architecture, belvedere, eyecatcher, Folly, landscape, Observatory, South Yorkshire

Burton Summer House, Monk Bretton, South Yorkshire

Image courtesy of Barnsley Archives & Local Studies

In the early 19th century the Reverend William Wordsworth (1783-1869) built an observatory on high land near the village of Monk Bretton. The lofty landmark was demolished in the mid-20th century, and is known today only from a few photographs.

Wordsworth (a distant relative of his namesake the poet) studied at Oxford and was then ordained into the priesthood. He was curate at Mersham, in Kent, and Domestic Chaplain to Viscount Palmerston, before moving to the parish of Ardwick on the edge of Manchester. By 1824 he and his wife had moved to Monk Bretton, near Barnsley, where he had inherited his grandfather’s  estate. There Wordsworth lived the life of a country gentleman, and became a respected magistrate.

Monk Bretton Castle from Rotherham Road, c.1955. Image courtesy of Barnsley Archives & Local Studies

No architect is known for the tower, which is also known as Wordsworth’s Folly, Burton Castle (Burton being a corruption of Bretton widely used in the 18th and early 19th centuries) or Monk Bretton Castle. Originally it was called the Summer House, and it is marked as such on the 1st series Ordnance Survey map published in 1841. The surveyors would have been sure of its name, for they used the tower as a triangulation point when working on the map series. A sketch map, copied from the surveyor’s drawing, survives showing that the tower had views to the ‘dome on Pontefract Church’ (St Giles), 10 miles away, as well as several other churches and another pleasure pavilion, the belvedere at Bilham, almost 8 miles away.

Image courtesy of C. Hoare & Co., archive WW/5/29.

By the time the revised 1st edition map was published in 1855 the tower was called the Observatory, and the village held their 1857 Floral & Horticultural Show in the adjacent ‘Observatory Field’.

Wordsworth’s tower was his ‘calm retreat’, and from the summit he enjoyed a panorama that encompassed views to Barnsley, Wakefield, and the great estates of Wentworth Castle, Wentworth Woodhouse and Bretton Park. Every lofty tower in Yorkshire claims a view to York Minster, but at least Wordsworth admitted to the use of a telescope, as described in this extract from On the Observatory at Monk Bretton by the Barnsley Poet Thomas Lister:

Should optic power assist the sight,
The eye may speed its joyful flight,
Where nobler scenes expand-
See Ebor’s sacred splendour smile-
With awe regard that mighty pile!-
The glory of our land.

In 1895 locals appealed for the Observatory Field to be made into a recreation ground, and the tower to be made accessible to the locals, many of whom had ‘no idea what a noble prospect there is from the top’. Such a park it was argued would be unrivalled locally ‘in the matter of beauty of situation and the extent of prospect it would command.’ The campaign was a partial success, and maps from the first years of the 20th century show a ‘Cricket and Football Ground’ had been established in the shadow of the observatory, although there is no evidence that the tower was opened to visitors. Monk Bretton Cricket Club still play at the ‘Castle Ground’.

In 1953 a beacon was lit at ‘Monk Bretton Castle’ to mark the coronation of the new queen. Sadly this was its last hurrah, and Barnsley Council demolished the deteriorating tower for safety reasons a few years later.

Monk Bretton Castle and the War Memorial, c. 1940. Image courtesy of Barnsley Archives & Local Studies

For some years the tower was framed by the twin columns of Monk Bretton’s very unusual and attractive war memorial, erected in 1920 to remember those who did not return from the First World War. The columns, which now also commemorate those lost in World War II, were moved across the road in 1978, where they are sited in a neat little garden of remembrance.

A sudden brash burst of colour after a monochrome post.

It is still possible to stand on the site of the tower, close to an O.S. trig point (at the time of writing inexplicably painted to represent a minion from the Despicable Me film franchise), and see a vast panorama over Barnsley and beyond. And the tower is at least remembered in the street names of a recently-erected housing development.

The belvedere at Bilham is a subject for another day, but to whet your appetite…

Bilham Belvedere cc-by-sa/2.0 – © John

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10 thoughts on “Burton Summer House, Monk Bretton, South Yorkshire”

  1. Margaret 21 says:

    Well, how about that? I used to live in Sheffield and never knew about this. To Be Put Right. Thank you.

    1. Editor says:

      I only found out about this lost folly very recently and enjoyed discovering more. Glad you enjoyed its history and thanks for commenting.

  2. Ivan Burrows says:

    Oh boy. Monk |Bretton CaSTLE. Played there as a kid when my parents took us up there.
    memories bruoght back

    1. Editor says:

      So pleased this post has brought back happy memories. Such a shame it is gone. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  3. Arthur Fisher says:

    The land to the west of Bretton Castle (as we locals call it) is now laid out for houses, and the street were named after famous writers. I live on Shelley Drive, which is off Tennyson Road, and so on. Now the road nearest to the folly is now Wordsworth Road: possibly in commeration of its builder – who was a distant relative of his more famous namesake.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Arthur. It’s good to hear from a local. I didn’t know about the streets named after poets – so as you say Wordsworth could refer to both the builder and his better-known relative. Thanks for getting in touch.

  4. Richard Watson says:

    Richard Watson. *
    Very informative, I grew up in a nearby village. The Tower was then known as Monk Bretton Castle and a nearby short terrace of older stone cottages was called Castle Row. Later I found the tower was called an observatory on a local Ordnance Survey map. Sad to see the tower has gone.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Richard. Thanks for getting in touch and sharing your memories of this lost tower. At least the history remains even though the tower is long gone.

    2. Arthur Fisher says:

      “Castle Row” is now long gone, but the name is still perpetuated by nearby Castle Close which is nearby, off Burton Road.

      1. Editor says:

        Thank you Arthur for adding a little more to the history.

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