Parlington Park is close to Aberford, south of Wetherby, on the old Great North Road. An architectural highlight of the landscape park is this Triumphal Arch, constructed in the early 1780s to definitively declare Sir Thomas Gascoigne’s stance on the ongoing war with America. Its inscription begins LIBERTY IN N AMERICA TRIUMPHANT, an unequivocal statement that Sir Thomas was firmly on the side of the colonists. The Folly Flâneuse has written about the arch before, but is revisiting to mark the Fourth of July, Independence Day in the U.S.A., and to look at a very curious moment in the modern history of the monument.
Hail, Castle Howard! Hail, Vanbrugh’s noble dome
Where Yorkshire in her splendour rivals Rome!
Thus wrote John Betjeman in a poem composed for Bird’s-Eye View: The Englishman’s Home, a documentary scripted and mellifluously-narrated by Betjeman, which was first shown on BBC2 in April 1969. Many great houses are featured in the film, but a highlight for the Folly Flâneuse is Castle Howard, in North Yorkshire.
The rotunda at Stowe in Buckinghamshire was designed by Vanbrugh in around 1720, and stands on a sweeping lawn in front of the grand mansion. In the middle of the 20th century author T.H. White used a little artistic licence, and for the purposes of his story moved it to an island in one of the two lakes. There it became home to a colony of tiny people, and the adventure that is Mistress Masham’s Repose began.
There was good news in autumn 2019 with the announcement that the great Georgian estate of Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, had been awarded National Heritage Lottery funds to allow work to begin on the restoration of the Camellia House. Originally known as the Greenhouse, the building was part of a menagerie complex which housed exotic pheasants. Only 20 miles away, in Bawtry, another curious aviary has sadly not survived.
On the edge of the town of Wigan stands Haigh Hall, described in 1745 as a ‘good old house and wood in a very pretty situation’. On rising ground above Haigh Hall (pronounced Hay) there once stood a substantial landscape feature which housed an observatory. A pair of paintings with an interesting history help tell the tale.
One of the few upsides to the current situation is that there is time to rootle around in the attic and find all sorts of forgotten files full of treasure. Opening one box revealed this invitation to the private view of The Sitooteries, 20 years ago this month. What’s a sitooterie you may ask? Well it’s as simple as it sounds – a building to sit out in (the term is supposed to originate in Scotland, so try saying it in your best Caledonian accent).
Sedbergh sits in that part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park which is actually in modern day Cumbria, although historically the town was part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. This little summerhouse now belongs to Sedbergh School, which was established in the town in 1525, and their charitable foundation recently led a restoration project to restore the building for community use.
With vaccines very much in the news at the moment, The Folly Flâneuse was reminded that a little rustic hut, in a garden in Gloucestershire, played a role in the development of inoculation in Britain and across the world. In May 1796 Edward Jenner successfully vaccinated a child against smallpox, and as news of his work spread globally, he began to inoculate the poor of his neighbourhood in this summerhouse in his garden.
This weekend the country celebrates the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Thinking of the events of 1939-45, the Folly Flâneuse was reminded of a wartime project to document the changing rural and urban face of Britain. At a time when the future seemed uncertain, ‘Recording Britain’ commissioned artists to portray the country as it then was, creating a visual history for future generations.
When the great folly builders of the 17th and 18th centuries were erecting statement buildings on the high points of their estates, they can little have known how useful they would be to the Board of Ordnance. The ‘Principal Triangulation of Britain’ was a trigonometric survey, begun in the late 18th century, which by determining precise coordinates of significant landmarks would enable highly accurate mapping. The main landmarks used were church spires, but ‘other remarkable objects’ were picked, and in the first decade of the 19th century over 50 towers, temples, obelisks, summer houses and follies made it into this category.