The English Folly: the edifice complex
|The English Folly: the edifice complex, Gwyn Headley and Wim Meulenkamp, Liverpool University Press for Historic England, 2020, 260 pages, colour and black and white illustrations.|
Follies are among the most charming and eccentric of all historic buildings in England, so it is little surprise that amid their builders there are equally quirky characters. ‘For some reason (climate, diet, lie of the land, who knows?),’ writes Wim Meulenkamp, ‘England has always abounded in eccentrics. Other peoples and countries have had their fair share, but eccentrics appear to have thrived exceedingly well in the English environment.’
The authors, having already written several books about follies, set out to write more about the men (and they were overwhelmingly men) who built them: Thomas Tresham and his famous triangular folly; his Stinkiness (the 1st Duke of Kent); William Beckford, owner of the largest fortune in England, amassed on the back of the slave trade, builder of Fonthill Abbey and ostracised from society for being homosexual; or ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller, to just skim the surface.
As the authors point out, murder, insanity, theft, religious mania, rape and slavery abound in the stories of these follies. Just as one needs a breather from all the big characters and bad behaviour, Jack the Treacle Eater is introduced. Surely he is a benign character? But it turns out Jack is a folly not a person.
This lively and chatty book tells the incredible stories behind these buildings. Each chapter features a different type of folly (grottoes, sham ruins, towers, hermitages and so on), with a gazetteer at the end of each listing examples. For more methodical cataloguing of the approximately 2,000 follies across the country the authors have a series of e-books, ‘Follies of England’, or the single comprehensive guide ‘Follies, Grottoes and Garden Buildings’. This book is more of a side order, great to dip into and full of enjoyable anecdotes that bring the history of these buildings to life.
This article originally appeared as ‘Fools and their follies’ in Context 167, published by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) in March 2021. It was written by Kate Judge, architectural historian.
Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
The IHBC seeks to raise awareness and understanding of how building conservation philosophy and practice contributes towards meeting the challenge of climate change.
From Amenity Societies and Wentworth Woodhouse to Kurt Schwitters, Scotland’s Towns, Chester and more...
The former Royal High School building in Edinburgh is to be transformed into a £55 million national centre for music after the City of Edinburgh Council agreed to the lease of the historic property.
The joint-institute document aims to help maintain cultural heritage by providing a consistent framework across different sectors & geographies
IHBC’s Gus Astley Student Awards 2021: Win £500 and a place on IHBC’s 2022 Aberdeen School with your built environment/heritage coursework, closes 31/07!
The last remaining buildings on the site of the Harris meat factory family’s historic mansion are being restored to their former glory and converted into new homes.
The Construction Industry Coronavirus Forum (CICV Forum) has unveiled a new guide to the crucial and increasingly complex issue of professional indemnity insurance (PII).
ICOMOS has advised that the new football stadium proposal, if implemented, would have a completely unacceptable major adverse impact its authenticity and integrity.
Responding to the changing working patterns of a post-Covid Scotland, the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) has revealed new plans to help retrofit public spaces into out-of-town alternatives to city centre offices.
The free-to-access online issue mixes the topical and practical to explore how the sector can best adapt to digital innovation.