architecture, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, hampshire, landscape, Mausoleum, Monument, pyramid

The Horse Monument, Farley Mount, Hursley, Hampshire

Photo courtesy of John Malaiperuman

High in Hampshire stands this imposing monument. It marks the resting place of a heroic horse, which managed not only to survive a leap into a deep pit, rider intact, but went on to win a great race the following year. That rider was Paulet St John (1704-1780) of Farley Chamberlayne. Alongside his sporting exploits, he found time to be a Member of Parliament and Mayor of Winchester, and was rewarded in 1772 when he became Sir Paulet St John, baronet.

But to go back forty years to 1733: when out ‘a foxhunting’ St John misjudged the terrain and found himself leaping into a chalk pit which was 25 feet deep. Somehow, neither man nor mount was injured, and the horse went on to win the Hunters’ Plate at Winchester the following year. The tale, as told on the monument, is that St John celebrated his lucky escape by entering the horse in the race under the name of ‘Beware Chalk Pit’, although a diligent writer in the Sporting Magazine of 1840 searched back in the records and concluded that the horse was actually better known as a chestnut called (unimaginatively) Foxhunter.

The monument as seen in Vol. I of ‘A General History of Hampshire…’ by Woodward, Wilks and Lockhart, published in 1861

Exact dates for the death of the horse, and the erection of what became known locally as ‘the ‘Horse Monument’, seem to be lost. The mound on which it stands is thought to be Bronze Age, but with modern interventions, and it was once the site of a beacon. Most sources suggest the monument was built in 1795, but as this was 15 years after St John died it must be earlier, and almost certainly before 1772, as the inscription does not record St John’s baronetcy. On Taylor’s 1759 map of Hampshire the site is marked as ‘Beacon Hill’, but no building is indicated (although frustratingly this doesn’t mean it wasn’t there). However by 1791 when Milne’s map of the county was made, ‘Beacon Hill’ is shown complete with a building on the summit. By the time the 1st series Ordnance Survey map was published in the 1810s the building had become known as the ‘Farley Monument’.

In 1863 the monument was described as ‘somewhat dilapidated’ and it was covered with graffiti as a result of ‘vulgar Vandalism’ (presumably it had stood strong against the weather, because of course in Hampshire hurricanes hardly ever happen…). It was restored by the Rt Hon Sir William Heathcote, Bt, of Hursley in 1870, and it seems that it was actually more of a rebuild than a repair. In 1846 it was described as a ‘miniature pyramid’ and an engraving published in 1861 (above) shows a cube with a pyramid roof, much simpler and squatter in form than the current structure. A most unexpected source, of which more later, described it in 1848 as ’20 feet high’, whereas the present pyramid reaches over 32 feet (10m).

Farley Mount by William Savage (1817-1887). This wonderful photograph was taken in 1870, the year the monument was rebuilt. Sadly we don’t know the identity of  the elegant top-hatted gentleman by the folly.  Image courtesy of Hampshire Cultural Trust, WINCM;PWCM4674.

Post-restoration, the cube base had disappeared and an elegant elongated pyramid had appeared in its place. There are porches on each face: one contains an entrance and the other three are blank. Inside a room was constructed so ‘way-farers and picnic parties may rest and be thankful’. Heathcote replaced the original inscription with two plaques (one inside, one on the exterior), adding for posterity his own role in the building:

SEP.  A. D. 1870

Early 20th century postcard, courtesy of a private collection.

The monument needs regular maintenance. It was restored in 1950, and again at the beginning of the current century, when the question of whether it was actually an equine mausoleum (which it had been called since at least 1798), was raised. A basic investigation found no trace of the horse, but it did confirm that the building had been constructed in ‘two phases’. This restoration involved stripping off the old render and removing and replacing the decayed outer skin of brickwork. Once rebuilt the pyramid was re-rendered with lime mortar and painted. In 2014 further renovation and repainting was required to keep the monument looking its best. Since the early 1970s the surrounding land has been a country park with the grade II listed monument dominating the landscape.

Photo courtesy of John Malaiperuman.

But to return to the unlikely source of the measurement of the tower: in 1848 a Geometry and Mechanics examination paper for the Winchester Diocesan Training School, asked the following question: ‘The “Horse Monument” on Farley Mount is a pyramid of brick-work 20 feet high, built upon a mound 30 feet high; supposing the materials to weigh 8 tons, how many units of work were expended in raising them from the foot of the mound to their present position?’

