architecture, Clwyd, Folly, garden history, landscape, Obelisk, Sham fortification, Tower

The Obelisk, Bodysgallen Hall, Llandudno, Clwyd.

In February 1992 the North Wales Weekly News carried its usual list of planning applications. Among them was an announcement that Bodysgallen Hall Hotel wished to convert a barn and stable into accommodation, and to erect a new ‘leisure building, tower folly and obelisk’. No objections were received, and permission was granted by Aberconwy Council.

Bodysgallen Hall from the gardens.

In 1980 Bodysgallen Hall, former seat of the Mostyn and Wynn families, had become part of the small Historic House Hotels group, established by Richard Broyd. The house, gardens and estate buildings were restored, and Broyd wished to erect an obelisk as a ‘decorative asset to the landscape’. Plans were drawn up by his architect Eric Throssell, and both the stone and the stonemason, Henry Wilson, were local.

But as work got underway in autumn 1992 locals claimed that they hadn’t been properly informed of the plans, and a vociferous campaign was launched demanding that the Obelisk be demolished. There were genuine concerns, including that the planning officers had not realised that Ffrith Hill was a Site of Specific Scientific Interest.

Cowslips and orchid near the obelisk. Note the droplets and please applaud the Flâneuse for climbing up to the obelisk in wild wind and rain.

But among the odder complaints was the fact that the Obelisk ‘dominated the landscape’ – a strange criticism as obelisks are not usually shy and retiring types, and generally prefer to hog the limelight on an eminence. Even more bizarre was the opponent who suggested that placing the Obelisk near the edge of a former quarry encouraged men to ‘urinate over the cliff into the garden of a house 150 feet below’. Reporting this in the local paper, a journalist suggested that such a feat would merit entry in the Guinness Book of Records requiring as it did a ‘jet of some 25 feet’.

Meanwhile Richard Broyd was adamant that the correct procedures had been followed and he was prepared to fight, telling the Daily Telegraph that ‘he who builds an obelisk has to defend it’.

A view from the obelisk. Unfortunately it was very dull day, enlivened only by the golden glow of the cowslips.

In brief, the council began to get cold feet after the anti-obelisk campaigners made a complaint of maladministration, claiming the council should never have granted planning permission. Despite a barrister assuring the councillors that their decision was robust, and that Mr Broyd had followed the correct procedures, the Planning Committee voted to demolish the Obelisk. The matter then went to the full council and the proposal was defeated by just one vote. On 16 September 1993 the local paper ran the story under the succinct headline of ‘Obelisk is staying’.

There had been support for the Obelisk too, and some who had been concerned later admitted admiration for the completed structure, which stands 19.5 metres high. But some resentment remained, and there are locals who will tell you dark tales of a plot to blow the obelisk to pieces. Even now, some 30 years on, the structure seems destined never to be mentioned as anything but thecontroversial obelisk’.

The miniature obelisk produced as a souvenir by the hotel when the obelisk was first constructed. Normally an ornament to the desk of the Flâneuse, it enjoyed a brief foray into the sunshine for this photo opportunity.

The Folly Flâneuse took the Uncouth Companion to Bodysgallen Hall as a birthday treat soon after the obelisk was completed (he having long since learned that such jaunts had one, or more, ulterior motives) and walked up to the Obelisk. The photo’s from that pre-digital age have long since faded away, but this little model of the Obelisk, bought at the hotel, sits in the study as a memento of the trip. And of course a return visit was required in order to snap the shots needed for this post.

The Gothic Tower, built of pink rubble sandstone, seen from the woodland walk.

In all of the fuss about the Obelisk the little Gothic Tower, designed in the same period, has been overlooked. A sham ruin sits on raised ground in the woodland, and a climb up to the rooftop viewing platform reveals why this site was chosen. There’s lovely vista to the obelisk  – the only spot in the gardens from where it can be seen.

View from the top of the Gothic Tower to the Obelisk.

Richard Broyd had always intended that his hotel group would pass to the National Trust, and for all profits to benefit the charity. The three properties (the others being Middlethorpe Hall near York and Hartwell House near Aylesbury) were handed over in 2008.

Looking up to the Obelisk from the grounds of Pabo Bach.

Pabo Bach, once home to one of the most vocal objectors to the obelisk, is now a holiday cottage where you can enjoy dramatic views of the former quarry with the obelisk perched on the precipice.

A distant view of the obelisk from the marina at Conwy.

