On the rocky outcrop known as Balcarres Craig (or Crag) stands an elegant eye-catcher in the form of a circular tower with ruined curtain walls attached. It was built in 1813 for Robert Lindsay of Balcarres House as a ‘grand object in the landscape’.
Early in the 19th century Benjamin Farrer built a tower close to his home in Fagley, then a village on the edge of Bradford. The elegant edifice declined after its builder’s death and survived for less than a century. But that was time enough to accumulate the usual fanciful folly stories.
John Powell Powell (1769-1849 – the double Powell acquired to meet the conditions of an inheritance) was passionate about bell-ringing and erected this ‘light, elegant and fanciful building’ at Quex Park, his seat in Kent, where his hobby could be indulged. Not content with a lofty tower, he almost doubled its height with a unique cast iron spire – years before a certain Parisian landmark took shape.
Eller How is a handsome villa, high above the town of Ambleside. In 1863 it was bought by the Boyle family, and soon after they added this curious prospect tower. Known as the Tower of Beauty and Friendship, thanks to a unique element of the design, it stands on a mound in the gardens.
In 1938 John Betjeman wrote a feature on ‘Gentlemen’s Follies’ for Country Life magazine. In it he noted a number of well-known follies, including the then very new tower built by Lord Berners at Faringdon, close to where Betjeman lived. He also mentioned another local folly, a tower in the village of Woolstone (then Berkshire, now Oxfordshire). So whilst the house above doesn’t look much like a folly, it does have a great folly story attached.
In 1839 Charles Booker leased a plot of land in the corner of Guildford’s ‘Great Hilly Field’. There’s a clue to his purpose in the name of the site: Booker needed an elevated spot on which to build a ‘prospect tower’. After his death the adjacent land became the town’s cemetery, and the tower passed to the Burial Board (who were reluctant custodians). It later came into the control of the town council, and a contract was signed in 1927 to allow its demolition. But by a quirk of fate the tower survived, and stands tall today.
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).
The Flâneuse is travelling far and wide this month in search of follies, and the results of her research will appear here very soon. Until she gets home, and gathers her thoughts, here are the highlights of a very recent day in the Cotswolds with members of the Folly Fellowship.
Cotehele stands just on the Cornwall side of the river Tamar that forms the boundary with Devon. The estate was the ancient seat of the Edgcumbes, but by the 18th century it was a secondary residence, with the family preferring nearby Mount Edgcumbe, overlooking Plymouth Sound. On high ground above the house at Cotehele stands this solitary three-sided tower, of which little seems to be known. No inscriptions give even a hint of its history.
Although initially mocked in some quarters as Prince Albert’s ‘folly’, the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park was a triumph. But the agreement had always been that the great glass gallery, which had become known as the ‘Crystal Palace’, would be removed after the fair was over, and the parkland setting then restored. But as the Earl of Carlisle wrote when that time approached, ‘the destruction of the Crystal Palace would be as perverse and senseless an act of vandalism as could be perpetuated’. Moving the building to an ‘open and accessible spot’ outside the city seemed the most sensible solution, but one man had other ideas…