architecture, Folly, Monument, North Yorkshire, Temple

Barbara Jones and the trials and triumphs of folly-spotting

Barbara Jones's sketch of a detail from the Skipton Castle grotto, executed in 1949 and published in the first edition of Follies & Grottoes in 1953.

Last week’s brief post on the sham Druid’s Temple, near Masham, was something of a preamble to The Folly Flâneuse sharing this wonderful letter written by Barbara Jones in 1949. Jones is, of course, the doyenne of folly-spotters, and in this missive she shares the ups and downs of researching for the first edition of Follies & Grottoes. It is a delight to read: camping at the Druid’s Temple, finding Hackfall, and best of all a run-in with the formidable Captain Fordyce, Agent to Lord Hothfield at Skipton Castle. Here’s the unadulterated letter in full:

The Follyhenge. Sunday a.m.
Dearest Tom
Yesterday was one of those days that happen to somebody else, not us. So much work on such follies never never before. I got up at six, rewrote article for Ambassador and made a fair copy (later in the day, it was actually registered and posted). Down to breakfast at 7.30: we were just out of Pateley Bridge SETTLE, last flop folly of a day of follies not only flop but WET, and were in a C.T.C. B&B, dirty beds, nothing to eat but bread & butter, gloomy sitting room to write in, all pure hell but 7/6 supper b&b — cheapest yet! Breakfast was more heavy starch food but we made a magnificent start to Skipton, straight into the risen sun, all gold and dew and long shadows of geese in the meadows. Skipton was PO, that touch of acidity that a good day needs: The wonderful Scaife follies resolved themselves into one shell room in the castle gate. Not open till 10.30. Draw? Without permission from Captain Fordyce? So I swep [sic] up to the Estate Office, which is cunningly arranged at the top of a vast spiral of medieval stairs so that one enters the prescence [sic] breathless. Oh, he is only the Agent, not God. I send in a card — impossible to see him, impossible to send a message, perhaps if I write permission might be given for a week hence. He is busy, he isn’t here, he’s going to a wedding. I leave card with request and Constables letter shall return in half an hour. Last thought — can I phone the actual owner. Enormous po. Back in half an hour, all smiles, JesusC has said YES, on condition that Lordie is sent a complimentary copy through the office. TOP PO from me. J.C has really left by now and cannot withdraw permission, so we go to the Shell House made by Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke. I only knew about her very nice ‘Arcadia’ — she built Yorkshire too. The shell house is charming, tiny and rough but  EARYL EARLY, dear, EARLY. A rough little female figure with a head like a football with cats’ ears is known as ‘Father Neptune’. Made drawing locked ourselves in, took long exposures with Syb. and away into the town. Coffee, pies for lunch, and a new racket — you take 3lbs of sugar to a stall and he sells you toffee (delicious) and fudge (smashing) for 1 11d a lb and the sugar, pound for pound. Toffee is controlled at 2 4d lb & they knock off the 5d you paid the grocer. Exit from Skipton, eating pies and giving Captain Fordyce a last loving Shugborough:

“Captain Fordyce descending on a cloud to bless the people”

On thro’ superb moorland country to the hills above Pateley Bridge, where is the easiest & loveliest of hilltop follies — Yorke’s. You suddenly see across the bracken and heather 2 great shafts of stone, the remains of a folly of arches; a pleasant walk across the hilltop from the road and there it is. Photos & on. Awful recce by me with lipstick rubbed of [sic] from Congregational Minister, an old poppet but hopeless. Further try in P.B. Hopeless too. (While I am writing this, Bill is Syb Sibylling our 4th new & utterly unrecorded folly in 2 sq miles — one at every bend of the road. Culture-carrier — I am looking for a tall white-haired man in every bush. Little red open Austin goes by — everyone waves paws.)

Days and days later — forcing the pace. You are getting a most inadequate number of cards, & never never this pretty letter. Today I shall post it whatever. To revert to Good Saturday. Hackfall woods — a Tom Pot — was the next; by some miracle we gave ourselves times to decipher the hand of the master and didn’t cut it out — you arrive in the indicated village — Grewelthorpe, we think — and ask for the H. woods. “Why, there they are.” At last we realise that “there” is a gate into a field. Very dim. After 3 fields a little wood begins to straggle. Suddenly there is a lovely gothic stone folly and behind it, with no warning, the woods — great gorges packed with trees, no paths, and five more follies. We went down 60° screes covered with scrub and marsh underneath, & little flowers and ferns six feet high, and burdock three feet across and old man willowherb seven feet high and Kew fern house smell and everything. Really key. Supper brewed at sunset inside last folly.

