Cheshire, Folly, staffordshire

Mow Cop Folly, Cheshire/Staffordshire Border

Mow Cop as seen from the Cheshire side.

The sham castle folly on Mow Cop was built by Randle Wilbraham of Rode Hall in 1754 as a summerhouse to which the family could ride for picnics. Its elevated position meant it could be seen from the mansion, some three miles away on the Cheshire side of the county boundary.

The folly became famous in 1807 when it was the site of the meeting that launched Primitive Methodism. Since that date there have been regular assemblies at Mow Cop to mark the anniversary. The centenary celebrations in 1907 led one journalist (whom we can assume to be a member of the established church) to comment that Mow Cop looked like ‘a gigantic ant-hill’ which crawled with ‘thousands and thousands of pilgrims’.

Mow Cop c.1910 seen from the Staffordshire side. Courtesy of the Dave Martin Collection.

Local people had always enjoyed access to the folly and the surrounding land, and there was an outcry and public demonstrations in 1923 after an entrepreneur bought the site from the Wilbraham family, and began quarrying. Public access was once more secure when in 1937 the land and folly were given to the National Trust (although in 1945 the trust’s James Lees Milne would dismiss it as ‘the ridiculous castle folly’).

It used to be possible to climb right up to the tower, but it is now fenced off for the inevitable health and safety reasons. The wall’s rugged ruined outline has sadly been rebuilt into neat right-angles, but it remains the most perfectly designed and situated of follies, and surely the inspiration for Old John Tower in Bradgate Park, Leicestershire and St David’s Ruin in Yorkshire

Mow Cop as modelled by ceramicist Jessie Van Hallen

Jessica Hallen (née Brooke) grew up locally and after attending art school in Burslem and London became a ceramicist. She was employed by Wade’s Pottery in 1930 and became acclaimed for her figurines, which were affordable versions of those produced by grander firms such as Doulton. Her employment terminated in around 1940, when the outbreak of war meant that the factory produced ceramics for the war effort rather than fancy goods. She continued to freelance for the major potteries and in 1957 she designed a ceramic model of the folly on Mow Cop. There’s very little information on Jessie (who styled herself ‘Jessie van Hallen’ for reasons unknown), but this was perhaps in celebration of 150 years of the Primitive Methodist movement. The Dilford Pottery produced further issues from her moulds after her death. Jessie died in 1983 and was buried at St Luke’s, on the hillside below Mow Cop.


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