If that’s too taxing, have a listen to a brief 1937 clip about the folly on Pathé News. Having sneaked Professor Henry Higgins into the text earlier, he would surely have approved of the clipped pronunciation of “Hempshire”

Photo courtesy of John Malaiperuman

The fabulous colour photos used here are all courtesy of John Malaiperuman, the conservation architect who led the 2014 restoration. You can see more of his work here

For Farley Mount Country Park


architecture, belvedere, County Durham, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, landscape, Summerhouse

The Deer House, Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, County Durham

In 1752 Richard Trevor became the new Bishop of Durham. A perk of the post was two palaces: one in the city and a country seat at Auckland Castle, on the edge of the town of Bishop Auckland. In around 1760 he erected there this gorgeous gothic Deer House in the park at Auckland. As is so often the case with garden buildings, it combined the functional with the frivolous –  as well as sheltering the herd it also provided a banqueting room with extensive views and served as an eye-catcher in the park.

architecture, eyecatcher, Folly, garden, garden history, landscape, Lodge, Obelisk, West Yorkshire

Obelisk Lodge, Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire

Nostell Priory, not far from Wakefield in West Yorkshire, is a magnificent 18th century mansion built adjacent to the site of an Augustinian priory. Architect James Paine worked at Nostell for around 30 years, before Robert Adam was called in to add new wings and other works. Adam also designed one of the most luscious of lodges to be found on a country estate.

architecture, belvedere, Buckinghamshire, Column, eyecatcher, Folly, garden, garden history, landscape, Temple

The Column, Langley Park, Wexham, Buckinghamshire

In 1738 Langley Park was purchased by the 3rd Duke of Marlborough (1706-1758), and one of his first projects was the construction of an elegant casino with views to Windsor Castle. In the middle of the 19th century that temple was demolished, and replaced by an equally charming monumental column. That too survived for only a century, but happily a pictorial record helps tell the story.

architecture, belvedere, Dovecote, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, landscape, North Yorkshire, Observatory, Tower

Oliver Ducket, Richmond, North Yorkshire

Photo January 2021 courtesy of Nigel Tooze.

Just outside Richmond in Yorkshire is the Aske estate. The grounds were landscaped by successive owners in the 18th century, and various ornaments added to the park. The most curious is Oliver Ducket*, a folly high above the park with many a tale attached.

architecture, Folly, garden, garden history, Grotto, landscape, London

The Schweppes Grotto, Festival of Britain Pleasure Gardens, Battersea, London

In 1947, the British Government decided to mark the 100th anniversary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 with a Festival of Britain, scheduled to open 100 years to the day since the launch of the Great Exhibition, on 3 May 1951. The focus was an exhibition in London, and the area we now know as South Bank was chosen as the venue for the celebration of British achievements past, present and future. A little upriver at Battersea were the complementary Festival Pleasure Gardens. Whilst the tone on the South Bank was ‘intellectual seriousness’, at Battersea all was colour and whimsy, and a highlight was the sparkling grotto, sponsored by Schhh, you know who…

architecture, belvedere, East Sussex, eyecatcher, Folly, garden, garden history, landscape, Monument, Tower

Gibraltar Tower, Heathfield Park, East Sussex

The Gibraltar Tower by Chris Broughton (1949-2015) as featured in 'Rockingham Whig Landscapes', New Arcadian Journal 71/72 (2013). Image courtesy of the New Arcadian Press.

In 1791 Francis Newbery, bought Bailey Park, an estate in East Sussex, which he renamed the Heathfield Park Estate. Almost immediately he set to work constructing this elegant tower on high ground in his park. The Folly Flâneuse has joined forces with The Garden Historian to elaborate on its history.

architecture, belvedere, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, Gloucestershire, Observatory, Tower, Worcestershire

Guy’s Folly, or The Round Tower, Icomb, Gloucestershire

Undated postcard of Icomb Tower, courtesy of a private collection.

The Round Tower, aka Guy’s Folly, stood on high ground to the west of what is now the A424 between Stow on the Wold and Burford. Sadly, this lovely little folly was demolished in the 1970s to make way for a B.B.C. transmission mast. Both Napoleon and Kitchener make an appearance in its rather hazy history…

architecture, belvedere, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, landscape, Northumberland, sham castle, Summerhouse

Starlight Castle, Seaton Delaval, Northumberland

Starlight Castle is a folly on the grand Seaton Delaval estate close to the Northumberland coast. Today only a small section of wall survives, and historic photographs and postcards show it already in ruins a century ago. It was probably built by Sir Francis Delaval (1727-1771) in the middle of the 18th century. The story goes that Delaval wagered he could build a castle overnight, and this was the result.