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.