Tim  Bogan

Tim Bogan

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In praise of Victorian Follies

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  • Clavell Tower, Dorset,rescued from the edge of the cliffs by The Landmark Trust.
    Clavell Tower, Dorset,rescued from the edge of the cliffs by The Landmark Trust.
  • Clavell Tower, Dorset, by Reverend John Richards Clavell in 1830
    Clavell Tower, Dorset, by Reverend John Richards Clavell in 1830
  • Inside Luttrells Tower. A charming and historic place to stay.
    Inside Luttrells Tower. A charming and historic place to stay.
  • Luttrell’s Tower, Southampton. A substantial folly, admired by the future Queen Victoria.
    Luttrell’s Tower, Southampton. A substantial folly, admired by the future Queen Victoria.
  • The Pigsty, Yorkshire, England. Now an unusual holiday home.
    The Pigsty, Yorkshire, England. Now an unusual holiday home.
  • The Pigsty, Yorkshire, England. An actual pig sty, with classical columns.
    The Pigsty, Yorkshire, England. An actual pig sty, with classical columns.
  • The Pineapple, Dunmore, Scotland. A summerhouse with a story.
    The Pineapple, Dunmore, Scotland. A summerhouse with a story.
  • The Pineapple, Dunmore, Scotland. A summerhouse with a story.
    The Pineapple, Dunmore, Scotland. A summerhouse with a story.
In the USA there is an impressive tradition of buildings that look like objects. Burger bars that look like burgers, a library that looks like books, even a giant wicker ware basket for a firm that makes, well you can probably guess.  In a way these are sensible. That is to say they make sense. They go to great lengths to tell you exactly what they are. These buildings are not, however, follies because a true folly is senseless. Constructed purely for the pleasure of its benefactor a folly is a work of extravagant indulgence with a dose of eccentricity.  Largely a curiosity of the past, it is hard to think of a modern day equivalent except, maybe, the hairstyles of wealthy sportsmen.  It is no great surprise that the golden age of follies is firmly located in Victorian Britain.

The Pineapple, Dunmore, Scotland.
In the States, Pineapples are still thought of as symbols of hospitality In Victorian England they represented all that was exotic, expensive, rare and desirable. So why wouldn’t you design a building around one? 

The Pineapple, as it is unsurprisingly known, is a summer house built in around 1760 by Lord Dunmore. Sadly, the identity of the architect is a mystery. Originally a relatively conventional single storey building Lord Dunmore added the eccentric upper floor, possibly referencing his days as Governor of Virginia where sailors are said to have put a pineapple on the gatepost to announce their return. 

Thanks to the wonderful Landmark Trust, a charity dedicated to the restoration and upkeep of unique and delightful buildings, many of historical interest, you can actually stay in the Pineapple which is situated in central Scotland.

The Pigsty, Robin Hood’s Bay, Yorkshire, England
The Pigsty is another Victorian Folly available for rent through the Landmark Trust. Built, as an actual pigsty, by Squire Barry of Fyling, it is believed to have been inspired by classical architecture witnessed during his Mediterranean travels in the 1880s. 

Squire Barry may have been inspired by the classical architecture he had seen in the Mediterranean during his travels in the 1880s. According to the Landmark Trust, the sty took over two years to build, not least because Squire Barry changed his mind a few times about the exact nature of those magnificent columns. The Pigsty is in North Yorkshire with views over the hills towards Robin Hood Bay, on of the most beautiful, tranquil, corners of England. If you don’t believe me, go try it.

Luttrell’s Tower, Southampton
Finally, a couple of towers. Amateur psychologists amongst us will have their own theories as to why men like to build pointless towers. Some may speculate that it has its origins in the same place as the popularity of red sports cars for men of a certain age. We wouldn’t like to say. Nevertheless, towers were as popular amongst Victorian folly builders as sky scrapers are amongst today’s bankers. Two of the finest examples are Clavel Tower overlooking the English southern coast in Dorset and Luttrell's Tower, a little further down the coast overlooking the Solent. 

Strictly speaking, Luttrell’s Tower is a Georgian Folly, but let’s allow ourselves a little leeway here. It is, after all, absolutely splendid. Built in around 1780 it is the only surviving building by Thomas Sandby. Its status as a folly is slightly questionable as it was built with bedrooms and a kitchen. But then again, it was never intended as a place to live in with any sort of permanence.  In fact, there is some suggestion that its purpose, if any, was smuggling. It is true that the tower does boast a tunnel to the beach, but wouldn’t something a little more discreet have served the purpose better?

Luttrell’s Tower has had many notable admirers and tenants. A 14 year old future Queen Victoria wrote about it in her journals and Guglielmo Marconi, rented the Tower from 1911 to 1916 and used the top room for much of the work which made him famous amongst the pioneers of radio.

Clavell Tower, Dorset
Clavell Tower, in Dorset, is a very different proposition. It was built by Reverend John Richards Clavell in 1830, possibly as an observation tower, but more probably for the pure joy of constructing something remarkable. Built from local materials, it has been a much loved landmark ever since. Thomas Hardy included his drawing of it as a front piece of one of his books of poetry. 

Being perched so close to the edge of a cliff does have its drawback. In fact, the cliffs are receding by an average of 13 meters every century and by the 1980’s there was a real danger of the tower toppling over the edge.  After much fundraising and thanks to the support of their generous supporters, The Landmark Trust undertook the painstaking work of moving the tower slightly inland. They report that they have done so in such a way as to make further relocation relatively simple, a process they don’t believe to be necessary for another couple of centuries.

Our sincere thanks to The Landmark Trust for the images and much of the information used in this post. They renovate and care for buildings in the UK and beyond, that would otherwise be lost, bringing them back into use as unique and memorable holiday homes.