Tucked away in a garden on the edge of Wolverhampton is a pretty little summerhouse which was once part of a much bigger structure: the folly started life as the dining room window of a country house built during the short reign of William IV.
Jezreel’s Tower, which once stood on Chatham Hill in Gillingham, was one of those unfinished fantasies that became folly after their original purpose had failed. This architectural extravaganza was built as home to the ‘New and Latter House of Israel’, a religious group founded in the late 19th century which had a short and very colourful history, and left behind a unique building.
In 1896 a new publication was launched in Britain. Pearson’s Magazine was a miscellany of fact and fiction, and is best known today for a landmark event of 1922: the appearance of the first ever crossword puzzle in a British publication. Only a year after it first appeared on newsstands the magazine was attracting writers of the highest calibre, including H.G.Wells whose The War of the Worlds was serialised in 1897. But of course what caught the eye of the Folly Flâneuse was an article from 1898 when Edward le Martin-Breton, wrote an illustrated article on ‘Famous Follies’.
In 1981-82 the Royal Mail issued a set of stamp books featuring follies, and Richard Downer, an artist best known for the vast number of lovely line drawings he provided for the covers of Britain’s telephone directories, was commissioned to provided the illustrations. Of the six follies featured, five survive today and are very familiar to anyone with an interest in the subject, but one was relatively obscure, and has a rather interesting history.
High on the Sussex Downs, near the village of South Harting, stand some curious ruins. The jagged and dilapidated stonework is all that remains of the wonderful ornate tower built by Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh of Uppark (or Up-park) in the 1770s and later known by the curious title of the Vandalian Tower.
Close to the little village of Dinton, near Aylesbury, stands an imposing 18th century folly called Dinton Castle. 250 years after it was first built it shot to fame on the TV show Grand Designs. But to mark the 200th post on these pages, the Folly Flâneuse intends to enjoy a Dinton Folly of a very different kind.
John Piper’s paintings of follies and garden buildings are well-known, but less familiar are his ceramics decorated with architectural features, including a series of ‘curly dishes’ with his wonderful whimsical interpretations of 18th century designs for rustic follies.
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.