On high ground in Weston Park, ancestral seat of the earls of Bradford, stands this prospect tower. Although Weston Park is in Staffordshire, the knoll on which the tower stands is just over the border into Shropshire, and it was formerly home to another monument, allegedly built for the most repulsive of reasons.
Jezreel’s Tower, which once stood on Chatham Hill in Gillingham, was one of those unfinished fantasies that became folly after their original purpose had failed. This architectural extravaganza was built as home to the ‘New and Latter House of Israel’, a religious group founded in the late 19th century which had a short and very colourful history, and left behind a unique building.
In 1981-82 the Royal Mail issued a set of stamp books featuring follies, and Richard Downer, an artist best known for the vast number of lovely line drawings he provided for the covers of Britain’s telephone directories, was commissioned to provided the illustrations. Of the six follies featured, five survive today and are very familiar to anyone with an interest in the subject, but one was relatively obscure, and has a rather interesting history.
In the early 18th century Bramham Park, just south of Wetherby in West Yorkshire, was the seat of Robert Benson, 1st Baron Bingley. His laying-out of the park was summarised by Lady Oxford after her visit in 1745: ‘Lord Bingley has adorned a barren country in a most delightful manner with water and wood walks’. The next generation continued his work, and their additions included a little gothic temple which could be seen from different viewpoints in the gardens.
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.
The 11th Earl of Buchan, seldom mentioned without the qualifier ‘eccentric’, bought the Dryburgh estate towards the end of the 18th century. He built a new house and improved the grounds, creating a landscape which featured as its centrepiece that ultimate in garden ornaments: a ruined abbey. Further embellishments included this pretty rotunda on a hillock overlooking the Tweed, and a ‘colossal statue’.
The Allerton Castle one sees today is a great Victorian edifice, created in 1848. But the site has been home to a number of renovations and rebuilds, gone through several changes of name, and seen some colourful owners. On a knoll in the park stands an elegant octagonal temple, which must have attracted the attention of passers-by on the nearby Great North Road (A1), but sadly it is seldom mentioned, and its history remains a little vague.
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’.
In the 18th century, travellers on the Great North Road were able to enjoy a view of the ‘small neat house’ that was Leases Hall as they passed by in their carriages. Today, it’s not so easy to dawdle and appreciate ones surroundings, as the Great North Road has been superseded by the 6 lanes of the busy A1(M). But if you are quick, you can snatch a glimpse of a small mound which was once topped by a little rotunda.