architecture, belvedere, Dovecote, eyecatcher, Folly, Ireland, landscape garden

The Wonderful Barn, near Leixlip, County Kildare, Ireland.

In January 1739 (1740 new style) Katherine Conolly sat in her Dublin town house writing to her sister. Although close by the fire she complained she was still freezing, and she despaired of the severe weather. She wrote of her efforts to feed the poor which included sending ‘4 score loves of breed every wick’ (spelling was not her strong point) to the labourers and needy on her country estate at Castletown.  A few years later she commissioned this superlative silo to conserve grain for times of need, although cannily it doubled as a fanciful eye-catcher from the house at Castletown.

architecture, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, Northumberland, sham church

Newminster Abbey, Morpeth, Northumberland

In 1138 Newminster Abbey was established close to the River Wansbeck on the edge of Morpeth, Northumberland. The first inhabitants were Cistercian monks from Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire, who remained until the abbey’s dissolution in 1537. By the 19th century little could be seen apart from scattered masonry and bumps in the ground. Early in the 20th century parts were rebuilt as a grand garden ornament and tourist attraction, with perhaps not quite the academic rigour one might expect today.

Arch, architecture, country house, eyecatcher, garden history, Ireland, landscape garden, Obelisk

Ireland of the Follies

In 1972 Mariga Guinness, or Mrs Desmond Guinness as she was known in more formal times, wrote an article on follies for Ireland of the Welcomes, a publication produced by the Irish Tourist Board to promote Ireland as a holiday destination. Launched in 1952, it is still published today and describes itself as ‘the largest and longest-running Irish interest magazine in the world’. Hermione Maria-Gabrielle von Urach (1932-1989), known as Mariga, married Desmond Guinness in 1954 and they moved to Ireland the following year. Mrs Guinness loved Ireland, and threw herself into preserving the architectural heritage – she and her husband co-founded the Irish Georgian Society in 1958. The couple first rented the Georgian mansion Carton House, and later bought Leixlip Castle, both home to garden ornaments, so Mrs Guinness was well-placed to write in praise of follies.

architecture, Clwyd, Folly, garden history, landscape, Obelisk, Sham fortification, Tower

The Obelisk, Bodysgallen Hall, Llandudno, Clwyd.

In February 1992 the North Wales Weekly News carried its usual list of planning applications. Among them was an announcement that Bodysgallen Hall Hotel wished to convert a barn and stable into accommodation, and to erect a new ‘leisure building, tower folly and obelisk’. No objections were received, and permission was granted by Aberconwy Council.

Bodysgallen Hall from the gardens.

In 1980 Bodysgallen Hall, former seat of the Mostyn and Wynn families, had become part of the small Historic House Hotels group, established by Richard Broyd. The house, gardens and estate buildings were restored, and Broyd wished to erect an obelisk as a ‘decorative asset to the landscape’. Plans were drawn up by his architect Eric Throssell, and both the stone and the stonemason, Henry Wilson, were local.

But as work got underway in autumn 1992 locals claimed that they hadn’t been properly informed of the plans, and a vociferous campaign was launched demanding that the Obelisk be demolished. There were genuine concerns, including that the planning officers had not realised that Ffrith Hill was a Site of Specific Scientific Interest.

Cowslips and orchid near the obelisk. Note the droplets and please applaud the Flâneuse for climbing up to the obelisk in wild wind and rain.

But among the odder complaints was the fact that the Obelisk ‘dominated the landscape’ – a strange criticism as obelisks are not usually shy and retiring types, and generally prefer to hog the limelight on an eminence. Even more bizarre was the opponent who suggested that placing the Obelisk near the edge of a former quarry encouraged men to ‘urinate over the cliff into the garden of a house 150 feet below’. Reporting this in the local paper, a journalist suggested that such a feat would merit entry in the Guinness Book of Records requiring as it did a ‘jet of some 25 feet’.

Meanwhile Richard Broyd was adamant that the correct procedures had been followed and he was prepared to fight, telling the Daily Telegraph that ‘he who builds an obelisk has to defend it’.

A view from the obelisk. Unfortunately it was very dull day, enlivened only by the golden glow of the cowslips.

In brief, the council began to get cold feet after the anti-obelisk campaigners made a complaint of maladministration, claiming the council should never have granted planning permission. Despite a barrister assuring the councillors that their decision was robust, and that Mr Broyd had followed the correct procedures, the Planning Committee voted to demolish the Obelisk. The matter then went to the full council and the proposal was defeated by just one vote. On 16 September 1993 the local paper ran the story under the succinct headline of ‘Obelisk is staying’.

