Arch, architecture, country house, eyecatcher, garden history, Ireland, landscape garden, Obelisk

Ireland of the Follies

In 1972 Mariga Guinness, or Mrs Desmond Guinness as she was known in more formal times, wrote an article on follies for Ireland of the Welcomes, a publication produced by the Irish Tourist Board to promote Ireland as a holiday destination. Launched in 1952, it is still published today and describes itself as ‘the largest and longest-running Irish interest magazine in the world’. Hermione Maria-Gabrielle von Urach (1932-1989), known as Mariga, married Desmond Guinness in 1954 and they moved to Ireland the following year. Mrs Guinness loved Ireland, and threw herself into preserving the architectural heritage – she and her husband co-founded the Irish Georgian Society in 1958. The couple first rented the Georgian mansion Carton House, and later bought Leixlip Castle, both home to garden ornaments, so Mrs Guinness was well-placed to write in praise of follies.

architecture, Clwyd, Folly, garden history, landscape, Obelisk, Sham fortification, Tower

The Obelisk, Bodysgallen Hall, Llandudno, Clwyd.

In February 1992 the North Wales Weekly News carried its usual list of planning applications. Among them was an announcement that Bodysgallen Hall Hotel wished to convert a barn and stable into accommodation, and to erect a new ‘leisure building, tower folly and obelisk’. No objections were received, and permission was granted by Aberconwy Council.

Bodysgallen Hall from the gardens.

In 1980 Bodysgallen Hall, former seat of the Mostyn and Wynn families, had become part of the small Historic House Hotels group, established by Richard Broyd. The house, gardens and estate buildings were restored, and Broyd wished to erect an obelisk as a ‘decorative asset to the landscape’. Plans were drawn up by his architect Eric Throssell, and both the stone and the stonemason, Henry Wilson, were local.

But as work got underway in autumn 1992 locals claimed that they hadn’t been properly informed of the plans, and a vociferous campaign was launched demanding that the Obelisk be demolished. There were genuine concerns, including that the planning officers had not realised that Ffrith Hill was a Site of Specific Scientific Interest.

Cowslips and orchid near the obelisk. Note the droplets and please applaud the Flâneuse for climbing up to the obelisk in wild wind and rain.

But among the odder complaints was the fact that the Obelisk ‘dominated the landscape’ – a strange criticism as obelisks are not usually shy and retiring types, and generally prefer to hog the limelight on an eminence. Even more bizarre was the opponent who suggested that placing the Obelisk near the edge of a former quarry encouraged men to ‘urinate over the cliff into the garden of a house 150 feet below’. Reporting this in the local paper, a journalist suggested that such a feat would merit entry in the Guinness Book of Records requiring as it did a ‘jet of some 25 feet’.

Meanwhile Richard Broyd was adamant that the correct procedures had been followed and he was prepared to fight, telling the Daily Telegraph that ‘he who builds an obelisk has to defend it’.

A view from the obelisk. Unfortunately it was very dull day, enlivened only by the golden glow of the cowslips.

In brief, the council began to get cold feet after the anti-obelisk campaigners made a complaint of maladministration, claiming the council should never have granted planning permission. Despite a barrister assuring the councillors that their decision was robust, and that Mr Broyd had followed the correct procedures, the Planning Committee voted to demolish the Obelisk. The matter then went to the full council and the proposal was defeated by just one vote. On 16 September 1993 the local paper ran the story under the succinct headline of ‘Obelisk is staying’.

There had been support for the Obelisk too, and some who had been concerned later admitted admiration for the completed structure, which stands 19.5 metres high. But some resentment remained, and there are locals who will tell you dark tales of a plot to blow the obelisk to pieces. Even now, some 30 years on, the structure seems destined never to be mentioned as anything but thecontroversial obelisk’.

The miniature obelisk produced as a souvenir by the hotel when the obelisk was first constructed. Normally an ornament to the desk of the Flâneuse, it enjoyed a brief foray into the sunshine for this photo opportunity.

The Folly Flâneuse took the Uncouth Companion to Bodysgallen Hall as a birthday treat soon after the obelisk was completed (he having long since learned that such jaunts had one, or more, ulterior motives) and walked up to the Obelisk. The photo’s from that pre-digital age have long since faded away, but this little model of the Obelisk, bought at the hotel, sits in the study as a memento of the trip. And of course a return visit was required in order to snap the shots needed for this post.

The Gothic Tower, built of pink rubble sandstone, seen from the woodland walk.

In all of the fuss about the Obelisk the little Gothic Tower, designed in the same period, has been overlooked. A sham ruin sits on raised ground in the woodland, and a climb up to the rooftop viewing platform reveals why this site was chosen. There’s lovely vista to the obelisk  – the only spot in the gardens from where it can be seen.

View from the top of the Gothic Tower to the Obelisk.

Richard Broyd had always intended that his hotel group would pass to the National Trust, and for all profits to benefit the charity. The three properties (the others being Middlethorpe Hall near York and Hartwell House near Aylesbury) were handed over in 2008.

