Historic Houses Feature Friday

In this month’s Historic Houses Feature Friday, we’ll be looking at the quirky origins of follies. Discover what defines a folly, what their purpose was, and have a glimpse at the ones here at Raby.

 It is said the definition of a folly ‘lies in the eyes of the beholder.’ This is because the term ‘folly’ is applied to a building or structure constructed with no apparent purpose, primarily being for decoration. Some did serve a more practical use, such as hunting towers or places to sit and enjoy a view.

Follies were fashionable, playful structures used by eighteenth-century landscape designers to catch the eye and punctuate a sweeping parkland view. They were popular in England and France, and often featured designs inspired by different continents or historical eras. This included mock Greco-Roman temples, Chinese pagodas, Egyptian pyramids and Gothic castles or abbeys. They sometimes also offered symbolic meanings: Roman temples could symbolise classical virtues, and a temple of philosophy at Ermenonville in France was left unfinished, as a symbol that ‘knowledge would never be complete.’

According to the above definition of Follies, Raby has two within its’ wider parkland.

Folly The Temple or Summer House

Along the line of trees to the West of the castle, once a formal avenue which is now the terrace, you will find a Gothic style folly. This has been known as many things, including ‘the Summerhouse’- as first depicted on an 1812 plan and described by the 4th Duchess- ‘the Temple,’ and ‘the Belvedere’.

The building was constructed in the third quarter of the 18th century by Daniel Garrett, during the ownership of Lord Darlington. As with many other follies, it served little purpose other than to take advantage of a scenic view. It faced the wide, sweeping deer park and offered views of the surrounding woodland- something you can still admire today by standing in front of the structure. The 4th Duchess, when writing her Raby Handbook in 1870, was very dismissive of the structure:

‘A small stone summer-house, in which no-one ever sits, faces the view and the sun; but as it is on tolerably high ground, there is a pleasant look-out from both sides of the terrace.’ 

Folly North Folly

Hidden within North Wood and not currently accessible, the Grade II listed North Folly was built during the time of the 2nd Earl of Darlington. The archway on the folly came from a historic barbican (the outer defence of a castle) which was removed to create room for carriages to turn on exiting Raby’s drive-through Entrance Hall.

The 4th Duchess, again, appears extremely indifferent to the folly in her Handbook, detailing: ‘To the right, you pass the stone quarry, and further on, an open arch, with a green lawn in front, and a cottage on one side…. If it led to anything, I do not see that much fault could be fairly found with this building; but as matters stand, it is meaningless.’

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