"...any costly structure considered to have shown folly in the builder" (OED)
refers to "The result of a foolish action or enterprise"
. Follies are buildings - frequently unfinished, or completed in stages, often with many different styles
. Alternatively, a folly may have some clear use or purpose, or may exist purely out of vanity, for the purpose of attracting the gaze and attention of others.
The great age of folly building was undoubtedly the eighteenth century, when wealthy landowners would lavish their money on their estates, each seemingly seeking to outdo his neighbour. In the UK, follies seem to cluster around the South West of England, especially Wiltshire and Hampshire. Examples include:
Five miles from Salisbury, this three-storey structure was built by Giles Eyre in 1606 with a hexagonal section, and was designed to allow Mr Eyre to look down upon his neighbours.
In the grounds of Wimpole Hall is a mock ruin, some two hundred feet in length, designed by one Sanderson Miller. Its purpose was purely visual - to enhance the view from the stately home. The main feature is a four-storey Gothic tower.
Penshaw Hill Monument
Standing on Penshaw Hill, near Sunderland, is an unlikely Greek temple. Built in memory of the First Earl of Durham, John Lambton, in 1844, it is a half-scale model of the Temple of Theseus. Sponsored by local Freemasons, it measures 100 by 50 feet and rises to 70 feet at the pinnacle.
Standing outside Llandeilo, near Carmarthen in Wales is a magnificent triangular folly, consisting of three round towers containing a hexagonal keep-like structure, which rises above them. Built by Sir William Paxton in 1811, its supposed purpose was to prove his solvency following allegations that his electioneering spending had bankrupted him. He had spent a magnificent £15,000 on wooing the voters - some achievement in those days! Incidentally, he lost the election.
This superb example of a folly tower was built by Lord Berner in 1935, very much against the wishes of his neighbours. About 20 miles from Oxford , it consists of a simple square tower 100 feet tall, which is topped by an octagonal observation room. Possibly the last true folly ever built, it is open to the public, so that all may view what Lord Berner took such delight in.
Sir Thomas Tresham's Triangular Lodge
Another amazing and complex structure, designed and built around the religious doctrine of the Trinity.
Other follies known to be noded include:
Lord Berner said of his folly at Faringdon, "The great point of this tower, is that it will be entirely useless", perhaps the best summary and definition for these architectural eccentricties.