ⓘ Folly. In architecture, a folly is a building usually constructed strictly for aesthetic pleasure. Originally, buildings were made to provide shelter or to hous ..


ⓘ Folly

In architecture, a folly is a building usually constructed strictly for aesthetic pleasure. Originally, buildings were made to provide shelter or to house people. Follies are just decoration; they no longer have a buildings original function. They were first constructed to put accents into parks and estates. "Folly" is used in the sense of fun or light-heartedness, not in the sense of something ill-advised.


1. Characteristics

In general, follies have the following properties:

  • There is often an element of fakery in their construction. Perhaps the best example of this is the make-believe ruin: a folly which pretends to be the remains of an old building but which was in fact constructed in that state.
  • They have no purpose other than as an ornament. Often they have some of the appearance of a building constructed for a particular purpose, but this appearance is a sham.
  • They are often eccentric in design or construction. This is not strictly necessary; however, it is common for these structures to call attention to themselves through unusual details or form.
  • They are buildings, or parts of buildings. This makes them clearly different from other garden ornaments such as sculpture.
  • They are purpose-built. Follies are deliberately built as ornaments.

In England, these structures are also called "eye-catchers". This points to their basically decorative nature.


1.1. Characteristics Related types

Follies fall within the general realm of fanciful and impractical architecture, and whether a particular structure is a folly is sometimes a matter of opinion. However, there are several types which are related but which can be distinguished from follies.

  • Some structures are popularly referred to as "follies" because they failed to fulfill their intended use. Their design and construction may be foolish, but in the architectural sense, they are not follies.
  • Fantasy and novelty buildings are essentially the converse of follies. Follies often look like real, usable buildings, but never are; novelty buildings are usable, but have fantastic shapes. The many American shops and water towers in the shapes of commonplace items, for example, are not properly follies.
  • Visionary art structures frequently blur the line between artwork and folly, if only because it is rather often hard to tell what intent the artist had. The word "folly" carries the connotation that there is something frivolous about the builders intent, and it is hard to say whether a structure like the Watts Towers was constructed "seriously". Some works such as the massive complex by Ferdinand Cheval are considered as follies because they are in the form of useful buildings, but are plainly constructions of extreme and intentional impracticality.
  • Eccentric structures may resemble follies, but the mere presence of eccentricity is not proof that a building is a folly. Many mansions and castles are quite eccentric, but being purpose-built to be used as residences, they are not properly follies.
  • Amusement parks, fairgrounds, and expositions often have fantastical buildings and structures. Some of these are follies, and some are not; the distinction, again, comes in their usage. Shops, restaurants, and other amusements are often housed in strikingly odd and eccentric structures, but these are not follies. On the other hand, fake structures which serve no other purpose than decoration are also common, and these are follies.

2. History

Follies began as decorative accents on the great estates of the late 16th and early 17th centuries but they flourished especially in the two centuries which followed. Many estates were blessed with picturesque ruins of monastic houses and in Italy Roman villas; others, lacking such buildings, constructed their own sham versions of these romantic structures. Such structures were often dubbed "s Folly", after the single individual who commissioned or designed the project. However, very few follies are completely without a practical purpose. Apart from their decorative aspect, many originally had a use which was lost later, such as hunting towers. Follies are misunderstood structures, according to The Folly Fellowship, a charity that exists to celebrate the history and splendour of these often neglected buildings.

Follies are often found in parks or large grounds of houses and stately homes. Some were deliberately built to look partially ruined. They were especially popular from the end of the 16th century to the 18th century. Theme parks and worlds fairs have often contained "follies", although such structures do serve a purpose of attracting people to those parks and fairs.


2.1. History Famine Follies

The Irish Potato Famine of 1845-49 led to the building of several follies. The society of the day held that laissez faire, not a welfare state, was the appropriate form of civil management. The concept of a welfare state was a century away, and at that time reward without labour, even to those in need, was seen as misguided. However, to hire the needy for work on useful projects would deprive existing workers of their jobs. Thus, construction projects termed "famine follies" came to be built. These include: roads in the middle of nowhere, between two seemingly random points; screen and estate walls; piers in the middle of bogs; etc.


3. Examples

Follies can be found worldwide, but there seem to be many in Great Britain.


