Grimston Park was rebuilt by the Hon. Colonel Caradoc, later 2nd Baron Howden, from around 1839, transforming a ‘plain country house’ into a ‘splendid chateau’. New offices and estate buildings were also erected, including this ‘object tower’.
Decimus Burton was the architect given the commission for the substantial remodelling of the existing Carr of York house (then little more than half a century old) in an Italianate style. Burton was given the opportunity to be a little more whimsical when designing the elevated tower, which was under construction in 1842. It is a quirky structure, difficult to categorise, but the door and window surrounds have an Egyptian influence. Howden was a diplomat who had travelled extensively, including a visit to Egypt in 1827, and may have played a part in the design.
The tower’s exotic detail may also have been intended to impress Caradoc’s bride, The Princess Bagration, who grew up in the court of Catherine the Great. She was a socialite who was known as le Bel Ange Nu because of her penchant for sheer muslin dresses. (Presumably at parties she literally dressed down, as it is hard to see how the swathes in the portrait above caused any titillation). The Hon. Colonel Caradoc and the Princess had been the focus of society gossip for ‘the last ten years’ when their marriage was announced in 1835. In 1829 it was reported that the ‘on dits of Paris assert that le Beau C____k*, le Prince des attachés, is to marry the Princess Bagration’, snidely adding that ‘the lady, it is true, is a grandmother, but she has 18,000l per annum’. The politer press only hinted at her fortune, writing that ‘great wealth and great accomplishment are united in this happy union.’ But the match was not a success, and the couple separated in 1850, soon after the house was completed. Caradoc, by now 2nd Baron Howden, had no wish to live there and soon after sold the estate to Lord Londesborough.
‘Grimston Tower’ was complete by the time the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map was drawn up in 1845-6 and fulfilled a dual role of eye-catcher and belvedere. When the estate was again sold in 1872 it was described as a ‘lofty Flag Tower’ with ‘extensive and charming views’. The original flagpole was itself a curiosity: a wonderful knobbly, rustic branch now replaced with the usual smooth pole.
Grimston Park Tower is cared for by the Fielden family who have owned the estate since 1872. It was recently restored with the help of a grant from the Country Houses Foundation. The folly stands on private land but can be seen from public roads passing the estate. Requests to visit the tower should be addressed to the Estate Office.
The list of folly towers in Yorkshire that claim a view of York Minster (“on a clear day…”) is endless, but for once it is justified here
There is an excellent account of the history of the gardens and park at Grimston here courtesy of the researchers at the Yorkshire Gardens Trust https://www.yorkshiregardenstrust.org.uk/sites/yorkshiregardenstrust.org.uk/files/documents/Grimston%20Park_YGT%20Selby%20District%20Historical%20Report.pdf
A Postscript: Researching Decimus Burton revealed that he had a bit of a thing for towers. He was the architect of two lighthouses for the model town of Fleetwood, Lancashire, which he designed for Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood just before he started work at Grimston. The Folly Flâneuse couldn’t resist a trip to the seaside:
*Caradoc aka Caradock.
The portrait of the handsome Colonel Caradoc is in the Phoenix Art Museum http://egallery.phxart.org/view/objects/asitem/items$0040:22673