Ralph Allen of Bath, is well-known for his elegant Prior Park house and gardens and for the magnificent gothic sham castle, one of Britain’s finest follies, which he had erected on the skyline above the city in 1762. The sham castle and Prior Park remain popular attractions in Bath, but a quirky tower erected in Allen’s memory is sadly lost.
On Hogmanay the Folly Flâneuse set off to explore Harold’s Castle on the edge of Thurso. On this festive date a superlative structure was required, and this tower is a visual treat with a great history. It is also the most northerly folly on the British mainland.
In 1752 the architect James Paine provided plans to remodel New Grange, Walter Wade’s seat in open country outside the then town of Leeds. The views were ‘most beautiful and extensive’ and the dramatic ruins of the cistercian Kirkstall Abbey were included in the prospect. By the end of the century the Wades no longer resided at New Grange, and the house was let before appearing on the market on a number of occasions. In 1829 George Robins, famed as the the man ‘of auction renown, who made a great fortune by knocking things down’, offered the estate for sale and with his usual hyperbole stated that it was ‘uniformly accounted THE DISTINGUISHING FEATURE NEAR LEEDS’. His newspaper advertisement went on to describe the Terrace Walk as ‘incredibly beautiful’ with a ‘Panorama’ of THE VENERABLE ABBEY OF KIRKSTALL AND ITS MASSIVE RUINS’.
New Grange was purchased by the Leeds banker William Beckett in 1832 and renamed Kirkstall Grange. Beckett was an eminent man in Leeds and entertained luminaries from the aristocracy, the church and the mercantile world at his home. He had however set his sights on hosting the most important personage in Britain: Queen Victoria had agreed to preside over the inauguration of the new Town Hall in Leeds, which was scheduled to open in autumn 1858, and Beckett hoped she would stay at Kirkstall Grange.
In preparation for this event Beckett remodelled the mansion, and erected this monument at the end of a walk in a plantation that became known as Queen’s Wood. Although the arch is now engulfed in trees, at the time of its completion it was on the edge of the woodland with a vista to the abbey. The arch may have been built out of fragments from the rebuilding of the house and it was decorated in the same Minton tiles that were used extensively in the new Town Hall. The lettering reads: TO COMMEMORATE THE VISIT OF QUEEN VICTORIA TO LEEDS SEPR 7 1858 FOR THE INAUGURATION OF THE TOWN HALL.
Beckett was to be disappointed. His ‘large house party’ did not include the monarch, who chose to stay elsewhere.
Kirkstall Grange, now better known as Beckett Park, is a campus of Leeds Beckett University. The arch is grade II listed.
Capability Brown drew up a plan for the landscape at Whitley Beaumont which was implemented by Richard Beaumont in the 1780s. The Monument was probably built as an eye-catcher from a new carriage drive, and existed by 1822 when it is shown on an estate map, but not named. It is marked as ‘The Monument’ on the 1850s ordnance survey map but no-one remembers why it was given this name, or what it might be a monument to.
Built of fragments of masonry, probably rescued from a remodelling of the hall, and embellished with battered statuary, this is a fabulous folly and was surely designed by the family themselves. It’s unlikely an eminent architect would wish to take the credit.
The monument fell into disrepair during the two world wars when the park was used for army training and mined for coal as part of the war effort. Today the fragments survive as a forlorn and overgrown pile of stones.
The park at Whitley Beaumont is strictly private.
This gothic fragment can be found in the public park surrounding Clitheroe Castle in Lancashire. It was given to the town by Captain Sir William Brass, the local MP, to mark the coronation of King George VI in 1937. The pinnacle was rescued from the masons’ yard after it was removed as part of the extensive repairs to the stonework of the Houses of Parliament begun in the 1930s. The ladies bowling team selflessly allowed their green to be converted into a rose garden to surround the pinnacle.