The hamlet of Racton, in a quiet corner of West Sussex, is little more than a church and a cluster of cottages. What catches the eye is the dramatic ruin, with tapering central tower, that stands above the settlement. This is the belvedere erected by George Montagu Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax, as an ornament to his Stansted Park estate.
Newstead Abbey is best known as the seat of the Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, but it was equally famed in the middle of the 18th century as the home of his great-uncle, William, the 5th Baron, known as the ‘Wicked Lord’. It was William who built sham forts and castles around the estate’s Great Lake, on which sailed his fleet of boats.
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.
The Ruined Castle in the grounds of Hagley Hall, near Stourbridge in Worcestershire, was built by Sir Thomas Lyttleton (1685-1751) in 1747-48 as a feature to be visited, and seen as a prospect, on a walk around his park. His eldest son, George Lyttelton (1709-1773), was probably a driving influence, and together they created one of the most perfect sham ruins in Britain.