In 1738 Langley Park was purchased by the 3rd Duke of Marlborough (1706-1758), and one of his first projects was the construction of an elegant casino with views to Windsor Castle. In the middle of the 19th century that temple was demolished, and replaced by an equally charming monumental column. That too survived for only a century, but happily a pictorial record helps tell the story.
Hail, Castle Howard! Hail, Vanbrugh’s noble dome
Where Yorkshire in her splendour rivals Rome!
Thus wrote John Betjeman in a poem composed for Bird’s-Eye View: The Englishman’s Home, a documentary scripted and mellifluously-narrated by Betjeman, which was first shown on BBC2 in April 1969. Many great houses are featured in the film, but a highlight for the Folly Flâneuse is Castle Howard, in North Yorkshire.
Barnsley House, in the village of the same name, is one of those picture-perfect Cotswold manor houses of exquisite honey-coloured stone. Built in the last years of the 17th century it passed through various owners, and served as the Rectory, before being purchased by the Verey family in 1939. It came to fame a generation later when David Verey, an architectural historian, and his wife Rosemary inherited the house. Rosemary Verey went on to create one of the most famous gardens in Britain, and even those who have never visited (including, until this week, The Folly Flâneuse) would recognise the laburnum avenue underplanted with alliums that has graced many a calendar and greetings card.
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.’