architecture, belvedere, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, landscape, Rustic shelter, Summerhouse, Temple, Tower

Pavilions in Peril part II: Persisting in Peril

In 1987 Save Britain’s Heritage, the charity which campaigns to save historic buildings from needless destruction, published Pavilions in Peril, a report into the great number of garden buildings in Britain that faced an uncertain future. In drawing attention to historic buildings that are vacant and whose future is uncertain, the charity hoped to identify new owners able to repair and/or find a new use for the structures, thus securing their future. 33 years after that report was written The Folly Flâneuse is delighted to write that there have been some fabulous restorations (see link below to an earlier post), but read on for the not-so-good news…

The now-demolished Temple to Pitt at Coleby in happier times. Postcard courtesy of a private collection.

The report’s author, Julia Abel Smith, researched 54 case studies, and sadly two of the featured structures have disappeared forever. The classical Temple to Pitt at Coleby Hall in Lincolnshire, was described in 1987 as being ‘a very sad sight’, and it was demolished in the 1990s. Although it looks fairly substantial in this postcard view, it was actually wood plastered to look like stone, and therefore less able to withstand the elements.

The Bark Temple in 1989. Photo courtesy of Michael Cousins.

The Bark Temple at Exton in Leicestershire, a rustic wooden summerhouse which had been deteriorating for some years, finally collapsed in 1997. There will be more on this fascinating lost building in a forthcoming guest post.

Two years after the report was published SAVE introduced a Buildings at Risk Register, and two of the buildings featured in Pavilions in Peril remain on that list today.

The now roofless and deteriorating Umbrello at Great Saxham. Image courtesy of Daniel Wilson Historic Places / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Despite attempts to secure its future, the Umbrello, on the privately-owned Great Saxham estate in Suffolk, has spent 33 years in peril. It is of particular interest as not only is it an unusual design, but it is built of Coade Stone, the celebrated artificial stone developed by Mrs Coade at her factory in Lambeth. Originally constructed in the late 18th or early 19th century, its design is based on a Batty Langley pattern and a Historic England report of 2001 concluded that Great Saxham may not have been its first home. There’s a link to the full report below.

Early 20th century postcard of Racton Tower, showing it already in ruins. Courtesy of a private collection.

Near Chichester in Sussex, stands the derelict Racton Tower, which is also on SAVE’s Buildings at Risk Register. It was designed by Theodosius Keene for the 2nd Earl of Halifax and complete by around 1770. The hilltop folly (described by Horace Walpole as ‘a very ugly Tower’) was built to take advantage of extensive views across the downs to the Isle of Wight and beyond, and as an eye-catcher from Lord Halifax’s seat at Stansted House. In the year Pavilions in Peril was published it was bought by a private owner who planned to turn it into a private house. Planning permission was granted some years ago, but has since expired, and at the time of writing a new application, from the same very patient owner, is being considered by the South Downs National Park Planning Authority.

Other buildings featured in the report remain in need of rescue. In 1987 the Belvedere at Sketty, near Swansea, was unlisted and derelict. Probably designed by the architect William Jernegan in the early 19th century, the folly contains a lovely vaulted chamber with its roof supported by a single column (likely inspired by the nearby Chapter House at Margam).

The Belvedere at Sketty. cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Nigel Daviesgeograph.org.uk/p/2377853

The building has the inscription ESTO PERPETUO (May it stand forever), which is somewhat ironic given its current condition, although nicely relevant when one learns that when it was conveyed to Swansea City Council there was a covenant attached forbidding demolition. The house at Sketty was demolished in 1975 and the belvedere is now surrounded by the modern housing that was built in its park. In 2015 the cash-strapped Swansea Council sold the building at auction; the sum realised was reported to be £130,000. However plans to restore the (now grade II listed) folly as a dwelling have been scuppered by a colony of bats, and it remains boarded-up and neglected.

In Yorkshire the temple at Whitley Beaumont, near Huddersfield, was thought to have a bleak future as it had lost its roof, and the fine chamber beneath was filling with rubble. Happily it still stands, although it has continued to slowly deteriorate under the combined force of vandals, the elements, and total loss of raison d’être: the estate was requisitioned for mining during the Second World War and the mansion demolished in 1952 . Attributed to James Paine, the temple was probably constructed in the early 1750s when the Beaumont family’s mansion was being remodelled. A grand terrace walk, edged with flowering shrubs, terminated at the temple from which there were extensive views. In the 1770s the building was home to a telescope and visitors were invited to admire the distant views from the elevated site, which (as reputed of every prospect tower in Yorkshire) included a view to York Minster. When invited to admire the view one guest, clearly an old hand at dealing with the boasts of owners, announced that he could most certainly see the mighty church: experience had taught him that when he found his hosts ‘resolutely determined that I shall see a thing, I always see it immediately to save trouble.’ The temple now stands rather forlornly on the edge of a quarry, as a reminder of how great the estate once was.

If you are feeling a little despondent now, see last week’s post for the good news https://thefollyflaneuse.com/pavilions-in-peril-part-i-pavilions-preserved/

This is only a selection from the buildings featured in Pavilions in Peril, but it is still in print at the absolute bargain price of £5 and is well worth the investment. You can buy it and learn more about SAVE here https://www.savebritainsheritage.org/publications/publications-in-print/3 

For the full report on the Umbrella at Great Saxham follow this link https://research.historicengland.org.uk/Report.aspx?i=15025&ru=%2FResults.aspx%3Fp%3D549

Feedback is always welcome, please scroll down to find the comments section. Thank you for reading.

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6 thoughts on “Pavilions in Peril part II: Persisting in Peril”

  1. Christine Miskin says:

    Hello Karen
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading these two posts but what a shame about all those buildings which are still deteriorating. As a result of reading your first post, I bought a copy of Pavilions in Peril, which made very interesting reading, and it has been useful to discover which of them have been restored in the intervening years.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Christine. Very pleased to hear you enjoyed the two posts. One is certainly more upbeat than the other, but as the restoration post shows, whilst buildings still stand there is hope. Pavilions in Peril is a wonderful report and I return to it often.

  2. Peter Stevenson says:

    I thoroughly enjoy all your bulletins – it is always a good start to the day when one appears in my mailbox. I would like to ask whether you have records of follies which have long since disappeared and the only clues to their existence might be such village names as Folly Lane, Folly House & The Folly (road name). Many thanks.

    1. Editor says:

      Dear Peter. I’m very pleased to hear you enjoy the posts, thank you for taking the time to say so. Yes, my attention is always caught by street names including the word ‘folly’, and I try to find out more. The problem is that folly can have different meanings, sometimes it meant a leafy place, but it’s always worth investigating.

  3. Alastair Fairall says:

    Dear ‘ Miss Flaneuse’,
    Many thanks for your rambles about many follies and especially this last one about Follies in peril. Intrigued about the Exton Bark Temple and look forward to more about it. I am missing visiting follies because of the imposition of this ‘dreaded lock-down’ and your invigorating write-ups keep the instinct alive. Your kind service is much appreciated. Best Regards.

    1. Editor says:

      Dear Alastair. Good to hear from you. These have indeed been challenging times on so many levels. Keep safe and well and I will endeavour to bring you a weekly dose of folly!

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