Driving west along the A4? Spare a thought for Cherhill's Column - & help make a fuss about its state of repair
The Lansdowne Monument - also known as the Cherhill Column - that sits on the crest of Cherhill Down not far from the Cherhill White Horse, is suffering from lack of attention from its owners and damage from the weather beating against its very exposed position.
But it has a champion in the person of Deb Bassett and she will be in Marlborough on Friday (June 1) collecting signatures for her 'Make a fuss campaign'.
The Trust bought the monument and the large Iron Age fort (known as Oldbury Castle) that surrounds it. In 1988 they restored it. It was restored again in 1990, but by 2009 bits were falling off and the Trust put scaffolding and shuttering around the plinth steps to protect people. Nothing has happened to the column since then.
The 123 foot high column was designed by Sir Charles Barry (architect of the present Houses of Parliament - also, as it happens, in need of urgent restoration.) It was commissioned by the Third Marquis of Lansdowne in memory of his forebear Sir William Petty - the seventeenth century philosopher, economist, tax expert, scientist, founder member of the Royal Society and briefly an MP, who served Oliver Cromwell in Ireland and later served Charles II. And became very rich.
The monument was built in 1845 on the boundary of the Lansdowne family's Bowood Estate and it remains a "You simply can't miss it" landmark for all who travel along the A4.
It can be seen from thirty miles away. The new tourism campaign to make the A4 into the 'Great West Way' as a premier tour route marketed around the world, may yet become the column's saviour.
It has been a frustrating few years for Deb Bassett: "We want to help the National Trust." But the National Trust would not engage with her attempts to get the restoration underway and would not let her raise funds to help pay for the work. The Trust's notices round the foot of the monument do carry apologies for the shuttering and protective nets and also notes about what stone the restoration will need.
After several fruitless attempts to stir the National Trust into action, Deb got the help of the current Lord Lansdowne who wrote to the papers. Then on March 1 this year she started a 38 Degrees petition.
This petition has 2,391 online signatures to which she can add the 2,500-plus 'manual' signatures she has collected...and hopes to add more this week in Marlborough. And on July 28 she plans to have a stall at the Calne Bike Meet to catch as many signatures as possible from the 10,000 visitors that come to the towns
Her petition has got some reaction from the National Trust. They have finally completed a survey of the structure - which they will not share with anyone else. Local National Trust manager Jan Tomlin recently told Bob Murphy of ITV West that they need to make sure the right repairs are made and not simply the fastest. Though 'fastest' and nearly ten years of being boarded up does not quite add up.
Deb Bassett works in Marlborough and has lived in Calne for 25 years: "We've had very good support from Calne Town Council" - from last year's Mayor Councillor Tony Trotman and from David Dillamore of the 'Calne Our Place' group, who also sits on the Great West Way committee.
Now Calne's new Mayor, Councillor Glenis Ansell is making restoration of the column one of her projects for her year as Mayor.
Deb is now galvanising support from Devizes and Marlborough with her Cherhill's Historic Ancient Monument Protectors - or CHAMPS - campaign. She wants a triangle of support using the three towns that have, from somewhere in their area boundaries, a view of the monument.
She does realise that there are difficulties for the National Trust - the site generates no income for them as there is no car park and entry charges. And the renovation may cost up to £1.5 million.
At the most recent Marlborough Town Council meeting, Councillor Don Heath put the campaign forward as worthy of support - and will represent the town on the new campaign group.
Sir William Petty is still remembered by economists - especially for his introduction of the economic laissez faire approach to government. It would be a terrible irony if the column's current owners let Petty's column crumble through some sort of laissez faire approach to its restoration.
There is also an important deadline for the restoration to be completed - 2020 will be the column's 175th anniversary.
If you don't meet Deb Bassett in town on Friday, you can sign her petition here.