The Percy Tenantry Column stands on top of a small hill in a park that overlooks the west end of Bondgate Without, and Alnwick's now long disused railway terminus. The column was begun in 1816 and built to designs by David Stephenson of Newcastle.
The column towers above this part of Alnwick. The hilltop setting helps with its prominence, and the column itself is either 83ft high (according to English Heritage) or 75ft high (according to the Pevsner Guide to Northumberland). Both sources are normally authoritative. Everyone is in agreement, however, that the main part of the monument comprises a Greek Doric fluted column which rises to a platform carrying a balcony. Above this is a drum, on which is a standing lion, the symbol of the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland. At the foot of the column is a square pedestal, guarded by four white marble recumbent lions facing inwards towards the column. The whole thing stands on a circular granite platform 90ft in diameter, which is in turn surrounded by railings.
Three of the four sides of the pedestal carry inscribed panels, while the other has the barred doorway to the stairs. The thought of spiral stairs within a column this narrow is enough to bring out the vertigo in the best of us: though we suspect that the view over Alnwick from the top would be worth it.
The panel on the west face of the pedestal carries the inscription: "To Hugh, Duke of Northumberland, K.G. This column is erected, dedicated and inscribed, by a grateful and united tenantry, Anno Domini M,DCCCXVI". The story goes that during the Napoleonic wars, the price farmers on the estates owned by Hugh Percy, the 2nd Duke of Northumberland, could make for their produce increased significantly, and the Duke increased their rents accordingly. The end of the conflict in 1815 brought about a collapse in prices, and farmers incomes with it. In recognition of this, the Duke reduced his tenants' rents by 25%. In gratitude the tenants clubbed together and paid for this enormous monument.
The story continues that when the 3rd Duke inherited the estates in 1817 he concluded that the scale of the monument suggested the tenants were actually doing very well, and increased the rents. As a result the column is often called "The Farmers' Folly".