Image courtesy of Martin Smith
Jezreel’s Tower, near the top of Chatham Hill in the south-east corner of Kent, UK, was the largest religious building ever to have been built in Britain. Sometimes known as Jezreel’s Folly, it was designed by James Jershom Jezreel, formerly James White. It was to be the headquarters of his sect and a sanctuary from the Last Judgment.
James White enlisted in the British Army in 1875 and was based in Chatham, where he soon became interested in the teaching of Joanna Southcott, a seer and prophet. She wrote prophecies in rhyme and announced that she was the woman spoken of in Revelation 12: 1-6
v.1: And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
Her most startling claim was that she was to give birth to the new Messiah, Shiloh.
White joined a Southcottian sect of Christian Israelites and soon took over the leadership. He wrote ‘The Flying Roll’, a message to the scattered tribes of Israel, a favoured 144,000 of whom would achieve true immortality.
In 1881 White was discharged from the army and began to expand his following, finding sympathisers in the USA and Australia as well as locally. He established several businesses including a print firm, a bakery and a grocery store and invested the profits from these and money that had been donated. By the end of 1884, Jezreel decided that work could start on his Sanctuary.
Architect's drawing - provenance unknown
It was to be constructed of steel and concrete with yellow brick walls and eight castellated towers. He had wished to build a perfect cube but was persuaded that such a design would be technically difficult and prohibitively expensive. The walls were to be decorated with symbols of Jezreel’s sect, featuring the Flying Roll, the Trumpet (he considered himself to be the Sixth Trumpeter to sound the alarm, following Richard Brothers, Joanna Southcott, George Turner, William Shaw and John Wroe), the Crossed Swords of the Spirit and Prince of Wales feathers to signify the Holy Trinity.
Building began in 1886 and was proceeding well when Jezreel died, quite unexpectedly. His wife, who styled herself Queen Esther, took over the project and by 1887 the exterior of the tower was complete apart from the roof. The ground floor was finished and furnished with steam printing presses that were producing the sect’s publications. On the first floor many steel girders were in place ready to construct the hall, which was intended to hold 5,000, balconies, hydraulic choirs and a revolving platform for the preacher.
The money ran out in March 1888 and work ceased. Jezreel’s huge tower lay surrounded by scaffolding, roofless and open to the elements. Queen Esther died in June of 1888 and without her leadership the sect split and eventually lost ownership of the tower. In 1905 demolition was begun but the building was so strongly constructed that it proved impossible to destroy. It remained as a monument to man’s folly and vanity for more than fifty years but eventually, following the local council’s refusal to adopt it as an historical relic, it was scheduled for demolition in 1960.The job was expected to take three months but took thirteen – the tower built to last was finally reduced to rubble and the landmark beloved of many and seen from as far away as fifteen miles was gone.
All that remains now is a bus stop called Jezreel. When I used to catch the bus from school there was sometimes talk of the curse of Jezreel’s. It was said that those called to work on the demolition would suffer injury or death. Indeed, one company was put out of business and one demolition worker was killed. Strangely, I can’t remember ever seeing the Tower, but I suppose I must have done so. Barry recalls it quite clearly.
Thanks go to Denise Nesbitt and her Jolly, Jovial team members who organise and host this weekly meme. To see more Js please click here.