Then Bill got the bit absolutely between his teeth & bashed on to Masham in the dale — lovely village built round a huge planted square — pub recce, and then he says he knows where Stonehenge is. We bash up dark lanes and he says “In that copse”. We cross moonlit stubble fields and enter a sold black wall of conifers. Hand in terrified hand we creep tho’, owls with daggers in their belts in every tree.

At last even Bill has had enough; it isn’t here. More recce and more recce and at last a cottage with a light on in the moors. 11pm. I knock & say “I’m sorry to disturb you so late — would you please tell me where the Druids’ Circle is” Why, yes, explicit directions & never a hair turned. Up the English. We go along a rising lane, leave the car, take to the open moor seeing here & there a tall stone and finally by a pine wood, flanked by monoliths, lies the stone circle, in full moonlight on the moors. Bill has been brewing up this one secretly all day. All effort, all gloomy Grisels are justified. It is smashing. We are so impressed that we rush back to the car for the things and living in the circle on gorgeous turf like a feather bed. Wake in the morning to watch the sun rise over the circle — all in the wrong place, bless them, and have breakfast on the sacrificial stone.

Camping at the Druid’s Temple. As Jones wrote in ‘Follies & Grottoes’: ‘Two journeys over the silent moor to the car, and there was the white tent set up in the circle on the turf’. Photo by Barbara Jones or Bill Howell. Courtesy of Gwyn Headley.

And that’s where this letter began. The other little bit was written later. I’m in Stamford now, hotel bedroom, C&N are living somewhere in the night. Today we do Exton, which we saw yesterday evening — bark architecture, full of black nails; the ultimate architecture of blood and pain, the most neurotic and awful folly yet. Its so terrifying we can’t bear to touch the bark. I saw it years ago & never forgot it; so did Harry Bentinck — which explains his letter! Wait till you SEE it. Coo. We shall be back in London on Sunday evening. Could pick up a card Wednesday at IPSWICH. Im so upset about 4 months plaster, Tom — will you read all the Folly literature for me?                                    Much love Barbara


The letter is addressed to Tom Ingram (1924-2007) a writer friend who accompanied Jones, and Bill Howell (1922-1974), architect, on the first of her 1949 first folly-spotting forays after she was commissioned to write Follies & Grottoes by the publishers Constable. As the letter was found in Barbara Jones’s papers it is unlikely it ever reached him, and he must have made do with the postcards. After a couple of trips the trio had been involved in a car crash in the Midlands, leaving Ingram with a badly-damaged arm, so Jones and Howell made the northern excursion whilst he recuperated. Ingram was usually the photographer and his expertise was clearly missed – note the finger over the lens in the photo’ above.

As Jones wrote of the thrill of a night at the temple in the published book: ‘Does the Englishman exist who never to himself has sworn to see Stonehenge just once at dawn? It occurred to us that here was a nobler opportunity, to see the sun rise, not over that common circle in Wiltshire where charabanc parties stand bewildered under a sky of solid cloud, but over a private Stonehenge, in perfect weather, in peace.’

Notes: Sibyl is a camera made by Newman and Guardia, CTC is the Cyclist’s Touring Club. Some in-jokes remain unexplained.

HUGE thanks to Gwyn Headley, co-author of Follies, Grottoes & Garden Buildings (of which more soonfor sharing this letter from his private collection.

The current owner promises a much warmer welcome at Skipton Castle, and the grotto is a delight

To visit the Druid’s Temple

If you missed the previous post on the Druid’s Temple scroll down.

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3 thoughts on “Barbara Jones and the trials and triumphs of folly-spotting”

  1. David says:

    What a wonderful letter! Thank you Gwyn for lending it and than you Karen for posting.

  2. A.P. Nuijten says:

    I visited the Druid’s Temple ca, 40 years ago, when I was in Yorkshire with Wim Meulenkamp (co- author of Follies, A National Trust Guide) to do some research on Hackfall for my doctoral thesis (unpublished). Recently I wrote an article on replica’s of Druid architecture. You can find that on the website
    The Folly Flaneuse is a great website!

    1. Editor says:

      Thank you for sharing your memories and for your kind comments. I’ve looked at your article and could follow most of it, although The Folly Flâneuse is not fluent in Dutch!

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