Born 200 years ago this month, on 8 February 1819, John Ruskin was a polymath; an artist, writer and critic who believed that culture should be available to all, not just the elite. As a new exhibition in London beautifully illustrates, Ruskin had strong opinions on most subjects. As he thought the architecture of Palladio ‘virtueless and despicable’, and the Houses of Parliament ‘effeminate and effortless’, we can probably assume that garden ornaments such as classical temples and gothic towers would not be his ‘thing’.
A 1770s map of the Wentworth Woodhouse estate marks a building called ‘The Marchioness’s Summer House’. The noble lady in question was Mary Bright, wife of the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, twice Prime Minister of Great Britain. The summer house was situated on high ground in Tankersley Park which was home to a large herd of red deer.
In the 18th century the Shaw family of textile merchants operated out of the magnificent Piece Hall in Halifax (recently restored and very well worth a visit) https://www.thepiecehall.co.uk. By the end of the century a new mill had been established at Holywell Green near Stainland, outside Halifax. It was greatly extended in the second half of the 19th century by Samuel Shaw, who also built a new family home nearby, which he called Brooklands. The house was almost ready for occupation in the autumn of 1868 and the grounds were being laid out at the same date. The landscaping included a pond with fountain and a series of 3 curious towers linked by a wall. The Halifax Courier described the scene in 1877, noting that the three towers gave ‘the impression that a castle of somewhat imposing dimensions’ overshadowed the grounds.
Ralph Allen of Bath, is well-known for his elegant Prior Park house and gardens and for the magnificent gothic sham castle, one of Britain’s finest follies, which he had erected on the skyline above the city in 1762. The sham castle and Prior Park remain popular attractions in Bath, but a quirky tower erected in Allen’s memory is sadly lost.
By the early 18th century Hornby Castle was a seat of the D’arcy family, earls of Holderness. Robert D’arcy, the 4th earl, began to improve the estate from around 1750 with John Carr of York remodelling the castle and associated buildings, including three eye-catcher farmhouses to be viewed from the castle and the network of rides around the estate. Capability Brown was paid for his services in 1768 and although it’s not known exactly what he proposed, as no plan survives, the series of lakes in a very Brownian style were constructed over the next decade.
On Hogmanay the Folly Flâneuse set off to explore Harold’s Castle on the edge of Thurso. On this festive date a superlative structure was required, and this tower is a visual treat with a great history. It is also the most northerly folly on the British mainland.
Taking it easy as Christmas approaches, the Folly Flâneuse was flicking through a copy of The Home Owner magazine from December 1937. She was delighted to discover one writer’s thoughts on follies at that date. Follies were, he wrote :
‘the natural off-spring of the union of too much money with too little brain…set up ostensibly to improve the view, but really to advertise some wealthy nit-wit’
On that note a very merry Christmas and there will be more nit-wits and their creations in 2019.
The Secret Garden in Wakefield’s Thornes Park features these architectural fragments which have popped up at various locations across the Wakefield district. The pinnacle is a bit of a mystery, but is believed to have been salvaged during a restoration of Wakefield Cathedral. The columns were originally part of the Wakefield Market Cross which was demolished, against the wishes of the people of Wakefield, in 1866 as part of the corporation’s ‘public improvements’. The furious scenes at the public auction of the cross in September 1866 made the papers across Britain. It was bought by a no-nonsense Mr Armitage who said ‘It will do very well for my garden’.
Thomas Lister (1752-1826) of Gisburne Park, in the West Riding of Yorkshire (but now Lancashire), inherited the Malham shooting lodge from his father in 1761. The centrepiece of its surrounding estate was Malham Tarn, a natural lake said to be the largest in Yorkshire. The water had been criticised by travellers in search of the picturesque: ‘The Tarn has nothing beautiful in its shape or borders, being bare of trees, and everything else to ornament it’, wrote William Bray in a work published in 1783. Although surrounded by crags the rocks were deemed too distant from the waters edge, and the tarn tame, especially in comparison with the sublime limestone masses of Malham Cove and Gordale scar, just a short ride away, which tourists saw on the same day.