In the grounds of Benington Lordship, an early 18th century mansion near Stevenage in Hertfordshire, is a sham ruin on a grand scale. Constructed in the 1830s it combined the roles of eye-catcher, gateway, smoking room and banqueting hall in one rambling structure.
In later life Arthur Ratcliffe expressed his pride in having progressed from peddling candle wicks to becoming a surveyor, an M.P. for Leek, and director of a building society. But he might never have discovered his passion for building had his doctor not ordered him to take some time off work for the benefit of his health in 1922. On a visit to the Manifold Valley in Staffordshire, he found a small building which he intended to renovate as a weekend retreat, and snapped it up for the grand sum of £11.
In the border town of Coldstream a footpath leads from a lodge down to the river Tweed. The route passes an ice-house shaded by trees before a stroll along the riverbank brings one to an elegant stone temple. The Temple ornamented the landscape of a grand Georgian mansion called The Lees, which was largely pulled down in the 1970s.
The Lees (sometimes just Lees) was the seat of the interrelated Pringle and Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks) family. In 1760 a traveller noted that ‘Mr Pringle has built a handsome house, and made a beautiful plantation’: ‘Mr Pringle’ was James, who died in 1769 leaving the estate to his cousin Edward Marjoribanks.
The temple was extant by 1769 when a historian noted Mr Pringle’s ‘modern seat’ as well as the ‘octagonal tempiato’ on the banks of the river. It is shown as an existing feature on a ‘Design for the improvement of Lees’ by the Edinburgh based designer Richard Stephens (?-1821) dated 1816. Stephens’ family business was in ‘draining, irrigating and embanking’, but he also drew up improvement plans for a small number of Scottish estates.
The Temple is named as such on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map of 1858. The map shows the Temple and the Ice House as well as an array of summerhouses and seats that are lost today, and the surveyors preparing the map noted the ‘considerable and well laid out pleasure grounds’. Historic England Scotland incorrectly date the structure to the ‘later 18th century’ and it is listed as Category B.
By the middle of the 20th century the house at The Lees was in a very dilapidated condition and the then owners were only interested in the fishing rights. In 1975, when all attempts to find a buyer or a purpose had been exhausted, permission was granted to demolish. By that date the house was owned by Andrew Douglas-Home, nephew of the former Prime Minister (which information the Flâneuse shares simply so the headline in The Scotsman can be understood: ‘Doom for House of Home’). The paper reported that whilst the Scottish Civic Trust and the Scottish Georgian Society thought the case was ‘one of the saddest ever’, they accepted that there was no alternative to demolition.
Douglas-Home had a long term plan to build a new house on the site, and for that reason the circular central section won a reprieve and was left standing.
Towards the end of the 20th century it was incorporated into a new house designed by Nicholas Groves-Raines, which has since been further extended.
As briefly mentioned the Tweed is of course famed for salmon, and the wide stretch of river in front of the Temple became known to fishermen as ‘Temple Pool’, as seen in this postcard view (which helpfully points out that in Coldstream the river is the border between Scotland and England).
After the Right to Roam was introduced in Scotland Mr Douglas-Home created a footpath through his grounds and down to the river. Walkers are welcome but are requested to keep to the path and to respect the usual rules of the countryside (and to give Mr Douglas-Home a cheery hello if you see him out and about).
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In 1903 William Wood and Son, horticultural specialists to His Majesty the King, placed an advertisement in The Garden magazine announcing two new introductions to their range. These were exotically named summerhouses: the ‘Resiance’ and its little sister the ‘Resianette’. The magazine also ran a feature in the same month (actually lifted from a Wood & Son circular), in which the writer announced that ‘we here present two pictures of distinctly novel structures which appear to be very much in advance of ordinary summer houses’.
When first built the handsome gazebo in the grounds of Crow Nest in Dewsbury would have had views over the estate’s fine gardens and pleasure grounds. At the end of the 19th century Crow Nest was bought for the people of Dewsbury, and has now been a public park for 130 years. The Temple remains an ornament to the park, but sadly today it has a rather forlorn appearance.
In the 18th century Bank House in Wisbech became home to the Peckover family, and as well as providing a family home it housed their banking business, which became a great success. Over time they acquired further land and extended the gardens behind the adjacent properties, and built garden buildings including this striking summerhouse. In 1943 the house and grounds were given to the National Trust by the last surviving descendant, and the property was renamed ‘Peckover House’ to commemorate the family.
On a rocky stretch of shore at Achmelvich, in the remote Assynt district on the west coast of Scotland, is a little concrete structure. Built in the early 1950s, it is known today as the Hermit’s Castle and the tale is told that having erected a shelter in the form of miniature fortress, the builder spent only one night under its roof.
As the festive season approached in 1970, families would have pored over the special edition of the Radio Times to see what treats the three television channels could offer. If on New Year’s Eve had they walked across the room to warm up the set, and twiddled the knob to find BBC One, they would have seen a programme called Follies of the Wise presented by Spike Milligan. The writer, actor and comedian toured Britain looking at follies: ‘strange monuments to our ancestors and their passions’. It must have reached a good audience, broadcast at 6.45pm and sandwiched between Nationwide and The Andy Williams Show.
Spottiswoode House, was described in 1846 as a ‘stately and elegant edifice in the old English style of architecture’. The estate had been ‘possessed, time out of mind, by the Spotiswoodes’ and was the childhood home of Alicia Anne Spottiswoode. It became her retreat in widowhood and the place where she was remembered for having ‘a weakness for erecting curious stone archways and other little monuments here and there’.
Obelisks might not seem as exciting as some of the quirkier landscape ornaments, but this one began a particularly interesting life in around 1732. Two hundred years later it was one of a group of monuments from Wrest Park in Bedfordshire that was sold to the wealthy socialite and politician Sir Philip Sassoon, and taken to his seat at Trent Park in Middlesex. There each was carefully placed in the park, and the largest, this substantial obelisk, was re-erected to terminate a new vista cut through the trees.