Newstead Abbey is best known as the seat of the Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, but it was equally famed in the middle of the 18th century as the home of his great-uncle, William, the 5th Baron, known as the ‘Wicked Lord’. It was William who built sham forts and castles around the estate’s Great Lake, on which sailed his fleet of boats.
Sir George Staunton bought the Leigh Park estate in 1820, and set to work remodelling the house and ornamenting the park with an eclectic range of garden buildings. Many are sadly lost today, but a programme of restoration, in what is now Staunton Country Park, is bringing some of the survivors back to life. One of the loveliest of the garden ornaments is this exquisite little Shell-House.
The National Museum of Wales owns two fine oil paintings of Margam House, viewed from the north and the south, completed sometime around the turn of the 17th century. A closer look reveals a substantial garden pavilion, known as the Banqueting House, at a little distance from the house. Margam’s mansion has been remodelled a number of times, and the Banqueting House too has seen some changes: it was relocated in the 19th century and survives today as the facade of a very imposing cottage.
High above the town of Buxton, in Derbyshire, stands a squat circular belvedere known as Grinlow Tower, after the hill on which it stands, or, more usually, as Solomon’s Temple. It was built by public subscription in 1896, replacing an earlier structure that had collapsed. But as is so often the case with folly towers, sorting the fact from the fiction is quite a challenge.
Bretton Hall, near Wakefield, is now best known as the home of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where artworks have been displayed in the open air, and in purpose built galleries, since 1977. But long before these works arrived, the park was home to a collection of ornamental garden buildings, including the enchanting tiered tower called Bella Vista.
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.
18th century Italy was bustling with rich young noblemen on the Grand Tour. This extended study trip/holiday filled the years between formal education ending and the responsibilities of inheriting an estate, and producing heirs of their own, kicked in. In the early years of the 1750s, a coterie in Rome centred on Charles Caulfeild, Viscount Charlemont, a young Irish dilettante as well read as he was well travelled: Charlemont would travel further than most and see Egypt, Constantinople and Greece. Within his circle for the obligatory sojourn in Italy were two men with strong Yorkshire connections: Thomas Brudenell, Baron Bruce of Tottenham, who had a seat at Tanfield Hall near Ripon, and Henry Willoughby of Birdsall Hall in the East Riding of the county.
The Folly Flâneuse is beginning to feel festive after a visit to Harlow Carr in Harrogate. The Royal Horticultural Society’s Yorkshire garden is bathed in colour on selected evenings until the end of the year, and of course a highlight for this particular visitor was the beautifully lit Folly.
1814 saw the centenary of the ascension of the House of Hanover to the British throne. Although it was only a few years since George III had celebrated a reign of 50 years, it was decided that a grand national fête would be held in August to mark the occasion, an event which would also commemorate ‘General Peace’ and the anniversary of the ‘Glorious Battle of the Nile’.
This sham castle folly was built to ornament the ‘beautiful grounds’ of the house which is now called Thornborough Hall, on the edge of Leyburn in the Yorkshire Dales*. Part of the gardens was developed for housing in the 20th century, but there is still plenty of interest if one sets off to explore the woodland behind the hall.