Lyulph's Tower and other follies

by Jane Taylor

Banner Image © Jane Firth

A mock-medieval building

Follow the Ullswater Way clockwise, and as you emerge from the woods around Aira Force, look down to the right and you will see, nestled among trees, an odd and rather dramatic building that looks at first glance like a medieval castle, with crenelated walls and octagonal towers. A second glance will show, however, that the wall is actually backing for a rather nice, sturdy, white-painted, small manor-house. What you are seeing is a mock-medieval building - a sham castle, an eye-catching hunting lodge built in around 1795 by Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk (1746-1815), owner of the considerable Greystoke Castle estate 10 miles to the north. He called his eccentric lodge Lyulph’s Tower, after Sigulf or Llyulph de Greystoke, thought to be the first baron of Greystoke.

Lyulph's Tower © Jane Firth

Two folly farmhouses

Charles Howard, in common with many magnates of this time, had a particular taste for the Gothick - sham medieval follies, all battlemented walls and dramatic towers, and highly fashionable from the mid-eighteenth century. For the Greystoke estate, on the road between Greystoke and Penrith, he had earlier commissioned two folly farm-houses in very much that vein.[1] Their names, oddly, are political - Charles was pro-American in the War of Independence[2]. The first, “Bunker’s Hill”, built in 1789, commemorates – or perhaps celebrates – the Battle of Bunker Hill (1775) where the British made heavy losses. The second and more elaborate, “Fort Putnam” (1778), all elegant lancet windows, is named after the revolutionary General Israel Putnam who fought with distinction at the same battle.

Fort Putnam © Simon Ledingham / CC BY-SA 2.0

Architectural playfulness

But these are not the only examples of the Duke’s architectural playfulness; not for nothing was his nickname the Architectural Duke. The family seat he inherited in 1786, Arundel Castle, was very much dilapidated; he spent a fortune on its rebuilding and refurbishing. But here also, in around 1778, he commissioned a sham medieval folly: Hiorne’s Tower, spectacularly tall, with chequerboard stonework and medieval detail like lancet windows – even arrow-slits in the octagonal corner towers.

Hiorne's Tower © Robert Salisbury /

Inspired by Castle Howard?

The Duke must surely also have been thinking of Castle Howard, family seat of his kinsfolk the Howards Earls of Carlisle. Here, earlier in the century, the third Earl had commissioned, from Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor, a mock-medieval landscape – the Stray Walls (completed in 1723). It had battlemented walls nearly a mile long, with 11 dramatic interval towers and turrets.

Perhaps he was also thinking of the elaborate follies that stud the park: the curious Pyramid completed in 1728, the magnificent mausoleum (1736), and the elaborate Temple of the Four Winds (1738). The Duke could not, of course, compete but the Greystoke landscape was surely designed, tongue in cheek, with Castle Howard in mind.

The Pyramid, Castle Howard © Castle Howard

As of course, surely, was Lyulph’s Tower: a modest hunting-lodge, certainly, but which the Duke, it seems, could not resist embellishing ...

[1] Another ducal folly, along the same road, is Spire House, said to be a joke at the expense of a tenant who refused church, or who alternatively was irritatingly pious.

[2] On these see J. Walton and J. Wood, The Making of a Cultural Landscape: the English Lake District as tourist destination, 1750-2010 (Farnham, 2013).

B. Jones, Follies and Grottoes (London, 1953);

J. Walton and J. Wood, The Making of a Cultural Landscape: the English Lake District as tourist destination, 1750-2010 (Farnham, 2013);

G Beard, The Work of John Vanbrugh (London, 1986), esp. pp 31-7, 83-93;

M. Girouard, The Return to Camelot: chivalry and the English Gentleman (New Haven, 1981);

M. Charlesworth, The Gothic Revival 1720-1870 (Robertsbridge, 2002);

G. Brenan and E. Statham, The House of Howard (London, 1907).

by Jane Taylor, Emeritus Professor, Durham University

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