Barbara Jones, the first person to write a comprehensive account of follies in Britain, saw this building and was underwhelmed. In the 1953 first edition of Follies & Grottoes she described it as ‘gutted’ and full of pigeon’s nests, and concluded that ‘no amount of bird life can divest this folly of its ordinariness’. If only she had seen it in its prime; a sketch by the itinerant artist and drawing master J.C. Nattes dated 1807 shows an enchanting little building.
Bambro’ Castle, as it was called, was named in honour of the Bamburgh family, former owners of Howsham. It is not recorded if the builder, Nathaniel Cholmley, was consciously allying his diminutive structure with the somewhat grander Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland coast. It was probably constructed in the second half of the 18th century, and the gothic detail is similar to that on the nearby Howsham Mill http://www.howshammill.org.uk which is attributed to John Carr of York.
The folly served a dual purpose. By day, it was a summer-house for refreshments when riding through the ornamental woodland on the Howsham estate. Furnished with an octagonal mahogany dining table and all the paraphernalia for serving tea and cake it must have been an idyllic retreat. As night fell it became an observatory and housed a ‘very large Tellescope’.
Jones was one of the last to record the building. Soon after it deteriorated further and was eventually demolished as the ornamental woodland gave way to commercial forestry. Visitors in the 1980s were sad to find it gone.
Surely Barbara Jones was let down by her memory? The two photos above are from from her own files (generously shared from a private collection). How could she describe this folly as ordinary?