Such was the headline of an article in the Sussex County Magazine in 1937. The author, William A. Bagley, was fascinated by the ‘strange towers’ that could be found ‘dotted all over the hilltops of England’. Revisiting some of the follies he described some 85 years later the Folly Flâneuse discovered that the towers have had differing histories: one is lost, some survive in much the same state as when Bagley saw them, and one is currently on the market with a multi-million pound asking price.
In the middle of the 18th century, Viscount Bateman of Shobdon Court decided to remodel the Romanesque church on his estate. Demolishing all but the tower, he created an enchanting building with exquisite interiors in the fashionable gothick style. Although later accused of ‘wanton destruction’, Bateman did at least recognise the value of fragments of the earlier church, and had them re-erected as an eye-catcher at the end of an avenue in the park.
250 years ago, on 15 August 1771, the poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh. One of Scott’s greatest fans was, to give him his full title, The Reverend Sir William Marriott Smith Marriott Bart M.A.* (1801-1864), rector of Horsmonden in Kent. Here, as part of improvements to the rectory’s grounds, Marriott built an eye-catcher tower dedicated to Scott, now sadly lost.
‘An ill-treated folly’, wrote folly supremo Barbara Jones of the Carnaby Temple in 1953. The late 18th century landscape ornament, on high land above Boynton Hall, was by then disused and dilapidated, but remarkably intact considering the years of neglect. And so it remains.
In 1947, the British Government decided to mark the 100th anniversary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 with a Festival of Britain, scheduled to open 100 years to the day since the launch of the Great Exhibition, on 3 May 1951. The focus was an exhibition in London, and the area we now know as South Bank was chosen as the venue for the celebration of British achievements past, present and future. A little upriver at Battersea were the complementary Festival Pleasure Gardens. Whilst the tone on the South Bank was ‘intellectual seriousness’, at Battersea all was colour and whimsy, and a highlight was the sparkling grotto, sponsored by Schhh, you know who…
The Round Tower, aka Guy’s Folly, stood on high ground to the west of what is now the A424 between Stow on the Wold and Burford. Sadly, this lovely little folly was demolished in the 1970s to make way for a B.B.C. transmission mast. Both Napoleon and Kitchener make an appearance in its rather hazy history…
The Folly Flâneuse is putting her feet up this week, and handing over to her very good friend The Garden Historian. As guest contributor he reveals the history of the lovely, but now lost, timber temple at Exton Park.
In 1953, when Barbara Jones coined the opening words ‘survival is capricious’ for her account of the Bark Temple in Follies & Grottoes, she was probably unaware of how prophetic they were. At the time, she mused whether it was ‘perhaps built as a band stand for dances by the lake’; yet feeling the building’s oppressiveness as it slipped into ruin, added ‘but an innocent purpose for it seems unthinkable.’ She was actually so right on the former, and so wrong on the latter.
This weekend the country celebrates the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Thinking of the events of 1939-45, the Folly Flâneuse was reminded of a wartime project to document the changing rural and urban face of Britain. At a time when the future seemed uncertain, ‘Recording Britain’ commissioned artists to portray the country as it then was, creating a visual history for future generations.
Few follies can be said to have directly contributed to coastal erosion, but one example can be found in the lovely little village of Hunmanby, near Filey. Early in the 19th century Humphrey Osbaldeston, of Hunmanby Hall, took stone from the rocky coastal outcrop called Filey Brigg, and used it to erect this rustic entrance arch.
As the nation settles into staying at home, forgoing a social life and, more practically, visits to the hairdresser and beauty salon, the Folly Flâneuse got to thinking about those fashionable landscape ornaments called hermitages, in which men (presumably women had more sense than to apply for the vacancy) lived in isolation. With ragged clothing, long fingernails, and unkempt beards, the hermits animated the landscape, whilst creating a little drama for the visitors who caught a (staged) glimpse of the recluse.