Barbara Jones's sketch of the Gothic tower, marked up ready for publication in the 2nd edition of Follies and Grottoes in 1974. Courtesy of a private collection.
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.
The Cascade or fall of Water at Coghill-Hall near Knaresborough Yorkshire. Image courtesy of Cumbria Archive Centre, Carlisle (detail) D/SEN ACC4053/41.
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.’
Badger Dingle, north east of Bridgnorth in Shropshire, was created by Isaac Hawkins Browne in the 1780s and ‘90s. He constructed a new mansion, Badger Hall (demolished 1950s), to the designs of James Wyatt whilst at the same time employing William Emes, and probably his associate John Webb, to create a pleasure ground. Lakes were created in the valley bottom and a circuit walk took visitors through the ‘ornamented cultivated side’ of the valley, which looked across to the ‘purely sylvan’ scene of the opposite bank. An early account describes a picturesque scene of alpine planting and colourful shrubs.
The Folly Flâneuse has just enjoyed a weekend at Art Out Loud, the annual festival of talks by artists, curators, collectors and writers at Chatsworth. In between talks there was plenty of time to revisit the wonderful gardens and Capability Brown landscape, as well as the magnificent mansion, which is looking incredibly fine after a decade of restoration. Highlights included artist Ed Kluz talking with Kate Hubbard, whose new account of Bess of Hardwick’s building mania is just out. Bess, who lived at Chatsworth in the second half of the 16th century, was probably the driving force behind the construction of the Hunting Tower, or Stand, which dominates the hillside above the house and gardens.
Having fallen in to serious disrepair, the Hermitage at Kedleston was restored by the National Trust in 2016. The project was made more difficult because a large, and very lovely, plane tree has established itself alongside the building, which also makes (non-professional) photography something of a challenge.
A recent revelation on a private estate in South Yorkshire. Whilst wandering the grounds with the owner she mentioned it only as an aside: “I don’t suppose you are interested in the hermit’s cave?”. Not even the torrential April rain could dampen my spirits, although photos had to wait for more congenial weather. No history has been found to date, and it’s not even on O.S. maps, but appetites have been whetted…
Beaverbrook is a sumptuous country house hotel close to Dorking in Surrey. It was formerly the home of Lord Beaverbrook, the press baron, who found it by accident, and snapped it up, whilst out motoring with Rudyard Kipling in 1911. His house guests at Cherkley Court, as it then was, included luminaries from politics, the arts and show business. Winston Churchill dictated letters from his bath, Jean Cocteau painted a glass panel that remains above a door and Elizabeth Taylor provided Hollywood glamour.