architecture, Folly, Staffodshire

Ratcliffe’s Folly, or Ecton Castle, Ecton, Staffordshire

In later life Arthur Ratcliffe expressed his pride in having progressed from peddling candle wicks to becoming a surveyor, an M.P. for Leek, and director of a building society. But he might never have discovered his passion for building had his doctor not ordered him to take some time off work for the benefit of his health in 1922. On a visit to the Manifold Valley in Staffordshire, he found a small building which he intended to renovate as a weekend retreat, and snapped it up for the grand sum of £11.

Arthur Ratcliffe. Photo courtesy of a private collection.

In December 1922 Ratcliffe (1882-1963) was granted permission to extend the existing bungalow. His architects, Messrs Ellaway Smith & Co., drew up plans for a simple cottage with two rooms below and one above. The only mildly unusual feature was a balustraded viewing platform on the roof of the single-storey extension. But Ratcliffe became completely obsessed with the project, and the cottage grew to become his palatial country seat.

Arthur Ratcliffe on the turret of his castle c.1935. Photo courtesy of a private collection.

As a surveyor he travelled around the country and accumulated all sorts of masonry fragments, many of which he incorporated into what was was quickly becoming his ‘Castle in the Hills’.

Interviewed in 1933 he confessed that he had no idea what might happen next, and that he may even decide to ‘pull it down again and build a Swiss chalet to tone with the surrounding countryside’. This is a mysterious statement for as the aerial photograph below shows, the house was hardly surrounded by alpine scenery.

Aerial view of Ecton Castle c.1950, courtesy of a private collection.

But the fortified style was not abandoned, and the ‘perfect reproduction of a medieval castle’ continued to grow battlements and turrets.

A mason working on one of the turrets with the Manifold Valley as a backdrop. Photo courtesy of a private collection.

In 1937 Ratcliffe had a new idea and asked his builder to add a spire to the turret over the main entrance. George Johnston, who had started life as an apprentice plumber with one of Ratcliffe’s companies, remembered working on the spire and being taught how to cut and fit the copper cladding. The finishing touch was a wooden ball coated in gold leaf.

The spire today.

Officially known as ‘The Hillocks’, the house quickly became known as ‘Ecton Castle’ or ‘Ratcliffe’s Folly’. Ratcliffe and his wife Ellen welcomed visitors and their home ‘aroused widespread interest’. Ellen died in 1946 and Ratcliffe began work on a bridge to mark her life. Working at weekends and in the evenings the project took him 8 years, and it was not until November 1954 that a small ceremony was held to dedicate the bridge to Ellen’s memory. During her illness Ellen would enjoy watching Arthur feed the birds, so he built what he called the ‘Bird Temple’ on the spot.

Arthur with the birdtable he made for Ellen. This was removed by the family when the house was sold. Photo courtesy of a private collection.

But Ratcliffe didn’t just make the papers because of his eccentric home. Instead it was his pig, Joey, who became the focus of attention. In 1949 ‘people all over the country’ wrote to Ratcliffe, begging that Joey’s life ‘should be spared’ after the story spread that Joey was about to be slaughtered. But Joey had only become such a handsome great beast because the Ministry of Food had ensured he was well-nourished. And in return Joey was to become bacon and sausages.

Ratcliffe and the celebrated Joey. Photo courtesy of a private collection.

Ratcliffe died in 1963 and the property descended to his son who sold the property. Now known as Ecton Castle, the house remains a family home, and sits in a lovely wooded setting with views of the hills and valley.

Ecton Hill, on which the house stands, was once home to the deepest copper mine in Britain, and in the 18th century provided the material used by the navy to ‘copperbottom’ its ships. It also provided the owner, the Duke of Devonshire, with a very handsome income which is said to have funded the 18th century development of Buxton.

Ecton Castle can be seen from public footpaths and is a short detour uphill from the Manifold Track, the path that follows the route of the disused railway line from Hulme End to Waterhouses. Keep climbing the footpath up behind the house to see Ecton Mine’s Powder and Engine houses.

For the history of the mining in the area see

The Folly Flâneuse wishes to thank the current owner of Ecton Castle for his generous help with this post.

Thank you for reading. Please scroll down to the comments box at the foot of the page to share any thoughts. 

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


Subscribing to The Folly Flaneuse ensures you will never miss a post. All you need to do is provide me with your contact information and you will automatically receive an email each Saturday when I post new content on Your email address will never be sold or shared

 You can remove yourself anytime by contacting me.

* indicates required

10 thoughts on “Ratcliffe’s Folly, or Ecton Castle, Ecton, Staffordshire”

  1. Annette Lloyd Thomas says:

    Mr Ratcliffe truly Cloughed-up his property. I enjoyed this well written article. It would be interesting to see a footprint/floor plan of the castle.

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Annette and I am pleased you enjoyed reading about Mr Ratcliffe’s dream home. I don’t have a floor plan, but I have seen the one of the original bungalow and it has certainly spread!

  2. Garance says:

    Constructing a Folly is a great way to learn various heritage skills. Stone masonry, Lime Mortar pointing, copper work, etc. I wonder if our current Local Authority Planning Department members would have supported him in his delightful eccentricities.

    1. Editor says:

      Good afternoon Garance. I suspect a planning application would not succeed today. The present owner continues to use local craftspeople to keep the building in good repair.

  3. Alan Terrill says:

    It was good to read the history of this place. I visited two years ago and was very pleased to see it being looked after again. On my previous visit c 1990 it was empty and a little derelict. The lane up to it seemed to have got a good deal steeper this time around!

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Alan. Yes the hill is a bit of a challenge, but worth it for the view of Ecton Castle and the surrounding scenery. Happily it is in safe hands with the present owner.

  4. Iain KS Gray says:

    Collecting material like that reminds me of the Postman Cheval and his Palais.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Iain. Yes that crossed my mind too, although the French postman created something, to my mind, unsurpassable.

  5. Jonathan Cooke says:

    Great Article. I came to know the house and surrounds after attending survey camps down Ecton Mine and surrounding land whilst an Undergraduate at Sheffield Hallam University. Not sure if anybody can remember but our Course Leader was Geoffrey Marsden and he used to collect the key for the mine from Geoffrey Cox who now gives his name to the Mine and Study Centre. These survey camps were in 1990 and 1991 and the house was derelict in those days. Great to see that the new owners have brought the house back to life and well done to them. I continue to walk Ecton Hill and always stop to admire the house each time I visit.

    1. Editor says:

      Thank you Jonathan. The owner admits to a total passion for the building, so Ecton Castle is in safe hands. Great to hear that you have memories of the house in a dilapidated state, which must help you admire it all the more on your walks. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.