Cumbria, Folly, London, Summer House

John Ruskin and Folly

Born 200 years ago this month, on 8 February 1819, John Ruskin was a polymath; an artist, writer and critic who believed that culture should be available to all, not just the elite. As a new exhibition in London beautifully illustrates, Ruskin had strong opinions on most subjects. As he thought the architecture of Palladio ‘virtueless and despicable’, and the Houses of Parliament ‘effeminate and effortless’, we can probably assume that garden ornaments such as classical temples and gothic towers would not be his ‘thing’.

Folly, South Yorkshire, Tower

Lady’s Folly, Tankersley, South Yorkshire

Postcard, early 20th century, courtesy of a private collection.

A 1770s map of the Wentworth Woodhouse estate marks a building called ‘The Marchioness’s Summer House’. The noble lady in question was Mary Bright, wife of the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, twice Prime Minister of Great Britain. The summer house was situated on high ground in Tankersley Park which was home to a large herd of red deer.

Dovecote, Folly, Grotto, Menagerie, Tower, West Yorkshire

Shaw Park Sham Castle, Halifax, West Yorkshire

In the 18th century the Shaw family of textile merchants operated out of the magnificent Piece Hall in Halifax (recently restored and very well worth a visit) https://www.thepiecehall.co.uk.  By the end of the century a new mill had been established at Holywell Green near Stainland, outside Halifax. It was greatly extended in the second half of the 19th century by Samuel Shaw, who also built a new family home nearby, which he called Brooklands. The house was almost ready for occupation in the autumn of 1868 and the grounds were being laid out at the same date. The landscaping included a pond with fountain and a series of 3 curious towers linked by a wall. The Halifax Courier described the scene in 1877, noting that the three towers gave ‘the impression that a castle of somewhat imposing dimensions’  overshadowed the grounds.

Bath and North East Somerset, Folly, Monument, Tower

Ralph Allen’s Sham Castle and Monument, Bath, Bath and North East Somerset

Ralph Allen's Sham Castle by David Gentleman. Lithograph from the Curwen Press 1975. Private collection. Image courtesy of www.goldmarkart.com

Ralph Allen of Bath, is well-known for his elegant Prior Park house and gardens and for the magnificent gothic sham castle, one of Britain’s finest follies, which he had erected on the skyline above the city in 1762. The sham castle and Prior Park remain popular attractions in Bath, but a quirky tower erected in Allen’s memory is sadly lost. 

Folly, North Yorkshire, Summer House

Bowling Green House, Hornby Castle, near Bedale, North Yorkshire

All photo's December 2014

By the early 18th century Hornby Castle was a seat of the D’arcy family, earls of Holderness. Robert D’arcy, the 4th earl, began to improve the estate from around 1750 with John Carr of York remodelling the castle and associated buildings, including three eye-catcher farmhouses to be viewed from the castle and the network of rides around the estate. Capability Brown was paid for his services in 1768 and although it’s not known exactly what he proposed, as no plan survives, the series of lakes in a very Brownian style were constructed over the next decade.

Folly, Monument, Scotland, Temple, Tower

The National Monument, or “Edinburgh’s Disgrace”, Edinburgh

The National Monument in summer

In 1822 work began in Edinburgh to construct a National Monument to commemorate the men of Scotland who had lost their lives during the long years of war with France. Calton Hill had been purchased for the people by Edinburgh’s Town Council in 1724, making it an early example of a public park in Britain, and the elevated site was chosen for the new monument. After considering various forms the city decided to erect a replica of the Parthenon, giving Edinburgh its very own Acropolis.  Charles Robert Cockerell was asked to design the building, with the Scotsman William Henry Playfair as executant architect in Scotland.

Folly, Kent, Temple

Season’s Greetings

The Temple, Cobham Hall, Kent. Photo courtesy of The Folly Flâneuse's good friend The Garden Historian.

Taking it easy as Christmas approaches, the Folly Flâneuse was flicking through a copy of The Home Owner magazine from December 1937. She was delighted to discover one writer’s thoughts on follies at that date. Follies were, he wrote :

‘the natural off-spring of the union of too much money with too little brain…set up ostensibly to improve the view, but really to advertise some wealthy nit-wit’

On that note a very merry Christmas and there will be more nit-wits and their creations in 2019.

Folly, Temple, West Yorkshire

Thornes Park, Wakefield, West Yorkshire: some peripatetic fragments

The Secret Garden in Wakefield’s Thornes Park features these architectural fragments which have popped up at various locations across the Wakefield district. The pinnacle is a bit of a mystery, but is believed to have been salvaged during a restoration of Wakefield Cathedral. The columns were originally part of the Wakefield Market Cross which was demolished, against the wishes of the people of Wakefield, in 1866 as part of the corporation’s ‘public improvements’. The furious scenes at the public auction of the cross in September 1866 made the papers across Britain. It was bought by a no-nonsense Mr Armitage who said  ‘It will do very well for my garden’.

Folly, North Yorkshire, Tower

Octagon Tower, Malham, North Yorkshire: Spot the folly.

Thomas Lister (1752-1826) of Gisburne Park, in the West Riding of Yorkshire (but now Lancashire), inherited the Malham shooting lodge from his father in 1761. The centrepiece of its surrounding estate was Malham Tarn, a natural lake said to be the largest in Yorkshire. The water had been criticised by travellers in search of the picturesque: ‘The Tarn has nothing beautiful in its shape or borders, being bare of trees, and everything else to ornament it’, wrote William Bray in a work published in 1783. Although surrounded by crags the rocks were deemed too distant from the waters edge, and the tarn tame, especially in comparison with the sublime limestone masses of Malham Cove and Gordale scar, just a short ride away, which tourists saw on the same day.