‘An ill-treated folly’, wrote folly supremo Barbara Jones of the Carnaby Temple in 1953. The late 18th century landscape ornament, on high land above Boynton Hall, was by then disused and dilapidated, but remarkably intact considering the years of neglect. And so it remains.
The temple was built in the early 1770s by Sir George Strickland, 5th Bart (1729-1808) of Boynton Hall near Bridlington in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The design is attributed to John Carr of York, who worked at Boynton in this period. Contemporary accounts note that it was called the Temple of Aeolus, or the temple of the winds, after the original in Athens, but Barbara Jones thought it had ‘absolutely no resemblance to it’. That’s perhaps a little harsh, as the tower is octagonal in form, and the lantern was originally topped with a weather-vane, but it does not carry the carved decoration so admired in Athens. The name may have been partly in homage to the antique, but was probably also an erudite family joke, as the site is exposed to the winds coming in off the North Sea. The name did not stick and the building became known as the Carnaby Temple, or just ‘the temple’.
The basement housed a kitchen, and the upper floor was a ‘beautiful Octagon room’ with extensive views of the Boynton estate and out to sea. The Strickland daughters decorated the room with Grecian figures after the antique. Transparent figures, painted onto tissue paper, decorated the windows, and the furniture featured figures cut from black paper or drawn in Indian ink. The walls were painted with trophies, foliage, and grotesque heads in oil paint, and one visitor in 1801 thought she had never seen a room ‘so completely pleasing’. Sadly, no trace remains today.
The pleasure house was used for picnics, and as a retreat for the ladies of the house. It was also a belvedere with an extensive vista across the Wolds and Bridlington Bay – the reverse view also became important and ‘Carnaby Temple’ soon became an official landmark for mariners.
The tower was originally surrounded by a freestanding arcade, but this was gone by the middle of the 19th century when the temple was extended to form a dwelling for workers on the estate: the census returns show families living there until early in the 20th century. It was a popular attraction, and visitors walked across the fields to explore the curious structure visible from the road. In 1890 one group of ramblers were disappointed to find it had been converted into a labourer’s cottage and ‘with a sigh for its departed grandeur’ retraced their steps.
By the time Barbara Jones was researching the temple for the 2nd edition of Follies and Grottoes in 1972, the temple had been sold by the Boynton estate, and the new owner was said to be ‘not really interested in it’. Raymond Fieldhouse, a Scarborough historian and artist, wrote to Jones about the temple : ‘I think it will stand for years deteriorating only gradually’. He was spot on: the temple does indeed still stand strong, and creates a very picturesque backdrop to the nearby farm’s giant muck heap (bottom).
In 1975 a campaign began to get the temple restored. There was support from the Bridlington MP The Rt Hon Richard Wood, as well as from the Georgian Society for East Yorkshire and the Bridlington Civic Society. The owner, Mr Watts, was keen to see it restored, and offered to lease it to a charitable body for a ‘v small rent’, but he was understandably reluctant to meet the substantial costs of renovation himself. The Landmark Trust was approached in 1975, but it declined to take the building on.
Things dragged on, and in April 1978 the local authority, the Borough of North Wolds, served Watts with a Repairs Notice. By this stage the Bridlington-based architectural practise of Francis Johnson and Partners had been asked to help, and in 1977 Francis Johnson had drawn up plans to convert the temple into a holiday home. As he wrote ‘if they got the place in order they could get a good little rental for holiday use every summer. In any case it is far better to have the building in use than merely standing idle with consequent inevitable deterioration’. But Johnson remained sceptical, and ended the letter ‘We shall see’.
And as we can indeed see, only essential repairs to protect the building from vandals and the elements were carried out. There is still potential to restore the temple for residential use, and just think how fertile the garden would be…
The temple is on private land, but stands beside a public footpath.
Although the Carnaby Temple plans did not come to fruition, Francis Johnson & Partners has designed or restored many lovely garden buildings. You can see a selection here https://www.francisjohnson-architects.co.uk/projects/garden-buildings/
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