Follies: Fabulous, fanciful and frivolous buildings

by Gwyn Headley

Publisher:  National Trust Books (2012)
ISBN  9781907892301



This is a small book (19.6 x 15.2 cm) but a delightful one in which the author takes us on a tour of 40 follies owned by the National Trust.  They therefore tend to be ‘grand’ follies, many of them actual buildings, rather than a small ‘ruin’ at the bottom of the garden, which is what comes to my mind when I think of a folly.

Each double page spread is dedicated to one folly, with a full-page colour photograph.  I found the accompanying text (to echo the sub-title) fabulous, fanciful and frivolous but also factual as it goes into the folly’s history, setting, and possible reasons for its creation.  The three entries for Cornwall illustrate the range of follies covered:  the triangular Prospect Tower at Cotehele, built by Lord and Lady Mount-Edgecumbe in 1789 possibly to commemorate, the author proposes, their elevation to earldom; The Birdcage, a tiny house in Port Isaac, built in the early 1830s and now a National Trust holiday let, although the holidaymakers are ‘obliged to be small and thin’; and Doyden Castle ‘a tiny jewel of a castlet’, which straddles the coastal path at Port Quin.

However, I think the most amusing folly in the book is Shamhenge at Alderley Edge in Cheshire.  A Neolithic settlement was discovered here but the visible evidence was disappointing so, the story goes, in the late 18th century the Stanleys enhanced the scene by the addition of a circle of  stones now that’s a folly I can imagine erecting at the bottom of my garden!

Shirley Barnes