architecture, eyecatcher, Folly, garden, landscape, Obelisk, sham church, Suffolk, Tower

The Tattingstone Wonder, Tattingstone, Suffolk

Squire White of Tattingstone Place in Suffolk wanted an eye-catcher to enrich the view from his mansion. Rather than start from scratch, he simply enlarged and embellished a couple of existing cottages, adding a tower and some gothic windows. He called his folly The Tattingstone Wonder, and the story goes that he declared that the local people were wont to wonder at nothing, so he would give them something to wonder at. 

There’s a chimney brick inscribed with Thomas White’s initials and ‘1790’, so that must be the approximate date, but we know little more. The building does not seem to have been discussed in guides or histories until the middle of the next century, when it is described as ‘an ornamental building in the form of a church, commonly called the Tattingstone Wonder.’

We do however have a lovely record of the folly from the 1930s, when it was studied by Walter Steggles (1908-1997), a prominent member of the East London Group of artists.

Photograph by Walter Steggles from which he prepared his preparatory sketches, c.1937. Courtesy of the Walter Steggles Bequest and the Shell Heritage Art Collection.
Preparatory drawing for the Tattingstone Wonder poster by Steggles, 1937. Courtesy of the Walter Steggles Bequest and the Shell Heritage Art Collection.

In 1937 Steggles was invited by Jack Beddington, Publicity Manager for Shell, to contribute a painting for use in the To Visit Britain’s Landmarks You Can Be Sure of Shell advertising campaign: a series of posters featuring follies (see recent post Beddington’s secretary wrote to Steggles in April of that year to ask if he had decided which folly he would represent. Steggles produced a shortlist of Sevendroog Castle in London and three Suffolk structures: the obelisk at Wolverston (sic), Ickworth and The Tattingstone Wonder.

Preparatory sketch for the Tattingstone Wonder poster, Walter Steggles, 1937. Courtesy of the Walter Steggles Bequest and the Shell Heritage Art Collection.

He chose the latter and his charming working drawings and a photograph survive in his archive (now part of the Shell Heritage Art Collection). Steggles chose to depict the rear of the folly, exposing the mechanics of the building and its cottage-into-folly status.

Watercolour sketch of the Tattingstone Wonder, Walter Steggles, 1937. Courtesy of the Walter Steggles Bequest and the Shell Heritage Art Collection.

You can see the finished poster on the Tattingstone parish website here The Grade II* listed Tattingstone Wonder is now a private house but can be seen from the road.

Postcard franked 1905, courtesy of a Private Collection.

The Tattingstone Wonder, the round house at Ickworth (a curiosity rather than a folly), and Sevendroog Castle stand today. Had Steggles chosen to record the Woolverstone Obelisk it would have been one of the last representations of the monument, as it was demolished after fire damage in 1943. There’s a good account of it here

Thanks to Alan Waltham for information on the Steggles commission, follow him @EastLondonGroup or visit his excellent website 


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One thought on “The Tattingstone Wonder, Tattingstone, Suffolk”

  1. Garance Rawinsky says:

    Wonderous fantasy and fabulous honesty. Thank you for that research – a joy to imagine that wondering might be more of a thing… perhaps allied to curiosity.

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