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.
Brizlee Tower* stands high on Brizlee Hill, near Alnwick, and overlooks Hulne Park, a detached pleasure ground close to the Duke of Northumberland’s principal park at Alnwick Castle. It was built in the late 18th century as a prospect tower and eye-catcher, and also as an object to be visited on a drive from the castle through Hulne Park. The park was designed by ‘the inimitable Brown’, aka Capability, working with local engineers and designers, and was also home to the ruins of mediaeval Hulne Abbey, embellished and repurposed by the Duke and Duchess as a banqueting house, pleasure garden and menagerie for exotic pheasants. This is one of The Folly Flâneuse’s favourite follies: the detail is just so joyful, or as historian Alistair Rowan so wonderfully put it: ‘at Brizlee there is fantasy and flamboyance’.
Few follies can be said to have directly contributed to coastal erosion, but one example can be found in the lovely little village of Hunmanby, near Filey. Early in the 19th century Humphrey Osbaldeston, of Hunmanby Hall, took stone from the rocky coastal outcrop called Filey Brigg, and used it to erect this rustic entrance arch.
Built in the later 18th century, The Kennels were designed in the style of a sham castle, with a central room flanked by two squat towers. The building also served as an eye-catcher from the bridge over the River Ribble, although this latter function has been lost as trees now block the view. Sadly the castellations are also long gone, but the building appears to have a happier future ahead.
The Folly Flâneuse is playing safe here with the locations of these two structures, as the inhabitants of the villages of Cowling and Sutton in Craven, south of Skipton, each claim a monument as their own. Locals are at least agreed on a nickname: for very obvious reasons the tower and pinnacle are known as the Salt and Pepper Pots.
William Constable, of Burton Constable in the East Riding of Yorkshire, died in 1791. A condition of his will was that his heir should rebuild the ‘family vault’, then found at nearby Halsham church. The new building was to be more than just a repository for the remains of generations of Constables, it was also intended as a bold statement of the importance of the ancient family, and an ornament to the estate.
In the middle of the 18th century the area around Dunston was unenclosed heath, and travel was a dirty and dangerous business, especially in the dark winter months. Sir Francis Dashwood (1708-1781), 2nd baronet, of West Wycombe and Hell-fire Club fame, came into property in the area when he married Sarah Ellys of nearby Nocton in 1745. Dashwood erected the Dunston Pillar in 1751 as a beacon to guide ‘the peasant, the wayfaring stranger, and the horseman with his dame on pillion’.
18th century Italy was bustling with rich young noblemen on the Grand Tour. This extended study trip/holiday filled the years between formal education ending and the responsibilities of inheriting an estate, and producing heirs of their own, kicked in. In the early years of the 1750s, a coterie in Rome centred on Charles Caulfeild, Viscount Charlemont, a young Irish dilettante as well read as he was well travelled: Charlemont would travel further than most and see Egypt, Constantinople and Greece. Within his circle for the obligatory sojourn in Italy were two men with strong Yorkshire connections: Thomas Brudenell, Baron Bruce of Tottenham, who had a seat at Tanfield Hall near Ripon, and Henry Willoughby of Birdsall Hall in the East Riding of the county.
In 1829 William Bettison Esq. purchased a country retreat on Newbegin in Hornsea, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. From here, he commuted by phaeton to Hull, where during his career he was owner of the Humber Street Brewery and proprietor of the Hull Advertiser. The house came with ‘extensive Pleasure Grounds’ and some time around 1844 he constructed this curious tower built of what are called treacle bricks, over-baked rejects from the kiln.
The Folly Flâneuse confesses she has never visited Broadwood’s Folly in Surrey, and although she seldom writes about buildings she has never seen, the photo below explains the interest. Finding an English sparkling wine named after a folly was just too good an opportunity to miss in this festive season.