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.
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.
Last week’s brief post on the sham Druid’s Temple, near Masham, was something of a preamble to The Folly Flâneuse sharing this wonderful letter written by Barbara Jones in 1949. Jones is, of course, the doyenne of folly-spotters, and in this missive she shares the ups and downs of researching for the first edition of Follies & Grottoes. It is a delight to read: camping at the Druid’s Temple, finding Hackfall, and best of all a run-in with the formidable Captain Fordyce, Agent to Lord Hothfield at Skipton Castle. Here’s the unadulterated letter in full:
John Sharp became the incumbent of Hartburn, near Morpeth, in 1749 and this curious tower was built soon after; it was originally used as a schoolhouse and to house the parish hearse. Sharp contributed to the cost from his own pocket, but reaped the benefits as the tower also served as an eye-catcher from his ornamented grounds in the valley of the Hart Burn that gives the village its name.
A great stumbling block in the understanding of follies is the attempt to define what exactly one is. Must it be useless? Wildly expensive? Weird? One of my favourite summaries comes from Barbara Jones, the first person to study the genre in depth in Follies and Grottoes, published by Constable 65 years ago today
She wrote that a folly ‘is built for pleasure, and pleasure is personal, difficult to define.’
‘The fast lock’d tower where ivy loves to creep,
Seems like the remains of some old Castle Keep’
So wrote the little-known Yorkshire poet Robert Carrick Wildon, in contemplative mood, at The Ruin in around 1850. His poem ‘Lines suggested while sitting at the Ruins’ was recently discovered and you can read it all here http://www.friendsofstives.org.uk/history/the_ruins.php
The Ruin, as it is called on the earliest OS maps, was built by Benjamin Ferrand and is inscribed with his initials and the year 1796. Also known as Ferrand’s Folly, or Harden Grange Folly, there is no explanation for why it later became known as St David’s Ruin.
Barbara Jones, the first person to write a comprehensive account of follies in Britain, saw this building and was underwhelmed. In the 1953 first edition of Follies & Grottoes she described it as ‘gutted’ and full of pigeon’s nests, and concluded that ‘no amount of bird life can divest this folly of its ordinariness’. If only she had seen it in its prime; a sketch by the itinerant artist and drawing master J.C. Nattes dated 1807 shows an enchanting little building.