On a prominent hill above the town of Faringdon in Oxfordshire (formerly Berkshire) the ornate top of a tower peeps out above the trees. Faringdon Tower, often known as Lord Berner’s Folly, was built in 1935, but its site had been known as Faringdon Folly for generations.
Newstead Abbey is best known as the seat of the Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, but it was equally famed in the middle of the 18th century as the home of his great-uncle, William, the 5th Baron, known as the ‘Wicked Lord’. It was William who built sham forts and castles around the estate’s Great Lake, on which sailed his fleet of boats.
The ruinous shell of the Whitehill Tower stands on high ground with extensive views across Surrey and down towards the south coast. It was built by Jeremiah Long in the middle of the 19th century as an ornament in the grounds of his Surrey villa, but has been neglected for years and desperately needs attention before it topples to the ground.
In January 1897, with the Diamond Jubilee of the reign of Queen Victoria approaching, the Darwen News featured a letter from a correspondent named only as ‘Landmark’, proposing that a tower be built on Darwen Moor to mark the occasion. There was a favourable response and the great and good of the town began to make plans.
In the middle of the 20th century books featuring the adventures of the Lockett children captured the imaginations of young readers. One title in particular appealed to the Folly Flâneuse: what ghastly goings-on could have taken place at the ‘half completed and abandoned tower’ known as Steeple Folly? And which real clifftop folly might have been the inspiration for it?
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.
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.
‘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.