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‘Famous Follies’: a Nineteenth Century View

In 1896 a new publication was launched in Britain. Pearson’s Magazine was a miscellany of fact and fiction, and is best known today for a landmark event of 1922: the appearance of the first ever crossword puzzle in a British publication. Only a year after it first appeared on newsstands the magazine was attracting writers of the highest calibre, including H.G.Wells whose The War of the Worlds was serialised in 1897. But of course what caught the eye of the Folly Flâneuse was an article from 1898 when Edward le Martin-Breton, wrote an illustrated article on ‘Famous Follies’.

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Follies & Philately

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.

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Vandalian Tower, Uppark, West Sussex

High on the Sussex Downs, near the village of South Harting, stand some curious ruins. The jagged and dilapidated stonework is all that remains of the wonderful ornate tower built by Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh of Uppark (or Up-park) in the 1770s and later known by the curious title of the Vandalian Tower.

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The Folly Castle and Folly Forts, Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire

Newstead Abbey is best known as the seat of the Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, but it was equally famed in the middle of the 18th century as the home of his great-uncle, William, the 5th Baron, known as the ‘Wicked Lord’. It was William who built sham forts and castles around the estate’s Great Lake, on which sailed his fleet of boats.

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Whitehill Tower, Caterham, Surrey

The ruinous shell of the Whitehill Tower stands on high ground with extensive views across Surrey and down towards the south coast. It was built by Jeremiah Long in the middle of the 19th century as an ornament in the grounds of his Surrey villa, but has been neglected for years and desperately needs attention before it topples to the ground.

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Steeple Folly, The Black Tower, & Clavell Tower, Dorset: fiction and fact.

Photo' courtesy of W. Sweeney/Landmark Trust.

In the middle of the 20th century books featuring the adventures of the Lockett children captured the imaginations of young readers. One title in particular appealed to the Folly Flâneuse: what ghastly goings-on could have taken place at the ‘half completed and abandoned tower’ known as Steeple Folly? And which real clifftop folly might have been the inspiration for it?

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‘Some Sussex “Follies”: Queer Towers and their Eccentric Builders’

Such was the headline of an article in the Sussex County Magazine in 1937.  The author, William A. Bagley, was fascinated by the ‘strange towers’ that could be found ‘dotted all over the hilltops of England’. Revisiting some of the follies he described some 85 years later the Folly Flâneuse discovered that the towers have had differing histories: one is lost, some survive in much the same state as when Bagley saw them, and one is currently on the market with a multi-million pound asking price.

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Hampsfell Hospice, Cartmel, Cumbria

High above Cartmel in Cumbria (formerly Lancashire) Reverend Thomas Remington of nearby Aynsome built a small stone shelter. Remington was apparently in the habit of walking on the fell each morning, setting off early so he could watch the sun rise, and above the east-facing door he placed a Greek inscription, taken from Homer’s Odyssey, which translates as ‘Rosy-fingered Dawn’. It became known as the hospice, from the archaic definition of the word: a shelter to travellers.