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Follies are Fun

Stourhead Gardens, Wiltshire

 I thought I would start this piece on Follies with one which lies about 20 miles from where I am now sitting.  Haldon Belvedere.  “Belvedere” means ‘beautiful view’ and Haldon Belvedere certainly has that, built high on a ridge some 244 metres above sea level and from where it has views in all directions across to the Jurassic coast of Dorset in the east, towards Exmoor and the Quantock Hills to the north, Dartmoor to the west, and the South Hams to the south.

It was built in 1788 by Sir Robert Palk in memory of his friend Major-General Stringer Lawrence and thus it is also known as Lawrence Castle.  According to the Haldon Belvedere website, “Sir Robert spent some £2,000 – £3,000 on building the castle which was modelled on Shrub Hill tower in Windsor Great Park and it is one of the few remaining reminders of the Palk empire which at its height included some 11,000 acres of land in the area.”  Today, this belvedere is used for weddings and civil partnership ceremonies.   It is also open on Sunday afternoons from 2pm to 5pm until Sunday 17th September this year.

Indeed, Haldon Belvedere is a fine example of a folly which, according to the late Barbara Jones, who has been quoted in the book Follies by Jeffery W Whitelaw (published by Shire Books), in her definite book Follies and Grottoes, “A folly might be defined as a useless building erected for ornament on a gentleman’s estate.”

I think this is a bit harsh.  Some follies do serve an actual purpose. For example …

The Water Tower (above) at Trelissick (National Trust) Cornwall was originally built in 1860 as a water tower to provide water to the main house on the Trelissick estate near Truro.

According to Jeffrey W Whitelaw’s book, this folly is now a National Trust holiday property, so neither was it originally created as simply a fun piece of garden ornamentation nor is it useless today as it is enjoying life as tourist accommodation.

While researching follies for you, another source says that they are structures whose creation reflects a whimsical inclination on the part of the builder.  “Built primarily to be viewed as part of the scenery, the folly is a European invention.  At the height of this popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries, folly buildings were based on the picturesque ruins of Italy and Greece … The first of these to appeared as early as 1595 with Rushton Lodge (Northamptonshire), Sir Thomas Trensham’s experiment with the symbolism of the Trinity.”

One of the most eccentric follies is the huge Pineapple built at Dunmore Park by John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, in Scotland in 1777.  It is on the cover of Follies

 Photo credit:  (https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/follies-9780747806240/).

Perhaps the Earl was showing off in two ways:  he had the wherewithal to build such a structure and that pineapples were extremely labour-intensive and expensive to produce in this country; if you could afford to grow them here, you could afford almost anything.

When we visited Stourhead (National Trust) in Wiltshire a couple of years ago we admired the gorgeous landscaped gardens but these would’ve been less wonderful had they not had follies strategically placed, almost like architectural exclamation marks in the landscape …

At Stourhead, while the house is undoubtedly grand, it is the landscaped garden which is the jewel in the estate’s crown, and at strategic points there has been placed the most romantic buildings, such as the Pantheon (above), designed and built by architect Henry Flitcroft (1697-1769).

Flitcroft’s last building for the garden was the circular temple dedicated to the sun god, Apollo. 

While follies came in all shapes and sizes, some built as faux ruins, the most common was the tower. Broadway Tower, Broadway, Worcestershire is visible for many miles on routes through the Vale of Evesham.  It was designed by James Wyatt and completed in 1797 for the 6th Earl of Coventry

And finally … another source says that typical characteristics of follies is that they have no purpose other than ornament (with which I disagree – think of the water towers); they are purpose-built (with which I agree); and they were built or commissioned for pleasure (undoubtedly so!)


8th September 2017

I have been very kindly informed by Shire Books that Bloomsbury (the publisher of Shire Books) does not have copyright to many of the photos in the book and therefore I have now removed all the photos other than my own and the cover of the Shire Book. 








Until next time.



About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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  1. And of course many of these wonderful follies can be stayed in thanks to the Landmark Trust who are still buying and restoring landmark buildings around the British Isles and rent them as holiday cottages. Their handbook can be browsed online. We have been slowly working our way through their handbook for the last 30 years and today they are still (thankfully) technology-free places full of history. I think my interest in follies and grottoes started as a schoolgirl when Pope’s grotto linked the two halves of my school and we used to visit Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill house. Nowadays I have Painshill with its magnificent grotto a few miles down the road. We will be stopping at beautiful Stourhead at the end of next week on our way home from our West Country rambles in the Usk valley and Pembrokeshire. An hour’s walk around the lake punctuated by a homemade picnic of a sandwich and an apple has leavened many a long car journey. Thank you for such an interesting post Margaret.

