The English Folly

The Edifice Complex

By Gwyn Headley, Wim Meulenkamp

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If this were a novel, the tales of astounding wealth, sexual perversion, murder, munificence, rape, insanity, brutality, slavery, religious mania, selfishness, snobbery, charity, suicide, generosity, theft, madness, wickedness, failure and eccentricity which unfold in these pages would be too concentrated to allow for the willing suspension of disbelief. All these sins and virtues, and more, are displayed by the characters in this book, some exhibiting several of them simultaneously.

Folly builders were not as we are. They never built what we now call follies. They built for beauty, utility, improvement; it is only we, struggling after them with our imperfect understanding, who dismiss their prodigious constructions as follies.

Follies can be found around the world, but England is their spiritual home. Having written the definitive books on follies in Great Britain, Benelux and the USA, Headley & Meulenkamp have turned their attention to the folly builders themselves, people so blinded by fashion or driven by some nameless ideology that they expended great fortunes on making their point in brick, stone and flint. Most follies are simply misunderstood buildings, and this book studies the motives, characters, decisions and delusions of their builders. If there was madness in their building, fortunately there was no method in it.


  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Bones of the ancients: druids, hermits and pharaohs
  • Heaven’s Gate: arches, gateways, bridges and lodges
  • Pavilions of splendour: hovels, cottages, pavilions and palaces
  • Cloud-capp’d towers: towers, pinnacles and steeples
  • Rooms with a view: gazebos and eyecatchers
  • No love affair is complete without a grotto: grottoes, caves and tunnels
  • Mantling ivy: sham ruins and castles
  • The genius of the place: folly groups and gardens
  • Animal crackers: aviaries, deerfolds, dairies, dovecotes, pig palaces etc.
  • We too: women and follies
  • Remembrance of things past: mausolea, monuments, memorials and memories
  • The poor man at the gate: scrap shacks and jardins imaginaires
  • Golli-Gosperado: a miscellany of curiosities
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Additional Information

  • Publication Status: Completed
  • Pages: 260
  • ISBN: 9781789621976 (Hardcover) | ISBN:9781789622126 (Paperback) | eISBN:9781800346727 (PDF)


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