Faringdon Folly
Faringdon Folly
Faringdon Folly was the last [intentional] folly to be built in England. It stands 100 feet high and dominates the landscape above the historic market town of Faringdon. The folly was built by Lord Berners of Faringdon House in 1935, and offers superb views over 5 counties on a clear day.
The hill has always been known as Folly Hill, even when there was no folly to crown it! There was a castle atop Folly Hill as early as 1144, when Robet, Earl of Gloucester, built a wooden fortress to support Empress Maud in her struggle with King Stephen. The king successfully stormed the castle in 1145, and in 1202 King John granted the site to the monks of St Mary at Citeaux. The monks, however, chose to built at Beaulieu, and Folly Hill was left in peace. In peace, at least, until Cromwell established a battery atop Folly Hill to bombard the town during the Civil War.

Henry Pye was Poet Laureate from 1790 until 1813. Never known for the quality of his poetry (he has been called 'the worst Poet Laureate in English history') Pye was the son of Henry Pye of Faringdon House. For reasons known only to himself, Pye walked to the top of the hill above Faringdon every day, bearing a sapling of Scot's pine. This may have been a political statement, for the Scot's pine was a traditional symbol of Jacobite support. We do know that Pye eulogised the hill in verse, in 'Faringdon Hill' (1774). In 1935 Lord Berners decided that Folly Hill needed a true folly - a folly, morover, in the truest sense of the word; a structure with no purpose, "utterly useless".

Despite objections from the local council, he built the tower 'so that he could look at the view', and, equally, to celebrate the coming-of-age of his heir, Mr Robert Heber-Percy. The tower was designed by Lord Gerald Wellesley, later to become the Duke of Wellington. Lord Berners and his architect must have had different visions of the finished product, for Wellesley began building the tower in severe Perpendicular style while his patron was away. When Lord Berners returned, he objected to the style, and insisted that the top of the tower be designed in more fanciful Early English Gothic. It is this extravagant Gothic turret that crowns the folly and stands out above the surrounding trees like a beacon, visible for miles around.

The Folly was generally open to visitors, and was used by the military in WWII as a vantage point - by both sides! A German spy was discovered using the Folly to follow events in the vale below, after which the tower was locked up.

However the tower is now open from April to October on the first and third Sundays of the month. It is also available for private openings. The woodland surrounding the tower is open all year round to visitors. The best place for access is a footpath from the Stanford Road (the nearest post code is SN77AQ).

Note: Opening times are correct at time of publication but please check with the official website before making travel plans!