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.
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.
The tower on Willett Hill tantalises with a glimpse above the trees when approaching by road, before disappearing completely as one begins the ascent on foot – which makes it all the more exciting when after a stiff climb the folly eventually bursts into view.
‘Follies Can Be Fun’. So read the headline of an article in the Times in October 1959. But apparently not all follies: the anonymous author* dismissed sham ruins, grottoes and shell rooms, and expressed a preference for towers and columns. The Folly Flâneuse, who wholeheartedly agrees with the headline, thought it might be ‘fun’ to revisit some of the follies featured in the piece, to see how they had fared more than 60 years later.
Somerset has more than its fair share of folly towers, but one of the most audacious examples is sadly long gone. This was the slender tower built by John Turner in the hamlet of Faulkland, near Bath, in 1890. It stood for less than 80 years, having become progressively shorter before its eventual demise in the 1960s.
Tutbury Castle is best known as one of the fortifications in which Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned. The ruins that stand today have been remodelled on a number of occasions since those days, and in the middle of the 18th century the motte, long since missing its genuine tower, was embellished with a sham ruined turret called the Round Tower.
This fine arch could once be found on the edge of the village of Westwick, but sadly it was pulled down as recently as 1981. Nearby, in a scrappy ribbon of woodland, stands a decrepit brick tower with a square base supporting a round shaft. It is difficult to appreciate that this remnant was once a much-admired eye-catcher and belvedere, which went by the curious title of the Westwick Obelisk.
Approaching the pretty little town of Market Bosworth from the east, the eye is caught by a richly-coloured red brick tower emerging from the trees. Approaching, it becomes apparent that the tower stands in the grounds of Bosworth Hall, now a hotel, and that the tower and a curious freestanding stone doorway are the surviving elements of a very attractive kitchen garden.
Horton Tower, also known as Sturt’s Folly, is one of those enigmatic erections whose history is vague and usually explained in sentences that begin ‘said to have been…’. What is not in question is its magnificence: seven stories of red brick soaring skywards in the middle of a field.
High above Newby Bridge in Cumbria (formerly Lancashire) stands Finsthwaite Tower. When first built it was a prominent landmark on a bare hill, and commanded an extensive prospect of sea, lake and mountains. The tower was built by James King of Finsthwaite House as an ornament to the landscape, and as a monument to naval prowess. And to start 2022 with some really good news, after decades of decay the tower has a new owner, and a new lease of life.