In the furthest reaches of Northumberland, close to the Scottish border, stands the romantic ruin of an ancient family seat. This is not a particularly unusual sight in this region of skirmishes and sackings, so why has this particular building become known as a folly? It is of course an elegant eye-catcher, seen over the single span of the ancient bridge over the river Till, but there is more to the story, and as Barbara Jones wrote, Twizel Castle falls into the ‘foolishness-type folly’ category – a picturesque but purposeless palace.
In July 1833 the 1st Duke of Sutherland died. Tenants on his estates in Staffordshire (Trentham), Scotland (Dunrobin) and Shropshire quickly made plans to commemorate the man they considered a benevolent landlord – according to the inscriptions that is: the Duke was not quite as revered as the tributes might suggest. In Shropshire the tenants on the Lilleshall estate decided to erect an obelisk on Lilleshall Hill, high above the village, and by November the foundation stone had been laid. By the end of the century the obelisk had been struck by lightning (twice) and had caused some embarrassment for the editor of a local paper.
Sundorne House in Shropshire was the seat of the Corbet family and the estate included the picturesque ruin of Haughmond Abbey. In 1774 John Corbet added a dramatic eye-catcher to the ensemble – a sham castle on the summit of Haughmond Hill.
William Wentworth, 2nd Earl of Strafford (1722-1791) had his principal seat at Wentworth Castle near Barnsley in Yorkshire, and Boughton in Northamptonshire was where he broke the journey to the social and political hub of London. Both estates were embellished with temples, sham churches and castles, obelisks and archways, including this castellated curiosity at Boughton.
Sir Christopher Wren died 300 years ago on 8 March 1723. The Folly Flâneuse thought she would mark the anniversary by looking at a two examples of his work that served as garden ornaments – once surplus to their original requirements.
Deep in woodland on Holly Hill, near the village of Hernhill in Kent, stands a bedraggled belvedere. It was built by Edwyn Sandys Dawes sometime in the late 19th century, as a prospect tower with a ‘view unsurpassed in the county’.
North Seaton Hall stood in the hamlet of the same name, just inland from Newbiggin by the Sea on the Northumberland coast. The house and ancillary buildings were demolished in the 1960s, and the land developed for housing: only the road called ‘Summerhouse Lane’ gives a clue to a fascinating feature which once ornamented the grounds.
In the early years of the 18th century Sir James Tillie updated his will and included a rather mysterious instruction about his last resting place. He was to be interred ‘in such a place at Pentillie Castle as I have acquainted my dearest Wife the Lady Elizabeth Tillie with.’
On high ground above Creech Grange, near Wareham in Dorset, stands a battlemented and pinnacled arch which looks like the entrance to an estate. But no road passes through it, and the structure exists simply to catch the eye and ornament the landscape.
Alexander Davison (1750-1829) of Swarland Park, near Felton in Northumberland, erected this obelisk to Nelson in 1807. A closer look at the inscription reveals that he was not only celebrating the admiral’s victory at Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, but more particularly their personal friendship. Davison had made a fortune supplying the government during the wars with America and France, but he was later charged with ‘public peculation’ – in other words the court believed he had his hand in the till.