A folly is a small building constructed for decoration, indulgence or whatever the patron deemed necessary. In the 18th century, the term began as ‘a popular name for any costly structure considered to have shown folly in the builder’ – essentially, any building which revealed the silliness of the patron.
Often found in the estates of wealthy aristocrats there are hundreds of follies dotted across Britain, often built for the most trivial reasons and reflecting the wacky and inventive tastes of their owners.
Here are 8 of Britain’s best:
1. Rushton Triangular Lodge
Sir Thomas Tresham was a Roman Catholic who was imprisoned for 15 years when he refused to convert to Protestantism. On his release in 1593, he designed this lodge in Northamptonshire as a testament to his faith.
The Elizabethan love of allegory and symbolism is abundant – everything is designed in three to reflect Tresham’s belief in the Holy Trinity. The design has three floors, three walls 33 feet long, each with three triangular windows and surmounted by three gargoyles. Three Latin texts, each 33 letters long, run around each façade.
2. Archer Pavilion
Thomas Archer’s pavilion in the grounds at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire was built between 1709 and 1711. It was intended for hunting parties, taking tea and ‘occasional suppers’.
Decorated with trompe-l’oeil decoration completed in 1712 by Louis Hauduroy, the interior is a tribute to classical architectural details of busts and statues. Several tiny bedrooms surmount the central space, and these can be reached by narrow spiral staircases – possibly used for forbidden flirtations.
3. White Nancy
Built in 1817 to commemorate the victory at the Battle of Waterloo, this Cheshire folly forms the logo for the local town of Bollington. The name is said to derive from one of the Gaskell daughters, whose family built the folly, or after the horse that hauled the table top up the hill.
There was also a marker on this spot named Northern Nancy, which is probably the most plausible namesake.
White Nancy contains a singular room with stone benches and a central round stone table. Shaped like a sugar loaf and surmounted with a ball finial, it is built in sandstone rubble which has been rendered and painted.
4. Dunmore Pineapple
Since Christopher Columbus discovered pineapples in Guadeloupe in 1493, they had become a delicacy associated with power and wealth. They became a popular motif, adorning gateposts, railings, fabrics and furniture.
The Earl of Dunmore was no exception to this craze and grew pineapples in his hothouse in Stirlingshire. After returning from work as the last Colonial Governor or Virginia he completed this pineapple folly, which surmounted two bothies used as accommodation for his estate staff.
5. Faringdon Folly
Nestled in a circular woodland of Scots Pine and broad-leaf trees, Farringdon Folly was built by Lord Berners for his lover Robert Heber-Percy.
This was just one part of Berners’ extravagant and eccentric lifestyle. As one of the most celebrated British composers of the 20th century, he made Faringdon House and estate the centre of a glittering social circle.
Regular guests included Salvador Dali, Nancy Mitford, Stravinsky and John and Penelope Betjeman.
6. Broadway Tower
This Saxon style tower was the brainchild of ‘Capability’ Brown and James Wyatt, built in 1794. It was placed at the second highest point of the Cotswolds for Lady Coventry to view from her house in Worcester, about 22 miles away.
For some years, it was rented by Cornell Price, a close friend of the artists William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Morris wrote about the tower in 1876:
‘I am up at Crom Price’s Tower among the winds and the clouds’.
7. Sway Tower
This extraordinary tower was built by Thomas Turton Peterson in 1879-1885. After a life running away to sea, working as a lawyer and making a fortune in India, Peterson retired to rural Hampshire. Here, he built buildings on his estate to alleviate local unemployment.
He also became a passionate spiritualist. The design of the folly was Sir Christopher Wren’s – or so Peterson claimed. He said the great architect’s spirit had communicated the design to him. The two men certainly shared a common interest in concrete, which was used in the final design.
Electric lights at the top of the tower were forbidden by the Admiralty, who warned of the danger it would cause to shipping.
8. The Needle’s Eye
Located in the Wentworth Woodhouse Park in Yorkshire, The Needle’s Eye is said to have been built in order to win a wager. The second Marquis of Rockingham claimed he could ‘drive a coach and horses through an eye of a needle’.
This pyramidal sandstone structure encompasses an archway of approximately 3 metres, meaning the Marquis could have fulfilled his promise of running a coach and horse through.
The musket holes on the side of the structure have perpetuated the idea that an execution by firing squad once took place here.
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