In Architectural terms a ‘folly’ is a building primarily constructed for its decorative effect, but through its appearance it gives credence to having some other perhaps higher or more important purpose. It will slip past the range of ‘garden ornaments’ often associated with such ‘follies’, or buildings so classified, and be recognised for what it is in its own right.
In Britain ‘Follies’ have been popularised by their rather unique and often quaint or bizarre appearances. We thought this week we’d take a look at a few more interesting and notable examples of the genre located there (Britain) and then perhaps consider some of our local notable efforts over the next few weeks.
Our first location is a rather different property located within an ‘acre of woodland’ in Stourhead Wiltshire.
The building is a dwelling known as ‘The Convent’ and it enjoys a Grade 1 Heritage Listing (UK). This ranking is reserved for buildings of exceptional interest. Architect Christopher Bowerbank restored the 18th century home in the 1980s with an award winning renovation.
Nestled in woodlands in one of the most famous estates in the country, an enchanting folly has gone on the market for £850,000.
With a deep thatched roof, turreted chimney stacks, Gothic arched windows and its own natural spring, the Grade I listed building is the epitome of a fairytale cottage.
The 18th century home, called The Convent, sits on the top of a hill overlooking the Wiltshire estate of Stourhead with the nearest neighbour more than two miles away.
Set within an acre of land, the two-bedroom home is entirely off-grid so owner Mike Gibson installed a system of solar panels and a generator to power it as well as a satellite for internet and television.
Water supply comes from a nearby natural spring and a wheel pumps this into a holding tank which fills the garden pond when full.
The Convent was built in 1760 by Henry ‘The Magnificent’ Hoare, an English banker who inherited Stourhead from his father and turned it into a ‘masterpiece’ of garden design.
It was originally used as a pavilion to stop at during horse riding trips or carriage rides around the 2,600-acre estate before being turned into accommodation for gamekeepers and gardeners.
By the mid 20th century it had fallen into disrepair but celebrated architect Christopher Bowerbank, who used to escort Marianne Faithfull to parties, restored the building to its former glory in the late Eighties.
He planted the entire garden with thousands of bottles, which only two very large lorry loads managed to clear.
The extraordinary drawing room ceiling, built with pebbles from Chesil beach pressed into horsehair plaster, was also restored.
The renovation was such a success that they won an English Heritage prize in 1990 for the best restoration of a historic house.
By the time Mike Gibson and his late wife Lula bought The Convent in 2005 it had slipped back into dereliction but the pair embarked on a ‘labour of love’ to once again renovate the historic property.
Lula tragically died in 2012 from a brain tumour and now Mike has decided to sell up and move to another property nearby.
Mr Gibson said: ‘When my late wife Lula and I first saw it 10 years ago it immediately became a ‘have to have’, and so started an amazing adventure that was to define 10 years of our lives.
‘When we came upon The Convent it was in a very dilapidated, sad and unloved state.
‘The roof needed repair and re-thatching, the water supply needed to be re-established and the garden needed a major rescue effort. It really was a labour of love for us.
‘Lula was very keen on the garden – it’s beautiful and well established with a lot of plants from the Stourhead estate.
‘We have satellite broadband because there’s no landline. It operates like any normal house but it’s totally self sufficient.
‘Water comes from a spring and it’s managed by a beautiful system with a water wheel that runs all day every day.’
The Convent boasts two bedrooms, a sitting room, dining room, kitchen, study, one bathroom and a dressing room that could be used as a third bedroom.
It also has a summer house with its own terrace set within the acre grounds.
The Convent, which gets its name from ecclesiastic style, was on the market in 2015 with estate agents Savills for £850,000.
It is being sold leasehold, with the National Trust lease running out in 2131 – but this can be renewed on application.
Mr Gibson said: ‘The Convent is a truly stunning house and I’ve been very lucky to have lived here but now it’s time for someone else to enjoy the magic.
‘To my mind this is one of the most romantic houses in England and the 10 years I have spent here have enriched my spirit and helped me through sad times and provided the happiest times – it is like the end of a love affair.’
Charlie Stone, from Savills, added: ‘The Convent is pretty quirky but rather wonderful property nestled in a stunning woodland setting.
‘It’s got a very romantic and charming feel about it. It is Grade I listed so it’s clearly deemed to be of great architectural importance.
‘You don’t get much more quintessentially English than The Convent.’
The Broadway Tower in Worcestershire stands 20 metres in height and is all of 312 metres above sea level.
The ‘Faux’ Saxon Tower was the brainchild of well known 18th Century landscape architect Capability Brown (real name – Lancelot Brown). it was designed by James Wyatt in 1794 in the form of a castle, upon which beacons were lit on special occasions.
The good ‘Lady Coventry’ of the times sponsored the building of the tower. On a whim she wondered whether a beacon upon the hill where the castle was located could be seen from her house in Worcester – 22 miles (35km) away. As fortune would have it the beacon could indeed be seen!
Over the years, the tower was home to the printing press of Sir Thomas Phillipps, and served as a country retreat for artists including William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones who rented it together in the 1880s. William Morris was so inspired by Broadway Tower and other ancient buildings that he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877. Near the tower is a memorial to the crew of an A.W.38 Whitley bomber that crashed there during a training mission in June 1943. In the late 1950s, Broadway Tower monitored nuclear fallout in England; an underground Royal Observer Corps bunker was built 50 yards from the Tower. Manned continuously from 1961 and designated as a master post, the bunker was one of the last such Cold War bunkers constructed and, although officially stood down in 1991, the bunker is now one of the few remaining fully equipped facilities in England.
Next we visit ‘Triangular Lodge’, a very old folly built between 1593 and 1597 by Sir Thomas Tresham.
It is located near Rushton, Northamptonshire, England and constructed from alternating bands of dark and light limestone.
Tresham was a Roman Catholic and was imprisoned for a total of fifteen years in the late 16th century for refusing to become a Protestant. On his release in 1593, he designed the Lodge as a protestation of his faith. His belief in the Holy Trinity is represented everywhere in the Lodge by the number three: it has three walls 33 feet long, each with three triangular windows and surmounted by three gargoyles. The building has three floors, upon a basement, and a triangular chimney. Three Latin texts, each 33 letters long, run around the building on each facade.
Finally life is not complete without a pineapple. We present the ‘Dunmore Pineapple’ located in Dunmore Park near Airth in Stirlingshire Scotland. Considered by many to be the most bizarre building in Scotland.
Dunmore Park is the ancestral home of the Earls of Dunmore and within the grounds are two large walled gardens used to shelter the plants from the harsh climate and allowing for the cultivation of more tropical plants such as pineapples.
The building at Dunmore, used originally as a garden hothouse and summerhouse, had its iconic giant pineapple added as something of an afterthought. The original Palladian-style lower story was built around 1761, and did not acquire the enormous fruit hat – which housed a modest pavilion inside – until 1777 after Lord Dunmore’s return from the Colony of Virginia. Returning sailors of the time often placed a pineapple, the exotic proof of distant travels, on a gatepost to announce their return from abroad. This, then, is Dunmore’s announcement. The architect is unknown.
Architectural follies yes, but all have stood the test of time. No doubt right here in Victoria there are such oddities, extravagances and visual delights ready for restoration and renovation.
At Balance we would be more than pleased to assist in such works that preserve and demonstrate respect and understanding of our past and our cultural assets.
Heritage, it’s worth preserving. Even the follies.