Close to the little village of Dinton, near Aylesbury, stands an imposing 18th century folly called Dinton Castle. 250 years after it was first built it shot to fame on the TV show Grand Designs. But to mark the 200th post on these pages, the Folly Flâneuse intends to enjoy a Dinton Folly of a very different kind.
In 2013 Laurie Kimber was pondering what to do with a field that he owned. Retired, and with time on his hands, he decided to plant a vineyard. He named his first sparkling wine Dinton Folly, partly in homage to nearby Dinton Castle, and partly as a ‘nod to the idea of taking on such a project later in life’.
Before the celebrations begin, perhaps a quick look at Dinton Castle. It was built by Sir John Vanhattem* (1724-1787) of Dinton Hall as an eye-catcher, banqueting house, and repository for his mineral collection. The foundation stone was laid in 1769, and there was great excitement amongst antiquarians when human remains and ancient artefacts were unearthed during the building works.
The folly was designed to look like a ruined castle from the outside, although there were rooms inside for picnics and parties. Sir John died in 1787 and the next generation did not share his interest in the folly. By 1796 it was falling into disrepair, with a visitor in that year noting the building ‘representing the remains of a castle, in w[hi]ch has been a room to entertain company’. Sadly the tourist concluded that ‘it is now fast becoming a real ruin’.
This decay continued, but what had become a romantic ruin attracted the attention of artists in the 20th century:
Edward McKnight Kauffer painted Dinton Castle for one of the large posters displayed on Shell’s fleet of petrol delivery lorries in the 1930s; and John Piper painted it at the request of Roger White, Secretary of the Georgian Group, in 1985, and the work was then auctioned to raise funds for the heritage charity. Piper also produced a lithograph based on the painting. But not everyone found the folly so enchanting, and a photo taken for the National Monument Record in 1944 is annotated rather dismissively with the caption ‘a sham castle built to improve the view from someone’s drawing room in the 18th century’.
Dinton Castle’s importance was recognised in 1951 when it was first listed as a building of special architectural and historic interest, but it continued to crumble. Some remedial work was carried out by the local authority in the first decade of the present century, but the folly remained an empty shell until Spanish architect Jaime Fernandez bought the property in 2016, and set about creating a family home from the ruin.
The project was featured on the popular Grand Designs TV show, generating a huge amount of press interest, as well as some argument between those who saw a dream home, and those who preferred the folly’s former ‘decrepit glory’ (to borrow a phrase from John Piper). The grade II* building changed hands in 2021.
The Folly Flâneuse will now enjoy a glass, and then get back to fossicking for follies.
For more on Dinton Castle, including the opportunity to stay in the folly, visit https://www.dintoncastle.com
You can buy Dinton Folly wine https://dintonwines.com from BeerGinVino (does what it says on the tin/bottle) in nearby Haddenham https://beerginvino.com. The Folly Flaneuse’s ramblings are fuelled by good coffee, and Norsk in Haddenham provided this along with an excellent celebratory cinnamon bun https://www.norsklifestyle.com
* sometimes van Hatten or Vanhatten.
Thank you to readers old and new, and to everyone who has helped in any way since the tentative beginnings of this website almost four years ago. Especial thanks to four people: my ‘Uncouth Companion’, who is seldom seen but is ever-present and ever-appreciated; Mike Cousins, aka the Garden Historian, whose contributions are invaluable; and Gwyn Headley and Wim Meulenkamp who have inspired me since I picked up their first book on follies many years ago. As ever, comments are most welcome – please scroll down the page to get in touch. Cheers!