Cothelstone was an ancient seat of the Stawel family. In the second half of the 18th century it was the property of Mary Stawel (1726-1780), the sole surviving direct descendant. In recognition of her ancient lineage, George III made her a baroness in her own right in 1760, with the title to pass to her sons from her first marriage to Henry Bilson Legge, Earl of Dartmouth. After the death of her first husband in 1764, Mary married Wills Hill, the Earl of Hillsborough (he would be created Marquess of Downshire after her death).
This unique structure, topped with a statue, stands close to Yeovil, in Somerset, one of a small group of curious constructions erected in Barwick Park. The folly was probably built by John Newman (1717-1799) in the middle of the 18th century, but by the early 20th century it had become know as ‘Jack the Treacle Eater’ and strange stories were told about Jack’s career and nocturnal activities.
Tucked in the corner of a garden in the town of Frome, Somerset, stands a little tower with a conical roof topped with a pineapple. This flamboyant finial, like the rest of the folly, is the work of the talented and resourceful Nigel Day: the uppermost leaves started life as a copper hot water cylinder.
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.
The tower on Willett Hill tantalises with a glimpse above the trees when approaching by road, before disappearing completely as one begins the ascent on foot – which makes it all the more exciting when after a stiff climb the folly eventually bursts into view.
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.
In 1771 the agriculturalist and country house afficionado Arthur Young visited Halswell in Somerset. He admired the house, but admitted that what ‘chiefly attracts the attention of strangers, are the decorated grounds’. Sir Charles Kemeys Tynte (1710-1785) ornamented his park with temples, rustic shelters and elegant bridges, all of which fell into disrepair, or disappeared completely, after the Second World War. Happily, recent years have seen a major programme of restoration, which continues apace.
Newton Surmaville, just outside Yeovil, was bought by the Harbin family in the early 1600s, and they immediately set about constructing a very handsome new house. Sometime in the middle of the following century they added this summerhouse on Newton Hill, high above the house, and the story locally is that it was one of a trio of towers in the area, used by their owners to flag the message that it was time to ‘gallop over for a convivial evening’.