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.
If there’s one thing you can guarantee about 18th century towers, it is that they will be described using words and phrases that were just as fashionable as the buildings themselves. A tower will always be ‘lofty’ and it will almost certainly ‘command rich and extensive views’. Severndroog Castle was built in 1784 and early descriptions follow this unwritten rule. The panorama today is even richer than it was when the tower was built, with two centuries of London development on show.
“It is a pleasant delusion to think that this is the last fragment of a noble baronial pile” wrote the author of a guide to Roundhay Park in 1872. It was, he explained, simply ‘an object of interest’, the creation of a gentleman of ‘good taste’: in short, a folly.
Joseph Locke was a railway pioneer. Barnsley born, he achieved great wealth, but business and a career in politics took him away from his native Yorkshire. He remained hugely popular in Barnsley and never forgot the town of his birth, which benefitted ‘to a large extent in his liberality’. There was great sadness when his death was announced in September 1860, aged only 55.
The following year Locke’s widow, Phoebe, announced that she intended to create a ‘recreation ground’ for the people of Barnsley as a ‘mark of regard and affection for her late husband’, and 17 acres of land were bought from the estate of the Duke of Leeds. The Chairman of the Board of Health declared himself ‘exceedingly well pleased with the plans for laying out the ground’, and the local newspaper reported that it was a ‘most munificent gift, and would prove … a pleasure to the inhabitants.’