‘Follies Can Be Fun’. So read the headline of an article in the Times in October 1959. But apparently not all follies: the anonymous author* dismissed sham ruins, grottoes and shell rooms, and expressed a preference for towers and columns. The Folly Flâneuse, who wholeheartedly agrees with the headline, thought it might be ‘fun’ to revisit some of the follies featured in the piece, to see how they had fared more than 60 years later.
In 1771 the agriculturalist and country house afficionado Arthur Young visited Halswell in Somerset. He admired the house, but admitted that what ‘chiefly attracts the attention of strangers, are the decorated grounds’. Sir Charles Kemeys Tynte (1710-1785) ornamented his park with temples, rustic shelters and elegant bridges, all of which fell into disrepair, or disappeared completely, after the Second World War. Happily, recent years have seen a major programme of restoration, which continues apace.
This fine arch could once be found on the edge of the village of Westwick, but sadly it was pulled down as recently as 1981. Nearby, in a scrappy ribbon of woodland, stands a decrepit brick tower with a square base supporting a round shaft. It is difficult to appreciate that this remnant was once a much-admired eye-catcher and belvedere, which went by the curious title of the Westwick Obelisk.
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.
High above Newby Bridge in Cumbria (formerly Lancashire) stands Finsthwaite Tower. When first built it was a prominent landmark on a bare hill, and commanded an extensive prospect of sea, lake and mountains. The tower was built by James King of Finsthwaite House as an ornament to the landscape, and as a monument to naval prowess. And to start 2022 with some really good news, after decades of decay the tower has a new owner, and a new lease of life.
Queen Victoria bought the Balmoral estate in 1848, and it later became the place where the Queen sought solace after Prince Albert’s early death, 160 years ago in December 1861. There were soon plans for monuments to the late Prince Consort, including the famous Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, but at Balmoral a huge hilltop pyramid was under construction only a few months after Albert’s death.
The palatial mansion of Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, is set in a landscape ornamented with towers and temples, pyramids and pavilions. One of the earliest is this slim, elegant structure pierced with an arch. Originally an eye-catcher, it later became an object on a drive to the house, but now once more stands alone on a swathe of green in a tranquil corner of the park.
In September 1842 the 2nd Marquis of Breadalbane and his family welcomed Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Taymouth Castle. They were greeted, with great ceremony, by pipers and by crowds of well-wishers in full highland costume, and a gun salute was fired. The Queen was charmed. During their brief stay Albert went hunting and shooting, returning with a bumper bag each evening, whilst the young monarch spent the days walking and riding in the park.
Skelton Tower stands high above Levisham in the North York Moors National Park. Once a moorland retreat, it is now a remote and romantic ruin.
A building that needs little, if any, introduction: the ne plus ultra of follies. But one that continues to perplex, as no architect has ever been identified for this the most ornate and glorious of garden buildings, erected in 1761 for Lord Dunmore. Very few early accounts can be found, but in 1768 a visitor wrote of emerging from woodland to find a pleasure house of which the ‘top part is built exactly in the form of a pineapple’.
The flanking walls supported glasshouses, and were heated to enable the growing of fruit – including pineapples, presumably. Adjacent to the ‘beautiful Pine-apple Summer house’ were four lodging rooms for the gardeners.
The Pineapple centrepiece is now leased by the Landmark Trust and provides lodging rooms for holidaymakers. The grounds and walled garden belong to the National Trust for Scotland, and are in need of a little love and attention when funds are available.
A brief post this week as the Folly Flâneuse is taking a week off to catch up after a Scottish sojourn (so expect more delights from that trip) and will then be heading off once again in pursuit of pavilions and on the trail of towers. Thank you for reading.
For stays in the Pineapple see https://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/search-and-book/properties/pineapple-10726/#Overview