Oswell Blakeston (1907-1985), was born Henry Joseph Hasslacher, and created his nom de plume by condensing ‘Osbert Sitwell’, whom he admired, into ‘Oswell’ and adding his mother’s maiden name. He was a British writer and artist with wide interests, and one of his passions was follies; his role in bringing the genre to a wider audience deserves to be better known.
Not folly, but definitely landscape ornament, The Folly Flâneuse was surprised to find two ziggurats on a recent damp, but exhilarating, jaunt to East Anglia. Built more than two centuries apart, both were influenced by the architecture of Mesopotamia where the ziggurat was a temple in the form of a stepped pyramid, each level raising it closer to heaven.
Driving through South Yorkshire on the A1, it is possible to catch a glimpse of a small square structure just off the south-bound carriageway. This is Robin Hood’s Well, near the village of Burghwallis, and it is probably the smallest structure in the canon of the great architect Sir John Vanbrugh. It was commissioned by the Earl of Carlisle and Vanbrugh probably dashed off the design from his carriage, en route between London and the earl’s seat of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire.
A well had existed on the spot long before the earl decided to cover it over early in the 18th century. No doubt the earl, like other travellers, had been unimpressed with the dusty roadside waterhole and commissioned Vanbrugh to offer it some protection. In 1725 a traveller in the party of the Earl of Oxford saw the ‘new stone building’, but thinking it a little plain suggested that it be adorned with statues of Robin Hood and Little John. He also composed a few lines on the subject of the well:
If parch’d with toil, or heat, thou burn
Invited taste this limpid flood;
And boast wherever thou sojourn,
Thou once hast drank with Robin Hood.
Originally the well was built against a park wall and there were steps down to the water. An elderly retainer was on hand to serve water to travellers, although there was also an inn, ‘at the sign of the Robin Hood’, for those wishing for more sophisticated refreshments.
In the early 1960s the road was converted to a dual-carriageway, and the well cover was carefully dismantled with the stones numbered ready for re-erection. The Earl of Ross, of nearby Womersley, stored the stones in his stables until the works were complete and the building could be reconstructed. In 1964 it was rebuilt around 300 metres away from its original position at the water source. In 1993 a stainless steel frame was inserted to support the roof and safeguard the well’s future.
This view of Robin Hood’s Well by S.H. Grimm shows another ornamental building in the background (look closely). This is the Barnsdale Lodge, or Summer House, still a prominent eye-catcher high above the road when heading north on the A1, especially when it catches the sun. This landscape feature was designed by John Carr of York for Bacon Frank of Campsall Hall in around 1784, and its ‘extensive and beautiful prospect’ was much admired.
Incidentally, Barnsdale also gave its name to the nearby Barnsdale Bar services, once one of chic roadside eateries pioneered by the Forte family. Like the well it too has disappeared, and today’s motorists thunder by in search of refreshment elsewhere.
Bramham Park, south of Wetherby and close to the Great North Road as it passes through Yorkshire, was built by Robert Benson, Lord Bingley, and completed in the early years of the 18th century. The estate has remained in the care of his descendants (with a couple of confusing name changes) ever since. In 1828, while the family were away at a funeral, fire broke out in the mansion causing serious damage to the fabric of the building. Happily, the quick actions of the servants and neighbours meant that some of the contents could be saved. Less fortunately, there was no money available to rebuild, so the house remained a ruin throughout the rest of the century.
Miniature models of follies and temples are fairly common, but it is not often that you see one blown up to mansion dimensions. Vestavia, in Alabama, is just that: a Roman temple inflated into a family home with a dining room to seat 42.
James Wyatt produced plans for a ‘Saxon Hexagon Tower’ for the 6th Earl of Coventry in the last years of the 18th century. After his death in 1809 it was sold and over the following centuries it became the home of a printing workshop, a retreat for members of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and a farmhouse. In 1974 it became the centrepiece of a country park, and it remains so today.
The group of follies and monuments at Wentworth Woodhouse needs little introduction, being one of the finest collections of landscape ornaments in Britain. So this post is just an opportunity for The Folly Flâneuse to remind you that you can climb the Hoober Stand and admire the Monument on bank holidays and Sundays from Spring Bank holiday until late August. And also to use some photographs taken during the wonderful March heatwave.
The Fox Tower, just outside Brough in the tiny settlement of Helbeck, is one of those follies built to be both eye-catcher and belvedere. It is a prominent landmark from the long-established road between Scotch Corner and Penrith, now the A66. From the tower there are dramatic views across the Pennines and the Eden Valley.
Not far from Helmsley, in North Yorkshire, are the dramatic ruins of a Cistercian abbey. Named after the valley of the river Rye in which is sits, Rievaulx Abbey is backed by a huge wooded cliff which rises high above the stonework. Look up and you can just see a glimpse of a classical temple, one of two which ornament the curving grassed terrace which overlooks the abbey.
A brief post this week as The Folly Flâneuse has been racing around at a somewhat faster pace than her usual omnipercipient strolling. However, the lovely images by John Piper will make up for the paucity of words.
After the Easter heatwave the weather broke just as The Folly Flâneuse arrived at Stowe – the photo above shows the view from the grotto, which gave some much needed protection from one of the heaviest of the showers. On the plus side, no-one else was about, and The Folly Flâneuse had Stowe all to herself.