  • Tarodi Castle at Sopron
  • Vajdahunyad vara in the City Park of Budapest
  • Bory Castle at Szekesfehervar


  • Ruined towers in Peterhof, Tsarskoe Selo, Gatchina, and Tsaritsino
  • Dutch Admiralty in Tsarskoe Selo
  • Creaking Pagoda and Chinese Village in Tsarskoe Selo

3.1. Examples France

  • Desert de Retz, folly garden in Chambourcy near Paris, France 18th century
  • Parc de la Villette in Paris has a number of modern follies by architect Bernard Tschumi.
  • Ferdinand Cheval in Chateauneuf-de-Galaure, built what he called an Ideal Palace, seen as an example of naive architecture.

3.2. Examples Hungary

  • Tarodi Castle at Sopron
  • Vajdahunyad vara in the City Park of Budapest
  • Bory Castle at Szekesfehervar

3.3. Examples United Kingdom

  • Sway Tower, New Forest, England
  • Dunmore Pineapple, Falkirk, Scotland
  • Broadway Tower, The Cotswolds, England
  • Ashton Memorial, Lancaster, England
  • Penshaw Monument, Penshaw, Sunderland, England
  • Popes Grotto, Twickenham, south west London, England.
  • Wentworth Follies, Wentworth, South Yorkshire
  • The Caldwell Tower, Lugton, Renfrewshire, Scotland.
  • Mow Cop Castle, Cheshire, England
  • Freston Tower, near Ipswich, Suffolk
  • Hawkstone Park, follies and gardens in Shropshire, England
  • Gothic Tower at Goldney Hall, Bristol
  • Old John, Bradgate Park, Leicestershire, England
  • Clavell Tower, Dorset, England
  • Flounders Folly, Shropshire, England
  • Portmeirion, Wales
  • Faringdon Folly, Faringdon, Oxfordshire
  • National Monument, Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Gwrych Castle, one of Europes largest follies, Abergele, North Wales
  • The Folly Tower at Pontypool, Wales
  • Black Castle Public House, Bristol, England
  • The Great Pagoda at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London¨
  • Severndroog Castle, Shooters Hill, south-east London
  • Rushton Triangular Lodge, Northamptonshire 16th century
  • The Castle at Roundhay Park, Leeds, England
  • Clytha Castle Monmouthshire
  • Fonthill Abbey, Wiltshire, England
  • Stowe School has several follies in the grounds
  • Perrotts Folly, Birmingham, England
  • Williamsons tunnels, probably the largest underground folly in the world, Liverpool, England
  • Bettisons Folly, Hornsea, England
  • McCaigs Tower, Oban, Scotland
  • King Alfreds Tower, Stourhead, Wiltshire, England
  • The Cage at Lyme Park, Cheshire, England
  • Fort Belvedere, Surrey, England
  • The Temple near Castle Semple Loch, Renfrewshire, Scotland.
  • Tattingstone Wonder, near Ipswich, Suffolk
  • Hume Castle. Berwickshire, Scotland
  • Beckfords Tower, Somerset, England


3.4. Examples United States

  • Korners Folly, Kernersville, North Carolina
  • Bishop Castle, outside of Pueblo, Colorado
  • Belvedere Castle, New York City
  • Lawson Tower, Scituate, Massachusetts
  • Lucy the Elephant, Margate City, New Jersey

4. Other websites

  • Follies and Monuments - A comprehensive catalogue of Follies within the UK
  • Follies in the English Landscape
  • The Folly Fellowship- An organization which celebrates architectural follies
  • European Follies - Book to be published 2007
  • Images of follies on Odd-stuff!

5. Bibliography

  • Folly Fellowship, The Follies Journal, published annually
  • Hatt, E. M. Follies National Benzole, London 1963
  • Headley, Gwyn & Meulenkamp, Wim, Follies - A Guide to Rogue Architecture, Jonathan Cape, London 1990
  • Folly Fellowship, The Follies Magazine, published quarterly
  • Folly Fellowship, The Foll-e, an electronic bulletin published monthly and available free to all
  • Jackson, Hazelle Shellhouses and Grottoes, Shire Books, England, 2001
  • Meulenkamp, Wim Follies - Bizarre Bouwwerken in Nederland en Belgie, Arbeiderpers, Amsterdam, 1995
  • Howley, James The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1993
  • Headley, Gwyn & Meulenkamp, Wim, Follies Grottoes & Garden Buildings, Aurum Press, London 1999
  • Headley, Gwyn & Meulenkamp, Wim, Follies - A National Trust Guide, Jonathan Cape, London 1986
  • Headley, Gwyn Architectural Follies in America, John Wiley & Sons, New York 1996
  • Barton, Stuart Monumental Follies Lyle Publications, 1972
  • Jones, Barbara Follies & Grottoes, Constable, London 1953 & 1974