On the edge of the town of Wigan stands Haigh Hall, described in 1745 as a ‘good old house and wood in a very pretty situation’. On rising ground above Haigh Hall (pronounced Hay) there once stood a substantial landscape feature which housed an observatory. A pair of paintings with an interesting history help tell the tale.
One of the few upsides to the current situation is that there is time to rootle around in the attic and find all sorts of forgotten files full of treasure. Opening one box revealed this invitation to the private view of The Sitooteries, 20 years ago this month. What’s a sitooterie you may ask? Well it’s as simple as it sounds – a building to sit out in (the term is supposed to originate in Scotland, so try saying it in your best Caledonian accent).
Sedbergh sits in that part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park which is actually in modern day Cumbria, although historically the town was part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. This little summerhouse now belongs to Sedbergh School, which was established in the town in 1525, and their charitable foundation recently led a restoration project to restore the building for community use.
With vaccines very much in the news at the moment, The Folly Flâneuse was reminded that a little rustic hut, in a garden in Gloucestershire, played a role in the development of inoculation in Britain and across the world. In May 1796 Edward Jenner successfully vaccinated a child against smallpox, and as news of his work spread globally, he began to inoculate the poor of his neighbourhood in this summerhouse in his garden.
This weekend the country celebrates the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Thinking of the events of 1939-45, the Folly Flâneuse was reminded of a wartime project to document the changing rural and urban face of Britain. At a time when the future seemed uncertain, ‘Recording Britain’ commissioned artists to portray the country as it then was, creating a visual history for future generations.
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.
As the nation settles into staying at home, forgoing a social life and, more practically, visits to the hairdresser and beauty salon, the Folly Flâneuse got to thinking about those fashionable landscape ornaments called hermitages, in which men (presumably women had more sense than to apply for the vacancy) lived in isolation. With ragged clothing, long fingernails, and unkempt beards, the hermits animated the landscape, whilst creating a little drama for the visitors who caught a (staged) glimpse of the recluse.