Sir Clough Williams-Ellis is best remembered for the enchanting fantasy village of Portmeirion in North Wales. But not far away is Plas Brondanw, his own home, where he created an intimate garden, and high above the house constructed a magnificent folly.
In the late 19th century Braystones was a peaceful hamlet close to the Cumberland coast with views out across the Irish Sea. It was here that William Henry Watson built a tower to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. Half a century later, the view would change dramatically: were one able to climb the tower today the eye would be first caught by the great mass that is the Sellafield Nuclear Plant.
On the edge of Alnwick, in Northumberland, stood Swansfield House, an elegant villa that in the late 18th century was home to Henry Collingwood Selby (1748-1839), agent to the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland of Alnwick Castle. Following the lead of his monument-building patrons, he embellished his small estate with a tower, a column, and a curious gothic structure.
A prominent feature in the extensive demesne of Alnwick Castle is the Observatory on Ratcheugh Crag, a ‘stupendous and romantic rock’. The building was one of a number of landscape features planned by Hugh and Elizabeth, 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, in the 1770s, but the sham-ruined eye-catcher was not completed until after her death.
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 Round Tower, aka Guy’s Folly, stood on high ground to the west of what is now the A424 between Stow on the Wold and Burford. Sadly, this lovely little folly was demolished in the 1970s to make way for a B.B.C. transmission mast. Both Napoleon and Kitchener make an appearance in its rather hazy history…
High above Belton House, near Grantham in Lincolnshire, stands this quirky tower with views back to the mansion. It consists of a room perched above a tall arch, and its spindly, leg-like supports, gave rise to its supposed local name of Lord Brownlow’s Britches.
In the early 19th century the Reverend William Wordsworth (1783-1869) built an observatory on high land near the village of Monk Bretton. The lofty landmark was demolished in the mid-20th century, and is known today only from a few photographs.
The Revd Dr Thomas Sharp (1693-1758) was a son of Dr. John Sharp, Archbishop of York. He followed his father into an ecclesiastical career and became Archdeacon of Northumberland, Prebendary of Durham and Rector of Rothbury. During his incumbency in Rothbury he built this tower as an observatory, and to create employment for the local population.
On the edge of the town of Wigan stands Haigh Hall, described in 1745 as a ‘good old house and wood in a very pretty situation’. On rising ground above Haigh Hall (pronounced Hay) there once stood a substantial landscape feature which housed an observatory. A pair of paintings with an interesting history help tell the tale.