In the middle of the 18th century the Earl of Strafford was embellishing his seat at Wentworth Castle near Barnsley in South Yorkshire. A new wing was added to the mansion and the grounds were decorated with temples, columns and garden seats. Strafford asked his lifelong friend Horace Walpole for advice on an ornament for his menagerie, and this little gothic temple was the result.
John Piper’s paintings of follies and garden buildings are well-known, but less familiar are his ceramics decorated with architectural features, including a series of ‘curly dishes’ with his wonderful whimsical interpretations of 18th century designs for rustic follies.
The palatial mansion of Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, is set in a landscape ornamented with towers and temples, pyramids and pavilions. One of the earliest is this slim, elegant structure pierced with an arch. Originally an eye-catcher, it later became an object on a drive to the house, but now once more stands alone on a swathe of green in a tranquil corner of the park.
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.
There was good news in autumn 2019 with the announcement that the great Georgian estate of Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, had been awarded National Heritage Lottery funds to allow work to begin on the restoration of the Camellia House. Originally known as the Greenhouse, the building was part of a menagerie complex which housed exotic pheasants. Only 20 miles away, in Bawtry, another curious aviary has sadly not survived.
Driving through South Yorkshire on the A1, it is possible to catch a glimpse of a small square structure just off the south-bound carriageway. This is Robin Hood’s Well, near the village of Burghwallis, and it is probably the smallest structure in the canon of the great architect Sir John Vanbrugh. It was commissioned by the Earl of Carlisle and Vanbrugh probably dashed off the design from his carriage, en route between London and the earl’s seat of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire.
A well had existed on the spot long before the earl decided to cover it over early in the 18th century. No doubt the earl, like other travellers, had been unimpressed with the dusty roadside waterhole and commissioned Vanbrugh to offer it some protection. In 1725 a traveller in the party of the Earl of Oxford saw the ‘new stone building’, but thinking it a little plain suggested that it be adorned with statues of Robin Hood and Little John. He also composed a few lines on the subject of the well:
If parch’d with toil, or heat, thou burn
Invited taste this limpid flood;
And boast wherever thou sojourn,
Thou once hast drank with Robin Hood.
Originally the well was built against a park wall and there were steps down to the water. An elderly retainer was on hand to serve water to travellers, although there was also an inn, ‘at the sign of the Robin Hood’, for those wishing for more sophisticated refreshments.
In the early 1960s the road was converted to a dual-carriageway, and the well cover was carefully dismantled with the stones numbered ready for re-erection. The Earl of Ross, of nearby Womersley, stored the stones in his stables until the works were complete and the building could be reconstructed. In 1964 it was rebuilt around 300 metres away from its original position at the water source. In 1993 a stainless steel frame was inserted to support the roof and safeguard the well’s future.
This view of Robin Hood’s Well by S.H. Grimm shows another ornamental building in the background (look closely). This is the Barnsdale Lodge, or Summer House, still a prominent eye-catcher high above the road when heading north on the A1, especially when it catches the sun. This landscape feature was designed by John Carr of York for Bacon Frank of Campsall Hall in around 1784, and its ‘extensive and beautiful prospect’ was much admired.
Incidentally, Barnsdale also gave its name to the nearby Barnsdale Bar services, once one of chic roadside eateries pioneered by the Forte family. Like the well it too has disappeared, and today’s motorists thunder by in search of refreshment elsewhere.
The group of follies and monuments at Wentworth Woodhouse needs little introduction, being one of the finest collections of landscape ornaments in Britain. So this post is just an opportunity for The Folly Flâneuse to remind you that you can climb the Hoober Stand and admire the Monument on bank holidays and Sundays from Spring Bank holiday until late August. And also to use some photographs taken during the wonderful March heatwave.
Joseph Locke was a railway pioneer. Sheffield 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 where he moved as a small boy, 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.’
Now near neighbour to a Rotherham housing estate, Keppel’s Column originally stood in open ground on the edge of Scholes Wood on the Wentworth Woodhouse estate.
Root houses, so named because they incorporated natural materials such as tree trunks, branches, bark, moss or heather, became key features of gardens and parks in the 18th century. Richard Payne Knight summed up the genre in his poem The Landscape in 1794
The cover’d seat, that shelters from the storm,
May oft a feature of the landscape form,
Whether composed of native stumps and roots,
It spreads the creeper’s rich fantastic shoots;