One of the most curious collections of structures in Britain can be found on a ridge behind the house called Sorrelsykes*, near Aysgarth in North Yorkshire. Often cited as fine examples of follies because of their strange form, and apparent lack of function, the eccentric edifices seem to have lost their history. What are they? Who built them? When? And above all why?
A prominent feature in the extensive demesne of Alnwick Castle is the Observatory on Ratcheugh Crag, a ‘stupendous and romantic rock’. The building was one of a number of landscape features planned by Hugh and Elizabeth, 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, in the 1770s, but the sham-ruined eye-catcher was not completed until after her death.
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.
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.
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…
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.
Thistleberry House (aka Thistlebury) was the home of Samuel (1767-1838) and Margaret Mayer (?-1859). Samuel Mayer was a tanner and currier, and town dignitary, who was elected Mayor of Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1833. He is said to have erected this pretty tower in his grounds in the first decades of the 19th century.
As summer turned to autumn The Folly Flâneuse was reminded of a jolly jaunt to Jupiter Artland, a sculpture garden just outside Edinburgh, on a glorious day a year ago. A highlight was Pablo Bronstein’s Rose Walk, a pair of pavilions terminating a 25 metre long rose garden, their white-painted tracery magnificent against a clear blue sky.
Newton Surmaville, just outside Yeovil, was bought by the Harbin family in the early 1600s, and they immediately set about constructing a very handsome new house. Sometime in the middle of the following century they added this summerhouse on Newton Hill, high above the house, and the story locally is that it was one of a trio of towers in the area, used by their owners to flag the message that it was time to ‘gallop over for a convivial evening’.
The fact that a building in the Albano hills above Rome has been known since the 18th century as the ‘so called’ mausoleum of the Horatii and Curiatii speaks volumes: it was in fact constructed on the Appian Way centuries after the legendary rival Horatii and Curiatii triplets are said to have battled for their pride and people. But the legend and the sham sepulchre must have made an impression: back home in England it inspired at least three monuments in landscape gardens.