Durham Obelisk – Durham, England - Atlas Obscura

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Durham Obelisk

An abandoned tower once used to study the cosmos hides within a thicket of greenery. 


Hidden amid tangles of greenery, this abandoned obelisk peeks through the shrubbery, giving those who know to look for it a glimpse of the local university’s past astronomical interests.

Built in 1850 by local Durham philanthropist William Lloyd Wharton, the obelisk stands at 90 feet tall. Yet surprisingly, the sandstone tower is visible from only a few vantage points, being relatively hidden and unknown to most residents.

It was supposedly built to provide work for Durham locals during a recession and as a gift to the newly founded Durham University, even though it was erected about a mile away from the campus observatory. Nonetheless, the university lit it up as a beacon to determine due north during its studies of astronomy.

But sadly for the towering structure, the university observatory switched from making astronomical observations to being a purely meteorological station. This rendered the obelisk obsolete, ending its tenure as a tool to study the cosmos.

A stairway to the top of the neglected obelisk still exists deep inside the tower, though its entrance was walled up about 10 years ago. The obelisk itself is situated in a small wood and can only be seen poking out of the trees in summer or glimpsed ghost-like through the trees on a winter’s day.

Know Before You Go

The obelisk is on private land, but can be seen by just walking five minutes from the train station. It is visible from the nearby Wharton Park, or can be seen from atop Durham Cathedral.

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