Thursday, 15 March 2018

153 Follies

153 Follies
In his fine book “Portrait of Gower”, Wynford Vaughan Thomas describes travelling from Parkmill west along the south Gower road, until after passing Nicholaston Church one is surprised by an apparent castle ruin at the junction with the fork to the left downhill towards Oxwich.  This ruin is known as Oxwich Towers, and although it might appear to date from the twelfth or thirteenth centuries, it was built much later, after Thomas Mansel Talbot had erected the mansion of Penrice Castle around 1776-1779.  Oxwich Towers was built as a folly in the 1790s to resemble part of a ruined castle.  A folly is defined as a building that might be somewhat eccentric in design or construction, but is deliberately built for no purpose other than ornamental, and which may have elements of fakery - such as Oxwich Towers which was deliberately built as a ruin.
Visitors to the National Botanic Gardens in West Wales would notice on the skyline the folly known as Paxton’s Tower.  This appears to be a standard square mansion, whereas in fact it is three-sided, having been built by Sir William Paxton, who had purchased the Middleton Hall estate in 1790.  The 36-foot high tower may have been inspired by Admiral Nelson’s death at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, for marble tablets above each of the three entrances to the tower dedicate it to his memory.  There is a banqueting room on the first floor, so Paxton’s Tower might presume to be a monument rather than a folly. 
In Derwen Fawr a belvedere stands in Saunders Way, on a mound surrounded by trees.  Its design was based on the Chapter House of Margam Abbey, for its central pillar supports a fan-vaulted ceiling.  It was part of Sir John Morris’s Sketty Park mansion when he moved from Clasemont in 1806, though it may even have been built earlier.  The Sketty Park mansion was demolished in 1975.  
Near Reynoldston a very different type of folly was erected by John Lucas in the grounds of Stouthall, the Georgian-style mansion built a few years after the mansion of Penrice.  In the grounds Lucas sited a small stone circle, roughly thirty feet in circumference, described in 1833 as “forming a miniature representation of Stonehenge”.  Rev. J.D. Davies, the historian of Gower and minister of Llanmadoc and Cheriton Churches, wrote in 1898 to Rev J.P. Lucas of Rhossili: “your grandfather had some whims … (such as) the miniature Stonehenge in the upper part of the park”.  The stones were local red sandstone conglomerate, five upright and nine lying flat, around a roughly cubical block fashioned to form a crude seat, and placed to afford a view of Stouthall half a mile away.  The late Bernard Morris described the stones as “a distinctive local curiosity”, but sadly most of them were illegally removed in February 1996.  John Lucas added other features at Stouthall that could be termed follies - making a cave in the grounds into a grotto, and building a castellated Gothic-style stable-yard.
Although not visible from the main road, there is a folly in a field west of Kilvrough Manor, a round tower marked on Ordnance Survey maps as “Tower”.  Neath’s Gnoll estate has a possible folly in the Ivy Tower, built in 1795 by Molly Mackworth as a viewing tower overlooking the cascades.
As mentioned, Oxwich Towers, which can more accurately be described as the lodge at the main gates to Penrice Castle, was built as an extravagant Gothic folly in the 1790s with the appearance of a ruined castle.  But this has been adapted to more practical use, and is now available for hire, having been runner-up in the Best Unique Retreat category by Unique Cottage Holidays.  With limestone flooring throughout, and fine views of Penrice park from Gothic windows, it provides an unusual setting for a couple wishing to stay in a genuine folly!

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