One of the most curious collections of structures in Britain can be found on a ridge behind the house called Sorrelsykes*, near Aysgarth in North Yorkshire. Often cited as fine examples of follies because of their strange form, and apparent lack of function, the eccentric edifices seem to have lost their history. What are they? Who built them? When? And above all why?
The question of what they are should be the easiest to answer, but even that poses a challenge as they are so curious and difficult to categorise. The most dramatic structure is a large cone, with doorway and blind windows, supported by buttresses. In modern times it has acquired the nickname ‘the Rocket Ship’ based on its likeness to the intergalactic craft of comic book heroes such as Dan Dare. Next in line is a bizarre arch, or gateway, which stands alone devoid of attached wall or fence, and is too low to walk under anyway. Finally there is a column which has been likened to a cotton bobbin or a peppermill.
The who and when can tentatively be said to be the Misses Tennant, and the mid- to late- 19th century. Sorrellsykes was once home to the four daughters of Edward Tennant – Isabella, Rebecca, Emma and Ann – and they were described as ‘gentlewomen’. Although from the park the building appears as a classical Georgian mansion, it is actually divided into separate dwellings, and in the 1870s the Tennant family occupied two of the three homes. But the evidence is scant: an account in 1878 notes that the Tennant ladies had ’embellished the grounds with statuary and other ornaments in good taste’. That’s all there is: ask locally and people will just shrug their shoulders.
The why remains unanswered, leaving one of the great folly mysteries intact. Best guesses remain that the follies were built to create employment for local men, or that they were built by apprentice masons, perfecting their craft. In 1993 the structures were consolidated with a grant from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Committee’s excellent ‘Local Historic Features’ fund. You can go and ponder the history of the follies for yourself, as the structures are alongside the public footpath from Edgeley Farm to West Burton.
More conventionally (in folly terms) there was a sham castle facade higher up the hill, seen by The Folly Flâneuse in the 1980s but sadly toppled in a storm a decade later. This is very unlike the bizarre structures on the ridge, and is possibly earlier.
* or Sorrell Sykes, or Sorrowsikes, or Sorrellsikes, or countless other variant spellings just to make the researcher’s life difficult…
Thank you for reading. If you know more about these strange structures (someone, somewhere must), or would like to share any thoughts, please scroll down to the comments box below.
10 thoughts on “Sorrelsykes, near Aysgarth, North Yorkshire”
My condiments to the Flaneuse on yet another interesting article. Now maybe the time to take off and revisit these intriguing structures. Also at the same time take a look at the AA box nearby, which always was in most excellent condition.
Morning Gand. An excellent pun to start the day. This was our first folly jaunt in a long time. It’s good to be back in the field (literally). My Uncouth Companion is a big fan of AA boxes so we know it well. Enjoy the sunny morning.
Among the purest examples of folly in Britain, and if La Flâneuse can’t find anything more about them where does that leave the rest of us? (on this cold grey London morning). I do hope they were perpetrated by the Misses Tennant. We need more folly women.
… excellent imagery, as usual. The Country Life archive gives a single result for one spelling of Sorrelsykes – a review of a book with that title appearing in the 13 December 1913 issue & said to describe life in the area 50 years previously. Glancing over it, the content appears seriously quaint but, as I am driving at the moment, it is not possible to peruse in detail or discover whether any clarification concerning the origin of the structures here etcetera is present.
Many thanks for this fascinating comment. Do let me know if you find out more.
Hello Gwyn. I was torn on this one: crack the case, or leave a great mystery alone? So I compromised on just finding out a little more! That’s my story anyway…
Keith Cattell. says:
I continue to admire your fascinating research and also your literary ability in presenting it: my only query is how do I gain access to all those articles that appeared before I accidentally discovered your web site a few months ago?
Good afternoon Keith, and thank you very much for those kind words. All of the articles remain on the website, so if you visit the site (not from the email link)they should appear chronologically if you scroll down. I confess to preferring the research and writing to the technology, so I hope I have explained that correctly. Do get back to me if this doesn’t work.
Julia Abel Smith says:
The form and positioning of the sham castle at the top of a steep hill is reminiscent of The Ruin at Hackfall (now restored by the Landmark Trust) only 18 miles away. I wonder if the Hackfall Ruin was the inspiration?
Hello Julia. Very interesting thought. This site keeps its secrets really well, which is fine, there should always be mysteries!