architecture, eyecatcher, Folly, garden, garden history, landscape, Lodge, Obelisk, West Yorkshire

Obelisk Lodge, Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire

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.

The new house was commissioned by Sir Rowland Winn, 4th bart. (1706-1765), whose family had owned Nostell since the middle of the 17th century. The original design was by gentleman-architect Col. James Mosyer, but it was modified by James Paine who went on to work at Nostell for 30 years. In the same period the grounds were landscaped with lakes and plantations. Sir Rowland was succeeded in 1765 by his son, also Rowland (1739-1785) and it was he, the fifth baronet, who invited Robert Adam to Nostell. Adam remodelled the stables, created stunning interiors, began ambitious (but ultimately largely unrealised) additions to the house, and designed new lodges.

In the 18th century the terms obelisk and pyramid could be synonymous, so whilst we today would think this structure pyramidal, it was known as the Obelisk Lodge. Adam drew up plans for the ‘Gateway for the Park’ in 1776 and work began immediately. The original drawings show that a pair of sphinx were to terminate the flanking walls, but if they are ever installed they are now lost without trace (see link below). The drive straddled by the lodge brought traffic from the important Pontefract to York road, and it must have been a great thrill for visitors to pass through this monumental lodge in their carriages, before sweeping down over the end of the lake and then climbing again for the mansion to burst into view.

Postcard of the lodge sent in 1908. Courtesy of the Dave Martin Collection.

There was accommodation for the gate-keeper and his family in the space above the arch and in the two small rooms flanking the pyramid. With the arrival of the railway in the 19th century, the Obelisk Lodge was used less and a gate-keeper was no longer needed, although a colliery labourer, a stonemason’s labourer and gamekeepers (the lodge was well-placed to spot poachers entering the park) are recorded in residence over the century. The lodge was by now known locally as the Needle’s Eye (or Needle Eye), perhaps because of its similarity to the arch-pierced pyramid at Wentworth Woodhouse, about 15 miles away. It continued as a family home until the 1950s, but once empty began to decline.

Photograph taken for the RCHM National Monuments Record, 15 June 1977, Ref 6687/054. © Crown copyright. Historic England Archive

By 1977, when surveyed for the National Monuments Record, it was dilapidated and the tip was crumbling. A decade later the lodge featured in the exhibition (and accompanying catalogue) Georgian Arcadia: Architecture for the Park and Garden, which was held to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Georgian Group. The ‘dramatic Piranesian conception’ was described as neglected and vandalised, and so it remained until the beginning of the 21st century.

In 2002 it was announced that £4.2 million pounds of Heritage Lottery Funding would allow the acquisition of this previously private part of the estate, as well as meeting the costs of a major programme of renovation and restoration at Nostell that included the Grade II* listed Obelisk Lodge. The singular lodge, which had become pointless in more ways than one, is now once again a magnificent parkland feature.

Nostell Priory was given to the National Trust in lieu of tax in 1953  https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/nostell

For Adam’s drawing in the collection of the Sir John Soane Museum see http://collections.soane.org/THES92166

All modern photo’s were taken on rather lovely day in November 2020, when local restrictions allowed, and the National Trust team were doing an excellent job of managing safe access to the park.

If you would like to share any thoughts, please scroll down to the comments section. Thank you for reading.

The Needle’s Eye, Wentworth Woodhouse. Subscribe and discover many other fascinating follies.

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6 thoughts on “Obelisk Lodge, Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire”

  1. Gand says:

    It seems like a Winn/win story for both the lodge and the NT.

    1. Editor says:

      Excellent punning Gand.

  2. John Holland says:

    I wonder if the Nostell Park and Wentworth Woodhouse pyramids also had Masonic significance? The all-seeing ‘eye’ and the pyramid are powerful Masonic symbols. Just a thought…

    1. Editor says:

      Hello John. Quite possibly, but it isn’t something I investigated. The whole subject of Masonry and architecture is quite fascinating and I really should learn more.

  3. Roger Taylor says:

    There was also a Needles Eye Folly on the Wentworth Castle estate near Barnsley (since lost). The M1 cut through the wood near it and the large foot bridge which spans the M1 at Dodworth (just south of J37) is called the Needle Eye bridge.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Roger. I had no idea the bridge over the M1 was called that, thanks for letting me know. I will enjoy finding out more.

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