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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1771 the agriculturalist and country house afficionado Arthur Young visited Halswell in Somerset. He admired the house, but admitted that what ‘chiefly attracts the attention of strangers, are the decorated grounds’. Sir Charles Kemeys Tynte (1710-1785) ornamented his park with temples, rustic shelters and elegant bridges, all of which fell into disrepair, or disappeared completely, after the Second World War. Happily, recent years have seen a major programme of restoration, which continues apace.
This fine arch could once be found on the edge of the village of Westwick, but sadly it was pulled down as recently as 1981. Nearby, in a scrappy ribbon of woodland, stands a decrepit brick tower with a square base supporting a round shaft. It is difficult to appreciate that this remnant was once a much-admired eye-catcher and belvedere, which went by the curious title of the Westwick Obelisk.
With St Valentine’s Day approaching, the Folly Flâneuse wondered which were the most romantic garden buildings. The most famous expression of love in an architectural form is surely the Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jahan as a tomb for his favourite wife. But closer to home are three equally enchanting buildings built as monuments to lost loves – two real, and one imaginary, and each likened to the marble mausoleum in India.
Queen Victoria bought the Balmoral estate in 1848, and it later became the place where the Queen sought solace after Prince Albert’s early death, 160 years ago in December 1861. There were soon plans for monuments to the late Prince Consort, including the famous Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, but at Balmoral a huge hilltop pyramid was under construction only a few months after Albert’s death.