In 1822 work began in Edinburgh to construct a National Monument to commemorate the men of Scotland who had lost their lives during the long years of war with France. Calton Hill had been purchased for the people by Edinburgh’s Town Council in 1724, making it an early example of a public park in Britain, and the elevated site was chosen for the new monument. After considering various forms the city decided to erect a replica of the Parthenon, giving Edinburgh its very own Acropolis. Charles Robert Cockerell was asked to design the building, with the Scotsman William Henry Playfair as executant architect in Scotland.
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.
In 1752 the architect James Paine provided plans to remodel New Grange, Walter Wade’s seat in open country outside the then town of Leeds. The views were ‘most beautiful and extensive’ and the dramatic ruins of the cistercian Kirkstall Abbey were included in the prospect. By the end of the century the Wades no longer resided at New Grange, and the house was let before appearing on the market on a number of occasions. In 1829 George Robins, famed as the the man ‘of auction renown, who made a great fortune by knocking things down’, offered the estate for sale and with his usual hyperbole stated that it was ‘uniformly accounted THE DISTINGUISHING FEATURE NEAR LEEDS’. His newspaper advertisement went on to describe the Terrace Walk as ‘incredibly beautiful’ with a ‘Panorama’ of THE VENERABLE ABBEY OF KIRKSTALL AND ITS MASSIVE RUINS’.
New Grange was purchased by the Leeds banker William Beckett in 1832 and renamed Kirkstall Grange. Beckett was an eminent man in Leeds and entertained luminaries from the aristocracy, the church and the mercantile world at his home. He had however set his sights on hosting the most important personage in Britain: Queen Victoria had agreed to preside over the inauguration of the new Town Hall in Leeds, which was scheduled to open in autumn 1858, and Beckett hoped she would stay at Kirkstall Grange.
In preparation for this event Beckett remodelled the mansion, and erected this monument at the end of a walk in a plantation that became known as Queen’s Wood. Although the arch is now engulfed in trees, at the time of its completion it was on the edge of the woodland with a vista to the abbey. The arch may have been built out of fragments from the rebuilding of the house and it was decorated in the same Minton tiles that were used extensively in the new Town Hall. The lettering reads: TO COMMEMORATE THE VISIT OF QUEEN VICTORIA TO LEEDS SEPR 7 1858 FOR THE INAUGURATION OF THE TOWN HALL.
Beckett was to be disappointed. His ‘large house party’ did not include the monarch, who chose to stay elsewhere.
Kirkstall Grange, now better known as Beckett Park, is a campus of Leeds Beckett University. The arch is grade II listed.
Clarkson’s History of Richmond, revised in 1821, recounts that Cuthbert Readshaw created a ‘highly romantic walk’ by the Swale in 1760. Cuthbert Readshaw, who died in 1773 was a merchant who lived in the Bailey (ie the market place) in Richmond, and according to his will he was in ‘the business of wine and spirits and other branches of trade’.
To access the walk 18th century visitors would have travelled downhill from the town centre and crossed the river via the Green Bridge. Promenading along the south bank of the River Swale they would have encountered the picturesque scene of leafy Billy Bank Wood (aka Bordel Bank) and occasional artful outbreaks of the craggy rock face behind. Tucked in the woods was the cleft or cave known as Arthur’s Oven, conjuring romantic images of ancient and wilder times.
The sham castle folly on Mow Cop was built by Randle Wilbraham of Rode Hall in 1754 as a summerhouse to which the family could ride for picnics. Its elevated position meant it could be seen from the mansion, some three miles away on the Cheshire side of the county boundary.
In the later decades of the 18th century Parlington, near Aberford, was improved by Sir Thomas Gascoigne, 8th Bart, and it was he who built this arch to a design by Thomas Leverton. Construction was underway in 1781 when the Leeds Intelligencer reported that ‘some evil-minded Person or Persons’ had maliciously damaged the partly- built arch and destroyed two capitals and other mouldings in the mason’s shed. A reward of £10 was offered to anyone who approached Sir Thomas or his Head Gardener with information.
A great stumbling block in the understanding of follies is the attempt to define what exactly one is. Must it be useless? Wildly expensive? Weird? One of my favourite summaries comes from Barbara Jones, the first person to study the genre in depth in Follies and Grottoes, published by Constable 65 years ago today
She wrote that a folly ‘is built for pleasure, and pleasure is personal, difficult to define.’