Although initially mocked in some quarters as Prince Albert’s ‘folly’, the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park was a triumph. But the agreement had always been that the great glass gallery, which had become known as the ‘Crystal Palace’, would be removed after the fair was over, and the parkland setting then restored. But as the Earl of Carlisle wrote when that time approached, ‘the destruction of the Crystal Palace would be as perverse and senseless an act of vandalism as could be perpetuated’. Moving the building to an ‘open and accessible spot’ outside the city seemed the most sensible solution, but one man had other ideas…
Monumenta Romana and the Belvedere, Waldershare, Kent
In the 1720s Sir Robert and Lady Furnese erected a vast garden building at Waldershare Park, their seat in Kent, which became known as the Belvedere. 300 years later a diminutive structure, the Monumenta Romana, has appeared in its shadow
Holly Hill Tower, Hernhill, Kent
Deep in woodland on Holly Hill, near the village of Hernhill in Kent, stands a bedraggled belvedere. It was built by Edwyn Sandys Dawes sometime in the late 19th century, as a prospect tower with a ‘view unsurpassed in the county’.
‘Famous Follies’: a Nineteenth Century View
In 1896 a new publication was launched in Britain. Pearson’s Magazine was a miscellany of fact and fiction, and is best known today for a landmark event of 1922: the appearance of the first ever crossword puzzle in a British publication. Only a year after it first appeared on newsstands the magazine was attracting writers of the highest calibre, including H.G.Wells whose The War of the Worlds was serialised in 1897. But of course what caught the eye of the Folly Flâneuse was an article from 1898 when Edward le Martin-Breton, wrote an illustrated article on ‘Famous Follies’.
Darwen Tower, Darwen, Lancashire
In January 1897, with the Diamond Jubilee of the reign of Queen Victoria approaching, the Darwen News featured a letter from a correspondent named only as ‘Landmark’, proposing that a tower be built on Darwen Moor to mark the occasion. There was a favourable response and the great and good of the town began to make plans.
Steeple Folly, The Black Tower, & Clavell Tower, Dorset: fiction and fact.
In the middle of the 20th century books featuring the adventures of the Lockett children captured the imaginations of young readers. One title in particular appealed to the Folly Flâneuse: what ghastly goings-on could have taken place at the ‘half completed and abandoned tower’ known as Steeple Folly? And which real clifftop folly might have been the inspiration for it?
Knowle Tower, Knowle Hall, Bawdrip, Somerset
The little village of Bawdrip in Somerset was once home to a rugged and romantic ruin. Standing on Knowle Hill, it was built by Benjamin Cuff Greenhill of Knowle Hall as an eye-catcher and observatory, and to add a ‘Gallic touch to the Somerset countryside’. Sadly it is long gone, but it is remembered in local legends and picture postcards.
Turner’s Tower, Faulkland, Somerset
Somerset has more than its fair share of folly towers, but one of the most audacious examples is sadly long gone. This was the slender tower built by John Turner in the hamlet of Faulkland, near Bath, in 1890. It stood for less than 80 years, having become progressively shorter before its eventual demise in the 1960s.
Westwick Arch and Obelisk, Westwick, Norfolk
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.
The Nelson Tower, aka Paxton’s Tower, Llanarthney, Carmarthenshire
High above the valley of the River Towy stands a sturdy, and seemingly invincible, tower. It was built to commemorate Admiral Lord Nelson, but within a century it was falling into decay, and it only narrowly escaped conversion into a cowshed.