architecture, belvedere, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, Grotto, landscape, North Yorkshire, Temple

The Grotto Temple, Masham, North Yorkshire

Just over the river Ure from the market town of Masham is this unusual rotunda sitting on top of a rustic grotto. It was designed to take advantage of the view over the river to the church and the attractive little town. An engraved stone near the temple tells us that in 1770 ‘Samuel Wrather built this grotto’.

architecture, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, Grotto, hermitage, North Yorkshire

The Hermitage, Newton House, near Whitby, North Yorkshire

This stone shelter, grandly titled ‘The Hermitage’ stands in the former grounds of Newton House, a few miles from Whitby. Newton House was built in the late 18th century as the seat of Jonas Brown a Whitby ship-owner and merchant. Brown (1717-1799) is commemorated by an obelisk near the house which records that he built Newton House and tamed the surrounding wild heath to create arable land and pleasure grounds.

The early history of the cave, likes its interior, is a little murky and no contemporary account of its construction seems to exist. There’s no explanation why a hermitage was built here, although such solemn structures were a fashionable addition to landscapes at this date. The builder might have been inspired by the local ‘romantic fable’ of the Hermit of Eskdaleside, which is just a few miles from Newton House. The story goes that a monk from Whitby lived as a recluse in the woods, and one day an exhausted wild boar ran into his dwelling and expired. The monk slammed the door on the hunters who charged their way in and, furious, attacked the hermit and left him for dead. With his dying words he forgave them but imposed a penance (see the link at the end for the full story).

The legend of the hermit of Eskdaleside as told on a map of 1817. ‘In this Chapel the Wild Boar took Refuge when the Hermit was kill’d by the Lords of Ugglebarnby and Sneaton, then a hunting here’. Reproduced courtesy of North Yorkshire Country Record Office, PR/ESK.

In the grounds of Newton House a huge boulder was scooped out to create a cavern, with a stone bench running around the interior. Across the path from the hermitage is a walled viewing platform looking down to the May Beck in the valley below. There would have been no shortage of qualified workers to excavate the Hermitage, for the area was already extensively quarried for sandstone, and to provide materials for the local alum industry, in which Brown had an interest. The Hermitage is assumed to have been part of Brown’s landscaping works, but it does not bear his name. Instead is inscribed’ The Hermitage’ and ‘G + C’ and dated ‘1790’.

Identifying the person behind the initials ‘G+C’ is not easy. The first description in print seems to be in Whellan’s History & Topography of York and the North Riding which was published in 1859, almost 60 years after the cave was created. Whellan states that the Hermitage was built by George Clubb in 1790. A year later Francis Kildale Robinson’s 1860 guide to Whitby, its abbey, and the principal parts of the neighbourhood claims that the Hermitage bears the inscription ‘George Chubb, 1790′. Robinson is incorrect as the carving does not give a full name: there are simply the deeply-incised initials ‘G + C’. Later histories rely on Robinson and perpetuate the incorrect name of Chubb – but he shall be Clubb henceforth (conclusive evidence will be provided in due course).

George Waddington (1821-1898), a Whitby antiquary, amassed volumes of notes and clippings on the area, many based on the oral histories of local residents (now in the collection at the excellent Whitby Museum). In 1880 he noted that George Clubb had been factotum to the Brown family of Newton House, and also designer of ‘the stonehouse or hermitage’. Waddington was told that the hermitage was hollowed out by one Christopher Jeffrey, and that it had housed a stone table until a ‘young beast’ ran in and destroyed it (the species of this brawny brute is not specified). The roof of the cave is home to two stone chairs, one a simple stool, but the other a rather grand, although perhaps not hugely comfortable, armchair – were they for George and Christopher (G+C) creators of the cave?

Waddington was also told that Clubb had a school in nearby Littlebeck, and this part of the story at least appears to be verifiable. Whitby parish registers note that George Clubb, a Schoolmaster who lived to be 75, was buried at St Mary’s in Whitby (of Dracula fame) in November 1812. His dates are therefore c. 1737-1812, but no other trace of the enigmatic schoolmaster/factotum/hermitage designer has yet been found.

The Heritage as seen on a postcard sent in 1909. Courtesy of the Dave Martin Collection.

Jonas Brown died in 1799 and Newton House remained with his descendants until 1812, before passing through a number of owners. During the Second World War the house was requisitioned and in 1967 the estate was sold to the Forestry Commission. Having been a field studies centre for some years Newton House is now a private home.

Early 20th century postcard courtesy of a private collection.

The Hermitage stands a little way from the popular natural attraction of Falling Foss waterfall (and the equally popular Falling Foss Tea Garden). It can be easily accessed from the Falling Foss car park, or there is a lovely walk from the pretty hamlet of Littlebeck to Falling Foss, with the mysterious Hermitage, and a much more recent addition, as objects along the route.

Lines from ‘Peace’ by Georgia Douglas Johnson carved by local sculptor Steve Iredale on a tree which had to be felled because of ash dieback early in 2023. Discovered in the Little Beck Wood Nature reserve, en route to the Hermitage.

For the tale of the hermit and the boar see

There’s more on Littlebeck Wood nature reserve here

If you have any other thoughts or comments, please scroll down to the foot of the page to get in touch. Thank you for reading.

architecture, Art, Column, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, Grotto, hermitage, Monument, Rustic shelter, sham castle

Follies and Pharmaceuticals: a Curious Concoction

Barbara Jones is best known to readers of these pages as the author of Follies & Grottoes (1953, revised 1974), the first book to consider the subject of garden and landscape buildings in any detail. She also wrote books about popular art, erotic postcards and furniture amongst other subjects, and as an illustrator and designer her work appeared in magazines, on calendars, dustjackets, greetings telegrams and much, much more.

architecture, eyecatcher, Folly, garden, garden history, Grotto, hampshire, landscape, public park, Summerhouse

The Shell-House, Leigh Park, Havant, Hampshire

Sir George Staunton bought the Leigh Park estate in 1820, and set to work remodelling the house and ornamenting the park with an eclectic range of garden buildings. Many are sadly lost today, but a programme of restoration, in what is now Staunton Country Park, is bringing some of the survivors back to life. One of the loveliest of the garden ornaments is this exquisite little Shell-House.

architecture, belvedere, Folly, garden history, Grotto, hermitage, landscape, Perth & Kinross

The Hermitage, Falls of Acharn, Perth & Kinross

In the 18th century the Campbell family, Earls of Breadalbane, embellished the park around the family seat at Taymouth with temples and mock forts, complementing the natural beauties of the surrounding hills and the River Tay that flows through the estate. Just a couple of miles away, on the shores of Loch Tay, was a more dramatic feature, a rustic shelter and a roaring cascade, which added a sublime element to the beautiful policies of Taymouth.

architecture, eyecatcher, Folly, garden, garden history, Grotto, landscape, Surrey

The Grotto and Cottage Orné, Oatlands Park, Surrey, as seen by the novelist Denton Welch

Denton Welch was a talented artist and writer, but his career was sadly cut short by his early death in 1948. A few years before he died he described an ornate 18th century grotto in one of his novels: the fabulous grotto was for real, but it was demolished in the same year that Welch died, making his description all the more poignant.

architecture, Folly, garden, Grotto, Pagoda, pyramid, Summerhouse, Temple

The Last of Uptake: a book of folly and follies

In the early 1940s the artist Rex Whistler completed the illustrations for a book in his breaks from training with the Welsh Guards, working on the drawings in the army huts where he was stationed. The book was The Last of Uptake by Simon Harcourt-Smith, and the reviews agreed that here was ‘the perfect blend of artist and writer’.

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…