A smidge over 200 years ago, a tall tower was built in the middle of what was once a very secure military-industrial site, but is today a nature reserve, and you can climb to the top of the tower for the views.

This is the incorrectly named Shot Tower, which is now thought to have been possibly a large windmill.

That it was thought to be a shot tower is quite understandable, as it sits in the middle of what was the Hounslow Gunpowder Mills, where military armaments were made, probably from the time of King Henry VIII up to 1926 when it finally closed down. Its heyday, though, was in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the exceptionally dangerous task of making and mixing gunpower saw the site massively enlarged.

It was incredibly dangerous, with many explosions when things went wrong, and a lot of people were killed by the explosions, which were at times, heard miles away.

If the tower were a shot tower, then it would have been used to create lead shot for use in muskets. In the days before bullets were, well, bullet shaped, muskets fired a small round lead shots, and the easiest way to make them was to let droplets of molten lead fall from a great height. As they fall, the air friction causes the droplets to roll around to form a sphere, which is locked into shape when they hit a vat of cold water at the bottom.

Hence a shot tower in a munitions factory.

However, these days, more research suggests this was, in fact, a windmill that was used to power grindstones and a water mill. A clue that the tower was a windmill is next to it — two mill stones, which a sign says were used to incorporate the ingredients to make gunpowder.

Candidly, a shot tower sounds more interesting than a windmill.

However, it was closed down a long time ago, and while most of the munitions factory site were turned into housing, a length of land was preserved. Today the former gunpowder mills site is better known as Crane Park and is open as a public park and nature reserve to wander through. Depending on the weather, you can either stick to the paved path, or detour off into the woods, but on my visit, the wooded paths were a muddy quagmire, so not really viable.

After a while, the shot tower looms into view, with a coffee stall next to it. If you arrive at the weekends, the door will be open to let you inside.

The ground floor doubles up as a small exhibition space, and the public toilets, which is a useful reuse of the tower.

However, what you really want are the stairs that spiral around the tower, taking you up floor after floor of rooms to get to the top.

One floor is now the local office, two floors are school rooms, and one is a gallery, and finally, the penultimate floor, an exhibition space telling you a lot more about the tower and the local history. And you’re still not at the top, so up another set of stairs to a narrow walkway with some small windows to peer out of.

Candidly, the view isn’t that exciting, a view on one side of the park, and on the other, if you peer through the morning condensation, you can just about make out the planes coming into land at Heathrow Airport.

Although they recommend visiting from April to October, as the top of the tower now reaches the same height as the trees, winter visits can let you see a bit further than if you visit when the trees are back in their leafy splendour.

As with most tower climbs, it’s almost as much a reward to have climbed to the top as it is to see the view. However, this tower is also a lot easier to climb thanks to wide metal-clad stairs and a handrail. If you’ve tried a church tower climb, this is really easy by comparison.

The Shot Tower is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 5pm and is free to visit.

Crane Park is a lengthy park that snakes through the local housing, and I found the easiest route to the Shot Tower was a short 15-minute walk from Whitton Station, and then it’s about another 10-minute walk through Crane Park to the tower.

In theory, you can follow the river Crane all the way up to Heathrow Airport, but maybe that’s for a day when the paths look less like you’d end up swimming in mud.


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  1. daveid76 says:

    The display boards inside all state it is a shot tower and it fully resembles one, its height the better for the long drop required to form the shot pellets. If it’s a windmill (and it’s the wrong shape for one) then why is there no info inside about that possibility?

    • ianVisits says:

      The Historic England listing says it’s likely a grinding mill, and that decision would likely be after the exhibition boards were printed 20 years ago.

  2. daveid76 says:

    OK, thanks.

  3. Mrs. Elizabeth Grove says:

    I was most interested to read this article, as I lived in Ellerman Avenue, Whitton from 1949 till 1960, which runs along much of the length of Crane Park. It was easily accessible to me as I lived across the road from the middle entrance. It was a wonderful place to explore as a child. I must return to see the tower again!

  4. Thom says:

    It’s genuinely interesting to read this- as daveid76 says above, the display boards do say it’s a shot tower (they certainly did when I visited in 2019, I wondered if they’d been updated since but it sounds as if they haven’t?), but clearly more recent research has suggested otherwise. A good reminder that even information at heritage sites and museums can be out of date!

  5. Reaper says:

    Shot towers had a series of landings at different heights to produce different size shot. The one of Tyneside at a former leadworks had doors at different heights to allow the molten lead to be brought up to the required platform height. I am unable to see signs of any such access in the photos but they may be on the other side. Also the Tyneside one was shaped more like a chimney rather than flared as this one appears to be. On balance I am sorry to say that it looks more like a mill than a shot tower but am happy to be proved wrong.

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