Looking up to the Obelisk from the grounds of Pabo Bach.

Pabo Bach, once home to one of the most vocal objectors to the obelisk, is now a holiday cottage where you can enjoy dramatic views of the former quarry with the obelisk perched on the precipice.

A distant view of the obelisk from the marina at Conwy.

The Obelisk can be seen from the A55 and the Royal Welsh Way leading into Llandudno, as well as from across the estuary in Conwy, and there is public access. The Gothic Tower may only be seen by guests at Bodysgallen Hall Hotel.

For Bodysgallen Hall and the other Historic House Hotels see

For Pabo Bach see

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architecture, garden history, Monument, Obelisk, public park, Worcestershire

Earl of Plymouth Monument, Bromsgrove Lickey, Worcestershire

In 1833 Other Archer Windsor, 6th Earl of Plymouth, died. Almost immediately there were calls to erect a monument in his honour, and a public subscription was raised. With funds in place, the foundation stone was laid in May 1834. The chosen site was on Bromsgrove Lickey, a prominent eminence which would ensure that the obelisk would be an ornament to the landscape and visible from miles around.

architecture, belvedere, country house, garden history, landscape garden, Monument, Obelisk, Tower, Worcestershire

Leicester Tower and Obelisk, Evesham, Worcestershire

The Battle of Evesham took place on a site near the town in 1265, but it was several centuries later that two memorials to the hero of the hour, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, were erected. In 1842 Edward Rudge, a civic figure, botanist and antiquary built a tower and obelisk in the grounds of his home, and dedicated them to the battle and the earl.

architecture, Bedfordshire, eyecatcher, garden history, Greater London, landscape garden, Middlesex, Monument, Obelisk

The Obelisk, Trent Park, Greater London

Obelisks might not seem as exciting as some of the quirkier landscape ornaments, but this one began a particularly interesting life in around 1732. Two hundred years later it was one of a group of monuments from Wrest Park in Bedfordshire that was sold to the wealthy socialite and politician Sir Philip Sassoon, and taken to his seat at Trent Park in Middlesex. There each was carefully placed in the park, and the largest, this substantial obelisk, was re-erected to terminate a new vista cut through the trees.

architecture, country house, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, landscape garden, Monument, Obelisk, Suffolk

The Obelisk, Woolverstone Park, Suffolk

On the banks of the river Orwell in Suffolk there once stood a lofty obelisk. It proclaimed to all the filial piety of Charles Berners, who erected it in 1793 in memory of his father, William. At 96 feet tall, and topped with a golden sun, it was a prominent landmark but sadly it came to a sorry end when it was damaged by fire and then demolished in the middle of the 20th century. But as the image above shows, fragments were salvaged and survive today.

architecture, bridge, garden history, landscape garden, Monument, Obelisk, Rotunda, sham castle, Worcestershire

Hagley Park, Worcestershire

It is getting a bit ‘backendish’ – as they say in Yorkshire – and the Folly Flâneuse is taking a short break. Meanwhile here are some of the wonderful landscape ornaments built by the Lyttelton family at Hagley Park, seen on a perfect autumn day as the leaves begin to turn bronze and gold, and the mist clears to reveal a blue sky.

architecture, belvedere, eyecatcher, Folly, Obelisk, Surrey

The Obelisk, Camberley, Surrey

In the town of Camberley a truncated tower stands on a hilltop surrounded by trees. This is the surviving remnant of an elegant tower, built by John Norris, which stood on the open country known as Bagshot Heath. It has been known since its earliest days as ‘The Obelisk’, for in the 18th century the term was sometimes used to describe any tall, tapering structure. Although only a sorry stump remains, it has the most fascinating history.

architecture, country house, eyecatcher, garden history, landscape, Monument, Obelisk, Shropshire

Duke of Sutherland Obelisk, Lilleshall, Shropshire.

In July 1833 the 1st Duke of Sutherland died. Tenants on his estates in Staffordshire (Trentham), Scotland (Dunrobin) and Shropshire quickly made plans to commemorate the man they considered a benevolent landlord – according to the inscriptions that is: the Duke was not quite as revered as the tributes might suggest. In Shropshire the tenants on the Lilleshall estate decided to erect an obelisk on Lilleshall Hill, high above the village, and by November the foundation stone had been laid. By the end of the century the obelisk had been struck by lightning (twice) and had caused some embarrassment for the editor of a local paper.

architecture, country house, garden history, landscape, Monument, Northumberland, Obelisk

Obelisk to Nelson, Swarland, Northumberland

Alexander Davison (1750-1829) of Swarland Park, near Felton in Northumberland, erected this obelisk to Nelson in 1807. A closer look at the inscription reveals that he was not only celebrating the admiral’s victory at Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, but more particularly their personal friendship. Davison had made a fortune supplying the government during the wars with America and France, but he was later charged with ‘public peculation’ – in other words the court believed he had his hand in the till.