    • Margaret Powling

      Oh, Sarah, thank you for mentioning the Landmark Trust. I had quite forgotten to do that, so I hope readers will read your comment now and know that in some instances they can stay in such wonderful places (not all, but some.) How lovely to have visited both Strawberry Hill (recently restored) and Painshill, both of which I know of but have never visited. Stourhead is wonderful, I think there has recently been restoration in part of the house. One thing I remember from our visit was that when we went into what I think was the Temple at Stourhead, the NT Guide was dressed in knee breeches and Scottish ghillie shoes, an elderly gentleman, who then told us lots of the history of the place, and then he said, “What is your lovely perfume?” He was so taken with it he wanted to buy some for his wife! It was, in fact, Hermes’ 24 Faubourg. But I’ve never been asked by a smart, elderly gentleman before what perfume it is that I’m wearing. That was my main memory of that day (apart from the beauty of the gardens.) I do hope you have a lovely time – a walk around the lake with a homemade picnic. In the area is also Lytes Cary Manor, which has an interesting history, and there is a lovely historical novel based on the place, The Knot by Jane Borodale. It is only a small house and garden, but I think worth a visit, the polar opposite of the grandness of Stourhead. We had lunch in their courtyard while we were there and opposite was a room which had second hand books, always a bonus on such excursions!

  2. Another informative post. Thank you for our tour.

    • Margaret Powling

      Follies are wonderful buildings, I think, Lara, all of them demonstrating quirky architecture often designed by or for eccentric (and wealthy) owners.

  3. So these are Follies!! Most interesting. I am sure that if ever I get to Great Britain, I would want to investigate Follies. They look very charming.

    • Margaret Powling

      There are all kinds of follies – they are simply a way of referring to a quirky building, one which has been disguised (as in those water towers) or have been built to look old, as in a purpose-built ‘ruin’, merely to enhance the landscape. Such buildings, i.e. classical ruins and temples and pavilions were often built by wealthy landowners in the 18th century after they had returned from their Grand Tour of Europe and wished to re-create something akin to the lovely landscapes and classical buildings and ruins they had seen.

  4. Eloise. (thisissixty.blog)

    Although I haven’t visited Stourhead, for my husband’s 70th birthday I bought him a day out with a leading landscape photographer and it was to Stourhead that they went. It really does look a fabulous place.
    I like the idea that follies represent whimsicalinclination. What a lovely phrase.
    We have often visited Broadway Tower as it’s not that far from us and Broadway itself is a pretty place to visit. As a little girl I was convinced that it was where Rapunzel had once lived (before the prince rescued her)!

    • Margaret Powling

      We once stayed in a B&B in Broadway. Now most of those looked spectacular with spectacular prices to match, but we chose perhaps one that wasn’t very good and after a couple of days or wall to wall rain and this less than good accommodation, we turned tail and came home. And we never did see Broadway Tower – at that time I didn’t even know it existed! But we did visit Snowshill, which we loved and would love to visit again, and the lovely lavender farm close by. What a lovely present for your husband’s 70th birthday, a day with a leading landscape photographer! I’d enjoy that, too!!!

  5. Eloise (thisissixty.blog)

    What a shame about your visit to Broadway. It is a pretty place but like most others it is a lot less attractive in the rain. And to then not even have somewhere comfortable to return to afterwards – well, that makes it worse. How disappointing. Yes Snowshill is a lovely place.
    The photographer is Charlie Waite and husband thoroughly recommends his courses.


    • Margaret Powling

      I agree Broadway is lovely, but everywhere is disappointing in torrential rain and, as you say, without a really lovely billet to return to, not a happy stay. It wasn’t awful, but not our kind of place.

  6. When you recently showed a folly, I thought, “How interesting, what is that?” and started doing some research, and you’ve kindly shown and taught me even more about these fascinating buildings! I also hope you had a wonderful birthday, and think that cream of courgette soup sounds wonderful.

    • Margaret Powling

      I’m glad you enjoyed my Follies piece, Beth! I was sorry that I had to remove photos from the book as they weren’t copyright to the publisher but to others, but I’m sure you get the gist of follies now. Some of them are the most marvellous buildings and some of them can be stayed in as they are owned by the Landmark Trust. The Shire Book is an excellent book on this subject (Shire books are my first port of call when researching a new topic.)
      Yes, thank you, I had a lovely birthday, and yes, courgette & spinach soup is tasty – well, most soups are! I would, however, say this: a lot of people use up old veg to make soup, the things which are a bit on the turn in the bottom of the fridge, you might say. I would say use the freshest veggies you have. The difference is noticeable. Treat soup with as much respect as any other meal, yes, you can use the old stuff, but it’s always far better made with the freshest of veg, just like any other recipe.

      • I completely agree! So glad it’s finally the time of year for soup. 🙂

        • Margaret Powling

          Glad you like follies, too, Beth M! And yes, soup making season is upon us, and will be with us until next spring. My current favourite is leek & potato soup, husband’s is home-made minestrone or French onion.

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