In the early 1940s the artist Rex Whistler completed the illustrations for a book in his breaks from training with the Welsh Guards, working on the drawings in the army huts where he was stationed. The book was The Last of Uptake by Simon Harcourt-Smith, and the reviews agreed that here was ‘the perfect blend of artist and writer’.
The 18th century poet William Cowper (1731-1800) was wont to write his works al fresco in a shelter in a garden or park. His first was a tiny ‘nook’ in his garden in the town of Olney, and he later composed lines in an alcove in the park at nearby Weston Underwood. Both survive today.
‘An ill-treated folly’, wrote folly supremo Barbara Jones of the Carnaby Temple in 1953. The late 18th century landscape ornament, on high land above Boynton Hall, was by then disused and dilapidated, but remarkably intact considering the years of neglect. And so it remains.
High above the little village of Bardsea, near Ulverston, stands this curious structure. With stunning views of Conishead Priory and its landscape, and a sweeping vista over Morecambe Bay, the monument was well described in 1817 as a ‘Monumental Edifice’.
The last decades of the 19th century saw a passion for all things rustic in the garden – seats, arbours, bridges, and above all summerhouses. For as it was said in 1870, a garden summerhouse of some sort was ‘desirable, and indeed almost necessary’.
A prominent feature in the extensive demesne of Alnwick Castle is the Observatory on Ratcheugh Crag, a ‘stupendous and romantic rock’. The building was one of a number of landscape features planned by Hugh and Elizabeth, 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, in the 1770s, but the sham-ruined eye-catcher was not completed until after her death.
In 1752 Richard Trevor became the new Bishop of Durham. A perk of the post was two palaces: one in the city and a country seat at Auckland Castle, on the edge of the town of Bishop Auckland. In around 1760 he erected there this gorgeous gothic Deer House in the park at Auckland. As is so often the case with garden buildings, it combined the functional with the frivolous – as well as sheltering the herd it also provided a banqueting room with extensive views and served as an eye-catcher in the park.
Starlight Castle is a folly on the grand Seaton Delaval estate close to the Northumberland coast. Today only a small section of wall survives, and historic photographs and postcards show it already in ruins a century ago. It was probably built by Sir Francis Delaval (1727-1771) in the middle of the 18th century. The story goes that Delaval wagered he could build a castle overnight, and this was the result.
Tucked in woods behind Cally House (now the Cally Palace Hotel) is an absolutely enchanting little gothic tower, known as The Temple. It was built in the late 18th century as an eyecatcher from the house, but is now surrounded by trees in a sequestered spot.
Holme Island is a small island in Morecambe Bay. It sits close to the coast, not far from Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria (formerly Lancashire). The island was connected to the mainland by a causeway in the 19th century, by which date it was home to a rather special small estate.