On high ground above Creech Grange, near Wareham in Dorset, stands a battlemented and pinnacled arch which looks like the entrance to an estate. But no road passes through it, and the structure exists simply to catch the eye and ornament the landscape.
The arch was built by Denis Bond (1676-1747) to terminate a vista from his Creech Grange home. From the arch he could look back to his mansion, and in the other direction was a view out to sea. It was designed by Francis Cartwright, and his original design, dated 1740, is in the collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
In the mid-20th century the arch was a popular subject for artists. Edwin Smith, best known as a photographer, made an engraving of the folly, and John Piper’s photographs of the folly are in the collection at Tate, as are a number of photo’s by Paul Nash.
Nash (1899-1946) had spent holidays in Dorset as a child and had lived in Swanage in the early 1930s, including the period when he researched and wrote the Dorset volume of the Shell Guides, published in 1936. In September 1937 his hosts were the Barnards of Furzebrook House, and they drove him to see Creech Arch. He was fascinated by the ‘utterly mad gateway’ and took lots of photographs with a camera his wife had bought him (his ‘new toy’ John Piper called it). He also painted a wonderful watercolour, Folly Landscape, which featured in his solo show at London’s Leicester Galleries in 1938. It was originally owned by Nash’s fellow artist (and briefly student of his brother John) Enid Marx, and is now in the collection of Bristol Art Gallery.
Writing about the watercolour in Country Life that year, Nash described the arch as a ‘true folly in that it emphasises, in every feature, its absolute uselessness’. Nash loved the lonely setting of the tower, and its ‘wild privacy’, and told his wife Margaret that he had ‘stalked’ the folly whilst trying to capture it on film and on paper.
At this time Nash was on the look out for a folly to paint. He had been commissioned by Shell to paint one for the Visit Britain’s Landmarks series of advertising posters which were displayed on the company’s trucks delivering petrol across the country. Nash admired the ingenuity of the Shell campaigns: ‘their customers being a motoring population, the […] display of posters is confined to lorries’. But despite his interest in the Creech Arch, he decided to depict nearby Clavell’s Tower at Kimmeridge, leaving the arch to ‘Advertising Artist’ John S. Anderson, about whom little is known.
The folly is now in the care of the National Trust and continues to catch the eye and enliven the landscape.
Thank you for reading. As ever, your thoughts are very welcome: please scroll down to the foot of the page to comment.
APOLOGIES to regular readers that your email alert failed to arrive last week, but you received a double post this week (you may need to click on both titles in your email). Hopefully the technical glitch is now resolved and normal service will be resumed next week.