Penshaw Monument – Houghton le Spring, England - Atlas Obscura

Penshaw Monument

Houghton le Spring, England

The nearly 200-year-old folly has a secret spiral staircase hidden in one of its pillars. 


Penshaw Monument (which is rarely called by its official name, The Earl of Durham’s Monument) contains a secret spiral staircase in one of its pillars. Climbing the walkway leads to impressive views from atop the 70-foot-tall folly, which was built in 1844.

The staircase was closed after a 15-year-old boy fell to his death in the 1920s. It remained shuttered for nine decades, though vandals did break the lock in the mid-1960s, leading to a brief period of unrestricted access. The National Trust, which now maintains the monument, reopened the staircase in 2011 to visitors, though it can only be used on designated open days (on those days, there is a £5 fee just to climb the stairs).

Penshaw Monument is a replica of a Greek temple. It stands 446 feet above sea level on Penshaw Hill and is a welcome landmark to all residents of Sunderland traveling homeward from the south. The replica of the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens was built in memory of John George Lambton, the 1st Earl of Durham. The folly is one of the United Kingdom’s best preserved models of a Doric Hexastyle temple.

Know Before You Go

Park at Herrington Country Park (just over the A183, Chester Road) and walk up the hill. Access is free although booking and a charge applies to access the upper walkways (see National Trust website for information).

It's a bit of a hike up the hill to get to the monument, but totally worth it. Also, many people bring their dogs with them. Afterwards, there is a lovely park across the street and a delicious ice cream vendor who sells "monkey blood" ice cream cones! Yum!!

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