In architecture, a folly is a building constructed primarily for decoration, but suggesting through its appearance some other purpose, or of such extravagant appearance that it transcends the range of usual garden buildings.

The Dunmore Pineapple in Scotland
Built in 1912, the Swallow's Nest is one of the Neo-Gothic châteaux fantastiques in Crimea.
Modern reconstruction of the Turkish Tent, a permanent structure at Painshill, Surrey

Eighteenth-century English landscape gardening and French landscape gardening often featured mock Roman temples, symbolising classical virtues. Other 18th-century garden follies represented Chinese temples, Egyptian pyramids, ruined medieval castles or abbeys, or Tatar tents, to represent different continents or historical eras. Sometimes they represented rustic villages, mills, and cottages to symbolise rural virtues.[1] Many follies, particularly during times of famine, such as the Great Famine in Ireland, were built as a form of poor relief, to provide employment for peasants and unemployed artisans.

In English, the term began as "a popular name for any costly structure considered to have shown folly in the builder", the Oxford English Dictionary's definition.[2] Follies are often named after the individual who commissioned or designed the project. The connotations of silliness or madness in this definition is in accord with the general meaning of the French word folie; however, another older meaning of this word is "delight" or "favourite abode".[3] This sense included conventional, practical buildings that were thought unduly large or expensive, such as Beckford's Folly, an extremely expensive early Gothic Revival country house that collapsed under the weight of its tower in 1825, 12 years after completion.

As a general term, "folly" is usually applied to a small building that appears to have no practical purpose or the purpose of which appears less important than its striking and unusual design, but the term is ultimately subjective, so a precise definition is not possible.


Hagley Castle is in the grounds of Hagley Hall. It was built by Sanderson Miller for George, Lord Lyttelton in the middle of the 18th century to look like a small ruined medieval castle.[4]

The concept of the folly is subjective and it has been suggested that the definition of a folly "lies in the eyes of the beholder".[5] Typical characteristics include:

  • They have no purpose other than as an ornament.[6] Often they have some of the appearance of a building constructed for a particular purpose, such as a castle or tower, but this appearance is a sham. Equally, if they have a purpose, it may be disguised.
  • They are buildings, or parts of buildings.[6] Thus they are distinguished from other garden ornaments such as sculpture.
  • They are purpose-built. Follies are deliberately built as ornaments.
  • 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.
  • There is often an element of fakery in their construction. The canonical example of this is the sham ruin: a folly which pretends to be the remains of an old building but which was in fact constructed in that state.
  • They were built or commissioned for pleasure.[6]


The Pantheon at Stourhead estate

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 had ruins of monastic houses and (in Italy) Roman villas; others, lacking such buildings, constructed their own sham versions of these romantic structures.

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.[citation needed]

Follies in 18th-century French and English gardensEdit

The Temple of Philosophy at Ermenonville in Oise, France

Follies (French: fabriques) were an important feature of the English garden and French landscape garden in the 18th century, such as Stowe and Stourhead in England and Ermenonville and the gardens of Versailles in France. They were usually in the form of Roman temples, ruined Gothic abbeys, or Egyptian pyramids. Painshill Park in Surrey contained almost a full set, with a large Gothic tower and various other Gothic buildings, a Roman temple, a hermit's retreat with resident hermit, a Turkish tent, a shell-encrusted water grotto and other features. In France they sometimes took the form of romantic farmhouses, mills and cottages, as in Marie Antoinette's Hameau de la Reine at Versailles. Sometimes they were copied from landscape paintings by painters such as Claude Lorrain and Hubert Robert. Often, they had symbolic importance, illustrating the virtues of ancient Rome, or the virtues of country life. The temple of philosophy at Ermenonville, left unfinished,[7] symbolised that knowledge would never be complete, while the temple of modern virtues at Stowe was deliberately ruined, to show the decay of contemporary morals.[8]

Later in the 18th century, the follies became more exotic, representing other parts of the world, including Chinese pagodas, Japanese bridges, and Tatar tents.[9]

Famine folliesEdit

The Great Famine of Ireland of 1845–1849 led to the building of several follies in order to provide relief to the poor without issuing unconditional handouts. 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 included roads in the middle of nowhere, between two seemingly random points, screen and estate walls, piers in the middle of bogs, etc.[10]


Roman ruin, Schönbrunn, Austria
Small Gloriette of Schönbrunn Palace

Follies are found worldwide, but they are particularly abundant in Great Britain.[11]




Czech RepublicEdit

The minaret in the (Lednice–Valtice Complex, Czech Republic) was built by the House of Liechtenstein during 1797–1804.










