side is obscured by the yew hedge and the fourth by the stairs. There would be much merit in removing them, and adding water back into the moat.
The society is extremely grateful to Geoffrey and Christopher for their efforts and generosity, along with that of the Chiltern Society, Chesham, Bucks. (www.ChilternSociety.org.uk), with which they are both heavily involved.
The memorial is on the land of the Vache and is much enjoyed by the owner’s family. Their endeavours to keep it maintained in good order are much appreciated by those of us fascinated by Captain Cook.
The form and method of construction
The Captain Cook memorial stone stands in the centre of a four-walled square tower. The stone has an inscription on all four sides, read through a wide semicircular arched portal in each wall of the tower. The tower stands on a man-made grass covered tump, surrounded by a shallow moat. When built in 1780, the moat excavated in clay and puddled with the clay, would have held water, representing the sea surrounding the great navigator, on an appropriate peak. It would also have prevented invasion and damage by cattle, without the visual intrusion of a hedge or fence.
The tower would be structurally unstable if its foundations were perched on the top of an artificial clay mound. The “invisible” foundations are supported below general ground level (probably) in clay with flints at about the level of the moat bottom.
Rough measurement and calculation shows that the volume of the moat is approximately equal to the volume of the mound, which was designed to mask the clumsy wide base walls of the tower, necessary for a low ground pressure. Calculations show that if the tower were founded on the top of the mound, the pressure on the ground would be one ton per square foot. Although the weight of the tower is much increased by the heavily stepped base walls, their greater width, and hence base area, reduces the pressure on the ground to half a ton per square foot. The heavy clay at this level would be adequate to support this pressure indefinitely, particularly if maintained at a constant moisture content by the water retained in the moat.
Without visual inspection from an excavation, this theory is proved correct by the total absence of settlement, which would be evinced by major cracks and deformity in the visible part of the tower.
Description of the visible parts
There is a flat roof four feet below the castellated parapet; this is a later addition, meanly timbered, covered with zinc sheet draining into a gutter inside the south parapet, and reached by open-riser softwood steps. The opening for these, through the flat roof, is sheltered by a flat-topped canopy level with the parapet capping bricks.
The parapet may have been rebuilt when the roof was constructed; the capping bricks are cement-mortared.
The walls are eighteen inches thick flint, all quoins and arches are brick, and there is a four-course brick string below the castellations.
The tower floor is two feet above the top of the mound, and is paved with large square limestone slabs.
The lime/sharp sand mortar which bonds all the flint and brick below the top string course is in very good condition and there is no serious deterioration.
Faults and method of repair
The tower is generally in a sound structural condition and will stand indefinitely, if it is not wilfully damaged by visitors and has regular minor maintenance.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 17, volume 28, number 4 (2005).
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