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…
Gosford House, a seat of the Earl of Wemyss and March, is a stunning mansion which looks across the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh. Designed by the eminent architect Robert Adam (1728-1792) shortly before his death, building work began in the 1790s. The house sits in the prettiest of grounds, with watercourses, ponds, summerhouses and a sublime mausoleum. In the following century one of the summerhouses was given a new use by the Aberlady Curling Club, which held matches there whenever the pond was suitably frozen.
Constructed early in the 19th century, this rocky grotto was built in the grounds of Ingleborough Hall, home to the Farrer family. Later it was a favoured spot of Elizabeth Farrer (1853-1937), and has thus became known by the wonderfully comforting name of Aunt Bessie’s Grotto. Here tea was served by the staff, whilst the family enjoyed the wonderful view to Thwaite Scars.
The grounds of Kyre Park were laid out in the second half of the 18th century for the Pytts family. A roughly horseshoe string of ponds was created, with ornamental cascades and bridges, and this landscape formed the backdrop to pageants and garden parties in the Edwardian era. In 1930 the estate was sold, and a series of institutional tenants then occupied the house. In the 1980s the depressing phrases ‘semi-ruinous’ and ‘partially collapsed’ were used to describe a Hermit’s Cave and a tunnel. But by the end of the century Kyre Park had found its saviours…
The Folly Flâneuse is away, so a brief post this week to accompany some holiday snaps.
John Sharp became the incumbent of Hartburn, near Morpeth, in 1749 and this curious tower was built soon after; it was originally used as a schoolhouse and to house the parish hearse. Sharp contributed to the cost from his own pocket, but reaped the benefits as the tower also served as an eye-catcher from his ornamented grounds in the valley of the Hart Burn that gives the village its name.
In the 18th century the Shaw family of textile merchants operated out of the magnificent Piece Hall in Halifax (recently restored and very well worth a visit) https://www.thepiecehall.co.uk. By the end of the century a new mill had been established at Holywell Green near Stainland, outside Halifax. It was greatly extended in the second half of the 19th century by Samuel Shaw, who also built a new family home nearby, which he called Brooklands. The house was almost ready for occupation in the autumn of 1868 and the grounds were being laid out at the same date. The landscaping included a pond with fountain and a series of 3 curious towers linked by a wall. The Halifax Courier described the scene in 1877, noting that the three towers gave ‘the impression that a castle of somewhat imposing dimensions’ overshadowed the grounds.
Coghill Hall has changed hands, appearances, and names over the centuries. Known today as Conyngham Hall, it is situated on the edge of the town of Knaresborough and the house originally enjoyed views to the ancient castle and church, as well as of the wooded banks of the river Nidd. Knaresborough’s historian, Eli Hargrove, described the situation in 1789:
‘The lawn falls gently towards the river, on the bank of which a fine gravel walk winds through a thick grove to a retired and pleasing spot called the hermitage, where a rustic cell built of stones and moss is placed near a natural cascade, which the river forms by falling over a ridge of rocks.’
In 1920 the Yorkshire Post published a letter about a mysterious cave, or grotto, at West Nab on moorland above Meltham on the western edge of Yorkshire. The correspondent believed the structure had been built around 1500 years earlier as the dwelling of the pagan god Baal – hence it’s being known as ‘Bellman’s Castle’.
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.’