One way to spot an 18th century landscape is by the presence of an extravagant, expensive, and purposeless structure.
Like a set piece, but with more staying power, many follies were born of the humour and goodwill of the financier. Fashionable faux castles, gothic ruins and roman temples representing a sense of fun in a predominantly practical, built environment.
Here are 8 of our favourite follies. Tell us about the fanciful buildings that you like in the comments.
1. The Druids Temple, Ilton, North Yorkshire Grade II listed
In a quiet clearing surrounded by the serene Yorkshire countryside, you wouldn’t expect to see what looks like the crumbling remains of a prehistoric monument.
The structure was commissioned in 1820 by then-sheriff of Yorkshire, William Danby, in an attempt to alleviate local unemployment. Workers were paid a shilling a day for their labour, and Danby offered a regular salary to a person who would live at the temple for seven years. It is suggested that the longest anyone last was five.
Rumours of devil worship and spiritual practices on the site have regularly sprung up, but are likely myths adding to mystery.
2. Lord Berners’ Faringdon Folly, Oxfordshire Grade II listed
When asked to explain the point of the tower to the local planning subcommittee, Lord Berners remarked “The great point of the Tower is that it will be entirely useless”
Lord Berners (1884- 1950) inherited his title, land and property of Faringdon House from an uncle in 1918. As well as being a talented artist and composer, Berners was a well-known eccentric known for being part of a glittering 1920s social circle. Visitors to Faringdon House included Salvador Dali and Aldous Huxley.
In 1935, Berners had the 100 foot Faringdon tower constructed as a birthday present for his lover Robert Heber-Percy. Six counties can be seen from the top of what is thought to be the last folly built in England.
3. Clayton Tunnel, West Sussex Grade II listed
Carved into the side of the South Down hills in 1841, this gothic castle folly was built as part of the railway connecting Brighton to London, but no one knows precisely why.
One theory is that the castle was built to reassure nervous Victorian passengers that the mouth of the tunnel was not a portal into the depths of hell.
Another theory is that the folly stands as a monument to the 6,000 men who dug for three years through a mile and a quarter of chalk.
The portal was the inspiration for Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story The Signal-Man, in which an apparition predicts three consecutive tragic events on the railway. Perhaps for this reason, the little cottage above the folly is reputed to be haunted.
Find out more at the Clayton Tunnel Website.
4. Brookmans Arch, on Gobians Estate, Hertfordshire Grade II listed
The folly arch at Brookmans Park was once a grand entrance to the Gobions estate, a pleasure ground laid out in the 1730s. The arch was apparently constructed to commemorate a connection with Queen Elizabeth I, who held the estate between 1550 and 1553.
Local legend has it that during construction, as a show of extravagance, a farthing was placed under each brick. The claim has been tested by generations of local children, leading to the severe damage of the arch, which has been protected by a fence since the 1980s.
5. The Old Bear Pit, Cardigan Road, Leeds Grade II listed
The old bear pit is almost all that remains of the former Leeds Zoological and Botanic Gardens on Cardigan Road. The venture opened in 1840 and closed just 8 years later in 1848, as it wasn’t open on Sundays – most people’s day off – and suffered financially.
Display of exotic animals, plants and curiosities were all the rage in the Victorian era as people became more interested in leisure pursuits.
The old bear pit was designed so that the bears could be viewed from the top of the turrets. In 1966, it was purchased for £128 by the Leeds Civic Trust and restored at a cost of £1000.
6. Jack the Treacle Eater (Grade II listed) and The Rose Tower (Grade II listed), Barwick Park, Somerset
The boundary points of the Barwick Estate are marked by four very different and unusual follies. It is suspected that the follies, constructed between the late 18th and early 19th centuries, were built to provide work to local people during a time of depression.
Jack the Treacle Eater marks the East Boundary, named for a messenger boy named Jack who trained by eating treacle. The Rose Tower stands 75ft high at the West Boundary, with three arched doorways from which the landscape can be viewed.
7. Sugar Loaf – Dallington , East Sussex Grade II* listed
This 35 ft tall folly in a meadow in East Sussex is thought to have been built in the early 1820s. Sugar was sold in conical loaf form at the time, hence the name Sugarloaf.
Local philanthropist and MP, John Fuller, commissioned this and a number of other follies across Sussex, earning him a reputation for eccentricity. Fuller was also a patron of the Royal Institution, funding professorships in science, and bought Bodiam Castle in 1829 to save it from demolition.
The Sugarloaf is thought to have been built in order for Fuller to win a bet that he could see the spire of St Giles Church in Dallington from his house. It was actually inhabited up until the 1930’s.
- Google Arts & Culture exhibition: Women Celebrated by Registered Parks and Gardens