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Today’s post combines the splendor of summer, the loveliness of gardens, and the foreboding beauty of gothic architecture. How can we accomplish such a juxtaposition? By featuring a small gallery of Gothic summerhouses from estate gardens of the great and powerful (mostly in England).
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A summerhouse is a garden feature found in grander gardens than mine! It is a sort of folly building: a small open building in a garden or park where someone can sit during the summer time. Of course great aristocrats of yore had a different idea of what constitutes “small” or “open” than I do, so some of the summer houses in European gardens are practically houses in their own right. Looking at certain examples here makes me realize that for an Earl or Duke, summerhouse probably means “surplus house where you can party with a viscount and 20 retainers.” Still some of these houses are actually on the smaller side and could almost be gazeboes, playhouses, or “cots” (as simple huts were sometimes called).
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My old roommate Jennifer has decamped to the great Smokey Mountains to work remotely for a month and I am told she is doing all of her work from a splendid summerhouse. I wonder if she has something like these. Unfortunately the lords of Wall Street won’t let me out of the building during summer (which is most wise, since I would undoubtedly wander off or start drawing or gardening if not shackled to my workstation). Still one can dream about these beautiful structures and lazing away the golden months on high summer in such opulent magnificence!
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The Sugarloaf Folly in East Sussex (early 1820s)

Yesterday, in reaction to the many follies in the world news, I decided to write a post about architectural follies–remarkable ornamental buildings commissioned by nobles to add beauty and interest to their estates.

the Forever Incomplete Temple of Philosophy at Ermenonville (1760s-1770s)

Many follies were towers, fake ruins, or ersatz foreign structures (pagodas, minarets, wigwams and so forth) however some follies were heavy-handed allegories about the nature of life.  Nick Ford, an architectural blogger describes two famous allegorical follies in England writing, “The temple of philosophy at Ermenonville was not completed–to symbolize that knowledge would never be complete, while the temple of modern virtues at Stowe was deliberately ruined, to show the decay of contemporary morals.”

The Temple of Modern Virtue at Stowe (built as a ruin)

Other follies actually had a practical purpose.  Connolly’s Folly in Ireland was created to provide gainful employment for the vast numbers of unemployed workers during the Famine of 1740-1741 (unlike the potato famine a century later, the famine of 1740-1741 was caused by a dreadfully cold two year period in Ireland—one of the last severe cold snaps which marked the end of the Little Ice Age).  Other philanthropists in 18th century Ireland commissioned similar projects such as roads to nowhere and great piers built in swamps. In a way follies were the economic stimulus package of the 18th century.  After the workers were paid, the lordly benefactor at least had a pretty building to show for their charity.

Connolly's Folly (1740)

It will be obvious to the practical reader that I have somehow come full circle.  Yesterday to escape the grim news of economic mismanagement and greedy grandstanding elites, I escaped into the fantasy world of eighteenth century gardens.  Today I am writing about how the opulent structures within those pleasure gardens were the attempts of eighteenth century leaders to aggrandize their status while ensuring an economic “trickle-down” would benefit the struggling workers at the bottom of society (who were starting to feel the first pinches from globalism and industrialization—while simultaneously groaning beneath of the ancient regime).  The little historical digression leads to an uncomfortable truth about the economy of the rich world–much of what we do and strive for is really only status ornamentation.

Burj Khalifa (2010)

Walk around today and you will start seeing garden follies a thousand feet tall built of steel (especially if you in Dubai or Shanghai or Manhattan) but with purposes as murky as those of the temple of modern virtues.  You might be reading this as you pretend to work in one!

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