Temple of the Sibyl in the grounds of the Czartoryski Palace in Puławy, Poland




El Capricho, in Comillas, Spain


Classical ruins in Oleksandriia Park in Bila Tserkva, Ukraine

United KingdomEdit

Rushton Triangular Lodge, Northamptonshire, England, built in the late 16th century to symbolise the Holy Trinity
Wimpole's Folly, Cambridgeshire, England, built in the 1700s to resemble Gothic-era ruins
The Beacon: One of the remaining follies at Staunton Country Park originally commissioned by George Thomas Staunton and designed by Lewis Vulliamy




Paxton's Tower, Carmarthenshire

United StatesEdit

Chateau Laroche, just north of Loveland, Ohio

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Yves-Marie Allain, Janine Christiany, L'art des jardins en Europe, Citadelles & Mazenod, Paris, 2006.
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989, vol VI, p4, "Folly, 5".
  3. ^ " ... and many French houses are still named "La Folie"" – OED.
  4. ^ "The Castle About 3/4 Mile East of Hagley Hall". Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  5. ^ Headley, Gwyn; Meulenkamp, Win (1986). Follies a National Trust Guide. Jonathan Cape. p. xxi. ISBN 0-224-02105-2.
  6. ^ a b c Jones, Barbara (1974). Follies & Grottoes. Constable & Co. p. 1. ISBN 0-09-459350-7.
  7. ^ Césari, Dominique. "Ermenonville". Parcs à fabriques. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  8. ^ "The Royal Oak Foundation looks to Stowe's 1730s Temple of Modern Virtue as its latest beneficiary". 17 October 2018.
  9. ^ Yves-Marie Allain and Janine Christiany, L'art des jardins en Europe, Citadelles & Mazenod, Paris, 2006.
  10. ^ Howley, James. 1993. The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05577-3
  11. ^ Menzies, Dean. "Folly". Hansagarten24. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  12. ^ "Paradise Lost | Casino Marino".
  13. ^ See photos: "A Seat Shaded from the Tropic Sun" (and water tank), "A Summer House on the Hill" (with no walls), "The Bridge and Pavilion".
  14. ^ Follies Magazine #108, "My Folly Folly Folly: a Jamaican Journey"
  15. ^ "Sham Castle". Bath in Time. 8 February 2007. Archived from the original on 24 May 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2012.


  • Barlow, Nick et al. Follies of Europe, Garden Art Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-870673-56-3
  • Barton, Stuart Monumental Follies Lyle Publications, 1972
  • Folly Fellowship, The Follies Magazine, published quarterly
  • Folly Fellowship, The Follies Journal, published annually
  • Folly Fellowship, The Foll-e, an electronic bulletin published monthly and available free to all
  • Hatt, E. M. Follies National Benzole, London 1963
  • Headley, Gwyn Architectural Follies in America, John Wiley & Sons, New York 1996
  • Headley, Gwyn & Meulenkamp, Wim, Follies — A Guide to Rogue Architecture, Jonathan Cape, London 1990
  • Headley, Gwyn & Meulenkamp, Wim, Follies — A National Trust Guide, Jonathan Cape, London 1986
  • Headley, Gwyn & Meulenkamp, Wim, Follies Grottoes & Garden Buildings, Aurum Press, London 1999
  • Howley, James The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1993
  • Jackson, Hazelle Shellhouses and Grottoes, Shire Books, England, 2001
  • Jones, Barbara Follies & Grottoes Constable, London 1953 & 1974
  • Meulenkamp, Wim Follies — Bizarre Bouwwerken in Nederland en België, Arbeiderpers, Amsterdam, 1995

External linksEdit