You are here: Home > News > News Article 51  

News: 24 June 2019

Focus on follies
Find out more about these unusual buildings.

A folly is often described as a building built for fun rather than for a purpose. The Images of England website is one of the places where you can see some great images of the listed follies. Some of the follies have great stories surrounding them or were designed for 'larger than life' characters with a great sense of humour.

One of these characters was John Fuller, known as 'Mad Jack', a local squire and MP. In the 19th century he had five different follies built at Brightling, East Sussex.

Picture 292454  The mausoleum of John Fuller
Picture 292454 The mausoleum of John Fuller

One of his follies was an extraordinary 25ft tall pyramid in the churchyard of St Thomas à Beckett, Brightling. This mausoleum was designed by Sir Robert Smirke, for John Fuller whilst he was still alive in 1810. It was said that he wanted to be buried in it, in full dinner dress, with his usual bottle of claret in his hand, with a broken glass on the floor to keep the devil out. Unfortunately, after his death in April 1833, it was proved that he wasn't buried in the mausoleum at all.

Another of 'Mad Jack's' follies is The Brightling Needle, East Sussex, which was erected in the early 19th century, on one of the highest spots in East Sussex. At 65 foot tall it can be seen for miles around. It was built to celebrate either Nelson's victory at Trafalgar in 1805 or Wellington's victory over Napoleon in 1815. Although not built for any particular use, this tower later became a trig point for the Ordnance Survey.

Picture IoE 263573  Tower in Barwick Park, Somerset
Picture IoE 263573 Tower in Barwick Park, Somerset

Another great folly and story is that of 'Jack the Treacle Eater'. The tower is in Barwick Park, Somerset. The story goes that 'Jack' was a local runner who carried messages for the Messiter family of Barwick Park, to London and back, and trained on treacle, to keep him going.

Another reason to build a folly was as an 'eye catcher'. Often grand looking structures, or buildings made to look like ruins, were built in parkland to improve the view from a large country house.

Picture 76779 Eye catcher
Picture 76779 Eye catcher

Eye catcher built for one of the large houses on the shore of Coniston Water, South Lakeland.

Picture 98249 Folly
Picture 98249 Folly

Eye catcher to be seen from Upcott House, North Devon. Built around 1800, as a sham Gothic ruin.

As, in the case of 'Mad Jack' Fuller, some follies were built to commemorate particular battles but in some cases they were built merely to keep the workers busy during periods of unemployment.

Picture 249375 Lord Berner�s folly, Faringdon
Picture 249375 Lord Berner's folly, Faringdon

One of the last listed follies built was for Lord Berner the ten owner of Faringdon House for his young friend Robert Heber Percy's 21st birthday present. It's a tall, 100ft tower with commanding views over the Thames valley and you can see five counties on a clear day. The tower was designed by Lord Berner's architect friend, Lord Gerald Wellesley. The style is unusual in that it is simple and straightforward, but with gothic flourishes and mock battlements added at the insistence of Lord Berners. The completion of the tower completion was celebrated with fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day, 5th November 1935.

There's more information about follies on from the Folly Fellowship.

Home page - White Nancy, Cheshire. IoE 57971

Main news page | News archive
Please note that the inclusion of a listed building on this website does not mean it is open to the public.