Saturday, June 10, 2023

Faringdon, Berkshire*


A long view

They called it ‘Lord Berners’ monstrous erection’; they called it ‘the last folly’. But Lord Berners’ Folly will do, in memory of the versatile peer who was a modestly successful composer of modernist music and the occasional comic song, an able memoirist, and a rich eccentric of the old school who would entertain his friends by such exploits as dying his doves in brought colours and inviting Lady Betjeman and her horse to tea inside his house.

On his estate lies a hill, wooded at the top, which had been the site of fortifications – of King Alfred the Great, later of Queen Matilda – centuries ago. When the local council got permission to fell the trees for timber, Berners stepped in, bought the land, and saved the trees. He then employed the architect Gerald Wellesley to build this folly tower on the top of the hill. The story goes that the patron specified that the folly should be in the Gothic style but Wellesley, who disliked Gothic, made it Classical, until Berners discovered what he’d done and insisted on a Gothic lantern at the top. In truth the plain brick walls and arched windows are not very classical, and the octagonal lantern that capped the tower doesn’t look all that Gothic either – its pinnacles are plain, unlike the crocketed adornments of a latter-day Boston Stump. The folly is its own thing, a tall rather plain tower with a viewing room from which his lordship could admire the surrounding countryside; the vista stretches for many miles.

Apparently the locals weren’t too keen when they discovered that Lord Berners was building a tower on the hill above their town. But they got used to the idea and now people seem to embrace it, admiring the architecture and taking the chance to enjoy the view on the regular occasions when the folly is open. Eccentrics and good views: two things that the English traditionally like…and still, in most cases, have time for.

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*Or Oxfordshire, in modern parlance

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