The last decades of the 19th century saw a passion for all things rustic in the garden – seats, arbours, bridges, and above all summerhouses. For as it was said in 1870, a garden summerhouse of some sort was ‘desirable, and indeed almost necessary’.
One of the most curious collections of structures in Britain can be found on a ridge behind the house called Sorrelsykes*, near Aysgarth in North Yorkshire. Often cited as fine examples of follies because of their strange form, and apparent lack of function, the eccentric edifices seem to have lost their history. What are they? Who built them? When? And above all why?
Just outside Richmond in Yorkshire is the Aske estate. The grounds were landscaped by successive owners in the 18th century, and various ornaments added to the park. The most curious is Oliver Ducket*, a folly high above the park with many a tale attached.
The fact that a building in the Albano hills above Rome has been known since the 18th century as the ‘so called’ mausoleum of the Horatii and Curiatii speaks volumes: it was in fact constructed on the Appian Way centuries after the legendary rival Horatii and Curiatii triplets are said to have battled for their pride and people. But the legend and the sham sepulchre must have made an impression: back home in England it inspired at least three monuments in landscape gardens.
The Temple at Escrick Park (historically part of the East Riding, but now in North Yorkshire) sits at the end of a ride from the mansion, which is now home to Queen Margaret’s School for girls. The garden ornament was under construction in 1812, when the steward wrote to the estate’s owner, Richard Thompson, to warn that it would not be completed in time for his upcoming visit. Thompson’s response is not recorded, but he must have been delighted with the building when it was eventually finished.
Hail, Castle Howard! Hail, Vanbrugh’s noble dome
Where Yorkshire in her splendour rivals Rome!
Thus wrote John Betjeman in a poem composed for Bird’s-Eye View: The Englishman’s Home, a documentary scripted and mellifluously-narrated by Betjeman, which was first shown on BBC2 in April 1969. Many great houses are featured in the film, but a highlight for the Folly Flâneuse is Castle Howard, in North Yorkshire.
Few follies can be said to have directly contributed to coastal erosion, but one example can be found in the lovely little village of Hunmanby, near Filey. Early in the 19th century Humphrey Osbaldeston, of Hunmanby Hall, took stone from the rocky coastal outcrop called Filey Brigg, and used it to erect this rustic entrance arch.
The Folly Flâneuse is playing safe here with the locations of these two structures, as the inhabitants of the villages of Cowling and Sutton in Craven, south of Skipton, each claim a monument as their own. Locals are at least agreed on a nickname: for very obvious reasons the tower and pinnacle are known as the Salt and Pepper Pots.
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.
Legend has it that centuries ago local ploughboys built a tower on Greygarth Hill to mark the spot where the last wolf in the region was killed. It’s a great story (but probably a myth) and the tower that stands on the spot today commemorates Queen Victoria.