A great stumbling block in the understanding of follies is the attempt to define what exactly one is. Must it be useless? Wildly expensive? Weird? One of my favourite summaries comes from Barbara Jones, the first person to study the genre in depth in Follies and Grottoes, published by Constable 65 years ago today
She wrote that a folly ‘is built for pleasure, and pleasure is personal, difficult to define.’
Whilst fascinated by follies from far and wide this site has a bias towards Yorkshire, where The Folly Flâneuse has lived for more than three decades. Jones recognised the abundance of follies in the area when she wrote that ‘Yorkshire has dozens of beauties’. The Yorkshire Post reviewed Follies and Grottoes soon after publication on 6 October 1953 and took pride in the dominance of ‘God’s Own County’:
‘Follies and Grottoes… includes a gazetteer of follies listed by counties. And which do you think has the longest list? The fact that Yorkshire is credited with most is not merely because it is the biggest county but also because it was rich in men with a poetic, fanciful turn of mind, and wealth enough to indulge it.’
The paper picked out the Castle Howard follies, St David’s Ruin at Bingley and the Druid’s Temple at Masham as examples of the county’s buildings that Jones featured. Yorkshiremen have often been caricatured for their reluctance to part with their ‘brass’, so it’s good to see them being celebrated for spending it on some of Britain’s best follies.