There had been support for the Obelisk too, and some who had been concerned later admitted admiration for the completed structure, which stands 19.5 metres high. But some resentment remained, and there are locals who will tell you dark tales of a plot to blow the obelisk to pieces. Even now, some 30 years on, the structure seems destined never to be mentioned as anything but thecontroversial obelisk’.

The miniature obelisk produced as a souvenir by the hotel when the obelisk was first constructed. Normally an ornament to the desk of the Flâneuse, it enjoyed a brief foray into the sunshine for this photo opportunity.

The Folly Flâneuse took the Uncouth Companion to Bodysgallen Hall as a birthday treat soon after the obelisk was completed (he having long since learned that such jaunts had one, or more, ulterior motives) and walked up to the Obelisk. The photo’s from that pre-digital age have long since faded away, but this little model of the Obelisk, bought at the hotel, sits in the study as a memento of the trip. And of course a return visit was required in order to snap the shots needed for this post.

The Gothic Tower, built of pink rubble sandstone, seen from the woodland walk.

In all of the fuss about the Obelisk the little Gothic Tower, designed in the same period, has been overlooked. A sham ruin sits on raised ground in the woodland, and a climb up to the rooftop viewing platform reveals why this site was chosen. There’s lovely vista to the obelisk  – the only spot in the gardens from where it can be seen.

View from the top of the Gothic Tower to the Obelisk.

Richard Broyd had always intended that his hotel group would pass to the National Trust, and for all profits to benefit the charity. The three properties (the others being Middlethorpe Hall near York and Hartwell House near Aylesbury) were handed over in 2008.

Looking up to the Obelisk from the grounds of Pabo Bach.

Pabo Bach, once home to one of the most vocal objectors to the obelisk, is now a holiday cottage where you can enjoy dramatic views of the former quarry with the obelisk perched on the precipice.

A distant view of the obelisk from the marina at Conwy.

The Obelisk can be seen from the A55 and the Royal Welsh Way leading into Llandudno, as well as from across the estuary in Conwy, and there is public access. The Gothic Tower may only be seen by guests at Bodysgallen Hall Hotel.

For Bodysgallen Hall and the other Historic House Hotels see https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays/hotels/historic-house-hotels

For Pabo Bach see https://www.holidaycottages.co.uk/cottage/93622-pabo-bach

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Arch, architecture, aviary, Derbyshire, eyecatcher, Folly, landscape garden, Temple

Rex Whistler and Renishaw, Derbyshire: panoramas and papier-mâché.

Eighty years ago this month Sir Osbert Sitwell and his good friend Rex Whistler were discussing how materials such as papier-mâché, much used in theatrical set construction, could be used in the ‘arts of landscaping and garden design’. Once the war was over they planned to erect a dramatic eye-catcher at Sir Osbert’s Renishaw home. But two months after their meeting came tragic news: in July 1944 Whistler was killed in action in France.

architecture, bath house, Bristol, Folly, garden history, Gwynedd, Summerhouse

The Bristol Colonnade, Portmeirion, Gwynedd

When Barbara Jones published Follies and Grottoes in 1953, she made no mention of the coastal village that architect Clough Williams-Ellis had been creating at Portmeirion since 1925. Reviewing the book for the Times Literary Supplement, Laurence Whistler thought this was a ‘curious’ omission as he believed the whole conception could be described as folly.

architecture, garden history, Monument, Obelisk, public park, Worcestershire

Earl of Plymouth Monument, Bromsgrove Lickey, Worcestershire

In 1833 Other Archer Windsor, 6th Earl of Plymouth, died. Almost immediately there were calls to erect a monument in his honour, and a public subscription was raised. With funds in place, the foundation stone was laid in May 1834. The chosen site was on Bromsgrove Lickey, a prominent eminence which would ensure that the obelisk would be an ornament to the landscape and visible from miles around.

Arch, architecture, Cleveland, country house, Dovecote, garden history, landscape, landscape garden, North Yorkshire, Temple

The Pigeon Cote, Kirkleatham, North Yorkshire

In 1934 a local paper published a ‘Cleveland Ramble’ featuring a walk around Kirkleatham village. The author looked across the park to the ‘elaborate castellated pigeon-cote’ which was described as a ‘startling example’ of the extravagant ‘pseudo Gothic craze’ of the later 18th century. Only a couple of decades after this account was published the castellations were gone, and the pigeon cote was cracked and crumbling, and soon to disappear.