In architecture, a folly is a building constructed primarily for decoration, but either suggesting by its appearance some other purpose, or merely so extravagant that it transcends the normal range of garden ornaments or other class of building to which it belongs.
In the original use of the word, these buildings served no other purpose. 18th century English gardens and French landscape gardening often featured Roman temples, which symbolized classical virtues or ideals. Other 18th century garden follies represented Chinese temples, Egyptian pyramids, or ruined abbeys, to represent different continents or historical eras. Many follies, particularly during famine, such as the Irish potato famine, were built as a form of poor relief, to provide employment for peasants and unemployed artisans.
Below you will find a collection of buildings that are widely considered follies. For an extensive list of follies around the world, be sure to check out this list on Wikipedia.
1. Broadway Tower – Worcestershire, England
Broadway Tower is a folly located on Broadway Hill, near the village of Broadway, in the English county of Worcestershire. Broadway Tower’s base is 1,024 feet (312 metres) above sea level. The tower itself stands 55 feet (17 metres) high.
The “Saxon” tower was designed by James Wyatt in 1794 to resemble a mock castle, and built for Lady Coventry in 1799. The tower was built on a “beacon” hill, where beacons were lit on special occasions. Lady Coventry wondered if a beacon on this hill could be seen from her house in Worcester — approximately 22 miles (35 km) away — and sponsored the construction of the folly to find out. The beacon could be seen clearly. [Source: Wikipedia]
2. The Casino at Marino – Dublin, Ireland
The Casino at Marino, located in Marino, Dublin, Ireland was designed by Scottish architect Sir William Chambers for James Caulfeild, the 1st Earl of Charlemont, starting in the late 1750s and finishing around 1775. It is a small and perfect example of Neo-Classical architecture, situated in the gardens of Marino House.
The name ‘Casino’ is the diminutive form of the 18C Italian word ‘Casa’, meaning ‘House’, thus ‘Little House’, and is not used in the modern sense of “gambling establishment”. Caulfield was taken with all things Italian and decided to add a ‘little house’ to his estate, which he had already named after the town of Marino in Lazio, Italy. [Source: Wikipedia]
3. Ballandean Pyramid – Queensland, Australia
The Ballandean Pyramid is a stone pyramid near the small village of Ballandean, Queensland, Australia. The pyramid is approximately 15 metres in height and built from blocks of the local granite.
It is on property belonging to a local vineyard (Henty Estate) and is aproximately 25 metres from the nearest road. It was built by the previous land owner at a cost of $100,000 (Australian) after a local resident (Peter Watters – Grandfather of Seamus Watters-Whyte – a licensed tractor operator from Brisbane) asked him what he was going to do with all the rocks. It took eight months to build using an excavator and dump truck. [Source: Wikipedia]
4. Conoly’s Folly (The Obelisk) – County Kildare, Ireland
Conolly’s Folly a.k.a. The Obelisk or originally The Conolly Folly, is an obelisk structure located near Celbridge and Maynooth, both in north County Kildare, Ireland. The folly was built within Castletown Estate (containing Castletown House), which contains two follies, both commissioned by Katherine Conolly, the philanthropic widow of Speaker William Conolly to provide employment for hundreds of the poor of Celbridge when the famine of 1740-41 was at its worst.
As a folly, it could be seen from the back of Castletown some 2.5 miles (4 km) away. Designed by Richard Castle, it is 42 metres (140 feet) high and is composed of several arches, adorned by stone pineapples and eagles, topped by a massive obelisk pillar. [Source: Wikipedia]
5. Freston Tower – Suffolk, England
Freston Tower is a six-story red brick folly south of Ipswich, Suffolk in the village of Freston. It stands on the banks of the River Orwell. Arguably the oldest folly in England, the tower has various claims for construction dates, ranging from the 15th to 17th centuries.
Landmark Trust, a historical building preservation charity and the current owner of Freston Tower, suggests the tower “was built in 1578 by a wealthy Ipswich merchant called Thomas Gooding”. [Source: Wikipedia]
6. Rushton Triangular Lodge – Northamptonshire, England
The Triangular Lodge is a folly, designed and constructed between 1593 and 1597 by Sir Thomas Tresham near Rushton, Northamptonshire, England. It is now in the care of English Heritage. The stone used for the construction was 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. [Source: Wikipedia]
7. Clavell Tower – Dorset, England
Clavell Tower, also known as Clavell Folly or the Kimmeridge Tower, is a Tuscan style tower built in 1830. It lies on the Jurassic Coast, on the top of Hen Cliff just east of Kimmeridge Bay in the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, England. Clavell Tower was built in about 1830 by Reverend John Richards Clavell of Smedmore House as an observatory and folly.
The tower is about 35 feet (11 m) high and rises over what is known as Hen Cliff which rises about 330 feet (100 m) above the sea. The main tower is constructed of mortared selected stone and the windows are formed from brick. In total the tower has four floors; a stone ground floor, a wooden first, a wooden second and a wooden third floor. The tower is surmounted upon a shallow stone basement. Access to the first and second floors would have been accessible solely via a ladder. [Source: Wikipedia]
8. Peterson’s Folly (Sway Tower) – Hampshire, England
Sway is a village in Hampshire in the New Forest national park in England. Sway is perhaps best known for Sway Tower, a 66 metres (200 ft) tall building. It is also known as “Peterson’s Folly”.
Built by Andrew Thomas Turton Peterson on his private estate from 1879–1885, its design (and the use of concrete) was influenced by the follies Peterson had seen during his time in India. It is constructed entirely out of concrete made with Portland cement, with only the windows having iron supports. It remains the tallest non-reinforced concrete structure in the world. [Source: Wikipedia]
9. The Swallow’s Nest – Yalta, Ukraine
The Swallow’s Nest is a decorative castle near Yalta on the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine. It was built between 1911 and 1912 in Gaspra, on top of 40-metre (130 ft) high Aurora Cliff, to a Neo-Gothic design by the Russian architect Leonid Sherwood.
The castle overlooks the Cape of Ai-Todor of the Black Sea and is located near the remnants of the Roman castrum of Charax. The building is compact in size, measuring only 20 m (66 ft) long by 10 m (33 ft) wide.[Source: Wikipedia]
10. Sham Castle – Somerset, England
Sham Castle is a folly in Bathampton overlooking the city of Bath, Somerset, England. It is a screen wall with a central pointed arch flanked by two 3-storey circular turrets, which extend sideways to a 2-storey square tower at each end of the wall.
It was probably designed around 1755 by Sanderson Miller and built in 1762 by Richard James, master mason for Ralph Allen, “to improve the prospect” from Allen’s town house in Bath. [Source: Wikipedia]
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