Nostell Priory, not far from Wakefield in West Yorkshire, is a magnificent 18th century mansion built adjacent to the site of an Augustinian priory. Architect James Paine worked at Nostell for around 30 years, before Robert Adam was called in to add new wings and other works. Adam also designed one of the most luscious of lodges to be found on a country estate.
Above the village of Longwood, just outside Huddersfield, there stands what can only be described as a strange stump of a building. This is the Longwood Tower, built by local men without formal design or architect, in time for the intriguingly-named Longwood Thump of 1861.
Parlington Park is close to Aberford, south of Wetherby, on the old Great North Road. An architectural highlight of the landscape park is this Triumphal Arch, constructed in the early 1780s to definitively declare Sir Thomas Gascoigne’s stance on the ongoing war with America. Its inscription begins LIBERTY IN N AMERICA TRIUMPHANT, an unequivocal statement that Sir Thomas was firmly on the side of the colonists. The Folly Flâneuse has written about the arch before, but is revisiting to mark the Fourth of July, Independence Day in the U.S.A., and to look at a very curious moment in the modern history of the monument.
Halifax has been much in the news recently following the restoration of the wondrous Piece Hall, a Georgian cloth trading centre on a monumental scale. But the town is also home to another amazing structure, the Wainhouse Tower, one of the country’s finest follies. Factory chimney turned witness to wealth, it thrusts 253 feet into the sky above the town.
“It is a pleasant delusion to think that this is the last fragment of a noble baronial pile” wrote the author of a guide to Roundhay Park in 1872. It was, he explained, simply ‘an object of interest’, the creation of a gentleman of ‘good taste’: in short, a folly.
Bramham Park, south of Wetherby and close to the Great North Road as it passes through Yorkshire, was built by Robert Benson, Lord Bingley, and completed in the early years of the 18th century. The estate has remained in the care of his descendants (with a couple of confusing name changes) ever since. In 1828, while the family were away at a funeral, fire broke out in the mansion causing serious damage to the fabric of the building. Happily, the quick actions of the servants and neighbours meant that some of the contents could be saved. Less fortunately, there was no money available to rebuild, so the house remained a ruin throughout the rest of the century.
In the 1760s Sir Thomas Wentworth* (1726-1792) of Bretton Hall, near Wakefield, set about landscaping his park. Initially, he employed Richard Woods, a professional landscape designer, but soon decided he could manage just as well on his own. In the 1770s he added to his grand design without recourse to even the most eminent landscaper of the age: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. A second lake would, he told friends, be completed without the help of ‘Capability or any such pretending Rogues’.
In the 18th century the Shaw family of textile merchants operated out of the magnificent Piece Hall in Halifax (recently restored and very well worth a visit) https://www.thepiecehall.co.uk. By the end of the century a new mill had been established at Holywell Green near Stainland, outside Halifax. It was greatly extended in the second half of the 19th century by Samuel Shaw, who also built a new family home nearby, which he called Brooklands. The house was almost ready for occupation in the autumn of 1868 and the grounds were being laid out at the same date. The landscaping included a pond with fountain and a series of 3 curious towers linked by a wall. The Halifax Courier described the scene in 1877, noting that the three towers gave ‘the impression that a castle of somewhat imposing dimensions’ overshadowed the grounds.
The Secret Garden in Wakefield’s Thornes Park features these architectural fragments which have popped up at various locations across the Wakefield district. The pinnacle is a bit of a mystery, but is believed to have been salvaged during a restoration of Wakefield Cathedral. The columns were originally part of the Wakefield Market Cross which was demolished, against the wishes of the people of Wakefield, in 1866 as part of the corporation’s ‘public improvements’. The furious scenes at the public auction of the cross in September 1866 made the papers across Britain. It was bought by a no-nonsense Mr Armitage who said ‘It will do very well for my garden’.
In 1752 the architect James Paine provided plans to remodel New Grange, Walter Wade’s seat in open country outside the then town of Leeds. The views were ‘most beautiful and extensive’ and the dramatic ruins of the cistercian Kirkstall Abbey were included in the prospect. By the end of the century the Wades no longer resided at New Grange, and the house was let before appearing on the market on a number of occasions. In 1829 George Robins, famed as the the man ‘of auction renown, who made a great fortune by knocking things down’, offered the estate for sale and with his usual hyperbole stated that it was ‘uniformly accounted THE DISTINGUISHING FEATURE NEAR LEEDS’. His newspaper advertisement went on to describe the Terrace Walk as ‘incredibly beautiful’ with a ‘Panorama’ of THE VENERABLE ABBEY OF KIRKSTALL AND ITS MASSIVE RUINS’.
New Grange was purchased by the Leeds banker William Beckett in 1832 and renamed Kirkstall Grange. Beckett was an eminent man in Leeds and entertained luminaries from the aristocracy, the church and the mercantile world at his home. He had however set his sights on hosting the most important personage in Britain: Queen Victoria had agreed to preside over the inauguration of the new Town Hall in Leeds, which was scheduled to open in autumn 1858, and Beckett hoped she would stay at Kirkstall Grange.
In preparation for this event Beckett remodelled the mansion, and erected this monument at the end of a walk in a plantation that became known as Queen’s Wood. Although the arch is now engulfed in trees, at the time of its completion it was on the edge of the woodland with a vista to the abbey. The arch may have been built out of fragments from the rebuilding of the house and it was decorated in the same Minton tiles that were used extensively in the new Town Hall. The lettering reads: TO COMMEMORATE THE VISIT OF QUEEN VICTORIA TO LEEDS SEPR 7 1858 FOR THE INAUGURATION OF THE TOWN HALL.
Beckett was to be disappointed. His ‘large house party’ did not include the monarch, who chose to stay elsewhere.
Kirkstall Grange, now better known as Beckett Park, is a campus of Leeds Beckett University. The arch is grade II listed.