Such was the headline of an article in the Sussex County Magazine in 1937. The author, William A. Bagley, was fascinated by the ‘strange towers’ that could be found ‘dotted all over the hilltops of England’. Revisiting some of the follies he described some 85 years later the Folly Flâneuse discovered that the towers have had differing histories: one is lost, some survive in much the same state as when Bagley saw them, and one is currently on the market with a multi-million pound asking price.
High above Cartmel in Cumbria (formerly Lancashire) Reverend Thomas Remington of nearby Aynsome built a small stone shelter. Remington was apparently in the habit of walking on the fell each morning, setting off early so he could watch the sun rise, and above the east-facing door he placed a Greek inscription, taken from Homer’s Odyssey, which translates as ‘Rosy-fingered Dawn’. It became known as the hospice, from the archaic definition of the word: a shelter to travellers.
The little village of Bawdrip in Somerset was once home to a rugged and romantic ruin. Standing on Knowle Hill, it was built by Benjamin Cuff Greenhill of Knowle Hall as an eye-catcher and observatory, and to add a ‘Gallic touch to the Somerset countryside’. Sadly it is long gone, but it is remembered in local legends and picture postcards.
In the early 18th century Bramham Park, just south of Wetherby in West Yorkshire, was the seat of Robert Benson, 1st Baron Bingley. His laying-out of the park was summarised by Lady Oxford after her visit in 1745: ‘Lord Bingley has adorned a barren country in a most delightful manner with water and wood walks’. The next generation continued his work, and their additions included a little gothic temple which could be seen from different viewpoints in the gardens.
At Rydal Hall in Cumbria is an unassuming little garden building. It was built by Sir Daniel Fleming, in the last years of the 1680s, as a summerhouse from which to view of one of the series of cascades on the Rydal Beck that flowed though his estate.
The tower on Willett Hill tantalises with a glimpse above the trees when approaching by road, before disappearing completely as one begins the ascent on foot – which makes it all the more exciting when after a stiff climb the folly eventually bursts into view.
Moments from the Great North Road, as it passes through Lincolnshire, is Stoke Rochford Hall in its lovely undulating park. The present house is a delicious early Victorian confection of towers and turrets, contemporary with the obelisk. But there were earlier houses in the park, and two intriguing arches are reminders of an earlier age.
‘Follies Can Be Fun’. So read the headline of an article in the Times in October 1959. But apparently not all follies: the anonymous author* dismissed sham ruins, grottoes and shell rooms, and expressed a preference for towers and columns. The Folly Flâneuse, who wholeheartedly agrees with the headline, thought it might be ‘fun’ to revisit some of the follies featured in the piece, to see how they had fared more than 60 years later.
Somerset has more than its fair share of folly towers, but one of the most audacious examples is sadly long gone. This was the slender tower built by John Turner in the hamlet of Faulkland, near Bath, in 1890. It stood for less than 80 years, having become progressively shorter before its eventual demise in the 1960s.
High above the town of Pateley Bridge in Nidderdale stand two strange stone pillars which look like the remnants of some ancient ecclesiastical edifice. Until 1893 there was a third, and they were known as the Three Stoops, or alternatively as Yorke’s Folly after their begetter, John Yorke. They are often dated to around 1800, but they are actually some decades earlier, being constructed at the height of the Georgian vogue for mock ruins and eye-catchers.