The Obelisk can be seen from the A55 and the Royal Welsh Way leading into Llandudno, as well as from across the estuary in Conwy, and there is public access. The Gothic Tower may only be seen by guests at Bodysgallen Hall Hotel.

For Bodysgallen Hall and the other Historic House Hotels see

For Pabo Bach see

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Arch, architecture, aviary, Derbyshire, eyecatcher, Folly, landscape garden, Temple

Rex Whistler and Renishaw, Derbyshire: panoramas and papier-mâché.

Eighty years ago this month Sir Osbert Sitwell and his good friend Rex Whistler were discussing how materials such as papier-mâché, much used in theatrical set construction, could be used in the ‘arts of landscaping and garden design’. Once the war was over they planned to erect a dramatic eye-catcher at Sir Osbert’s Renishaw home. But two months after their meeting came tragic news: in July 1944 Whistler was killed in action in France.

architecture, bath house, Bristol, Folly, garden history, Gwynedd, Summerhouse

The Bristol Colonnade, Portmeirion, Gwynedd

When Barbara Jones published Follies and Grottoes in 1953, she made no mention of the coastal village that architect Clough Williams-Ellis had been creating at Portmeirion since 1925. Reviewing the book for the Times Literary Supplement, Laurence Whistler thought this was a ‘curious’ omission as he believed the whole conception could be described as folly.

architecture, belvedere, eyecatcher, Fife, Folly, garden history, Rustic shelter, Summerhouse, Tower

Cullaloe Temple and Tower, near Aberdour, Fife

In the 19th century Cullaloe stone was much in demand as a building material: it was widely used in Scotland and England, and exported to Europe and as far as the Caribbean. But in the shadow of the quarries is an abandoned pleasure ground that is home to this beautifully constructed little temple – a perfect demonstration of the colour and quality of the stone. At the other end of the grand terrace on which it stands is a curious rustic tower.

architecture, country house, Essex, eyecatcher, Folly, Mausoleum, Tower

Cranbrook Castle, or Raymond’s Folly, Ilford, Essex

Card posted in 1910. Courtesy of a private collection.

In 1765 Charles Raymond built a tower on his estate at Valentines in Ilford, Essex. Money was not an issue, for Raymond had grown wealthy in business, and in particular shipping, having started his career in the employ of the East India Company. The prominently-placed sham fortification was an eye-catcher that announced his status to all who passed by. It was intended as his family mausoleum, but things didn’t quite go to plan.

architecture, Borders, country house, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, Scotland, sham castle

Hume Castle, Borders

Hume Castle stands on a prominent site, visible for miles round. Initially, this gave it great defensive strengths, but by the later 18th century the ‘considerable eminence’ was thought the perfect site for an eye-catcher. The ruins of the ancient fortification were pulled down and the stone reused to create a curiously crenellated sham castle.

architecture, belvedere, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, Mausoleum, sham castle, Tower, Well

Follies and Freaks: a 1908 view.

In 1908 T.W. Wilkinson submitted an article on ‘Remarkable Follies’ to Wide World Magazine. This popular publication was launched in 1898 and was aimed at men, and in particular what one writer has called ‘armchair adventurers’. It specialised in true-life tales of derring-do with titles such as ‘The Underground Pirates’ and ‘Across Africa by Boat’. One wonders what the readership made of Wilkinson’s article: exciting as follies are, they don’t quite have the drama of ‘A Subterranean Duel’.

Arch, architecture, Banqueting House, country house, eyecatcher, Folly, garden, garden history, Hertfordshire, sham castle, Summerhouse

The Folly, Benington Lordship, Hertfordshire

In the grounds of Benington Lordship, an early 18th century mansion near Stevenage in Hertfordshire, is a sham ruin on a grand scale. Constructed in the 1830s it combined the roles of eye-catcher, gateway, smoking room and banqueting hall in one rambling structure.

architecture, Folly, Staffodshire

Ratcliffe’s Folly, or Ecton Castle, Ecton, Staffordshire

In later life Arthur Ratcliffe expressed his pride in having progressed from peddling candle wicks to becoming a surveyor, an M.P. for Leek, and director of a building society. But he might never have discovered his passion for building had his doctor not ordered him to take some time off work for the benefit of his health in 1922. On a visit to the Manifold Valley in Staffordshire, he found a small building which he intended to renovate as a weekend retreat, and snapped it up for the grand sum of £11.