In 1938 John Betjeman wrote a feature on ‘Gentlemen’s Follies’ for Country Life magazine. In it he noted a number of well-known follies, including the then very new tower built by Lord Berners at Faringdon, close to where Betjeman lived. He also mentioned another local folly, a tower in the village of Woolstone (then Berkshire, now Oxfordshire). So whilst the house above doesn’t look much like a folly, it does have a great folly story attached.
On high ground above Creech Grange, near Wareham in Dorset, stands a battlemented and pinnacled arch which looks like the entrance to an estate. But no road passes through it, and the structure exists simply to catch the eye and ornament the landscape.
Close to the little village of Dinton, near Aylesbury, stands an imposing 18th century folly called Dinton Castle. 250 years after it was first built it shot to fame on the TV show Grand Designs. But to mark the 200th post on these pages, the Folly Flâneuse intends to enjoy a Dinton Folly of a very different kind.
John Piper’s paintings of follies and garden buildings are well-known, but less familiar are his ceramics decorated with architectural features, including a series of ‘curly dishes’ with his wonderful whimsical interpretations of 18th century designs for rustic follies.
In the middle of the 20th century books featuring the adventures of the Lockett children captured the imaginations of young readers. One title in particular appealed to the Folly Flâneuse: what ghastly goings-on could have taken place at the ‘half completed and abandoned tower’ known as Steeple Folly? And which real clifftop folly might have been the inspiration for it?
Horton Tower, also known as Sturt’s Folly, is one of those enigmatic erections whose history is vague and usually explained in sentences that begin ‘said to have been…’. What is not in question is its magnificence: seven stories of red brick soaring skywards in the middle of a field.
J.L Carr’s novel A Month in the Country won the Guardian Prize for Fiction in 1980. It is a short novel which tells the gentle and very moving story of two men re-establishing their lives after the horrors of serving in the First World War. It is a firm favourite of The Folly Flâneuse, and she was fascinated to discover recently that Carr was also an amateur artist, and his subjects were usually the buildings of his adopted county of Northamptonshire. His volumes of sketches and paintings include a number of architectural curiosities, accompanied by captions that reveal his warm sense of humour.
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…
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.
A brief post this week as The Folly Flâneuse has been racing around at a somewhat faster pace than her usual omnipercipient strolling. However, the lovely images by John Piper will make up for the paucity of words.
After the Easter heatwave the weather broke just as The Folly Flâneuse arrived at Stowe – the photo above shows the view from the grotto, which gave some much needed protection from one of the heaviest of the showers. On the plus side, no-one else was about, and The Folly Flâneuse had Stowe all to herself.