Simon revisits follies of park

Simon Scott with his book for a feature on Spectacle Lane itself which is dealt with in his book about old 'follies' of Northants.
Simon Scott with his book for a feature on Spectacle Lane itself which is dealt with in his book about old 'follies' of Northants.

EVERY so often it is possible to meet someone who will open your eyes to a completely different way of looking at Northampton.

And when I dropped in to see author Simon Scott at his Moulton home, he had some fascinating facts to share about the connection between several of the town’s old pieces of architecture.

Many will be familiar with the ‘spectacle’ (an old archway) in Spectacle Lane, Moulton, but many – like me – will not know that it is closely connected to many other structures in the area.

These are the Obelisk of Kingsthorpe, the Hawking Tower in Harborough Road, New Park Barn (now renamed Fox Covert Hall) and Bunkers Hill Farm at the end of Butchers Lane.

All fall within the area known as Boughton Park and are the subject of Simon’s newly extended book The Follies of Boughton Park: Revisited.

For those unaware of what a folly actually is, the word is a term used for a piece of architecture created purely for ornamentation and no practical purpose.

In his book, Simon not only explores the history of each of these 18th-century structures, but also the lives of the Earls of Strafford, the Wentworth family, who were behind the introduction of the follies into the park.

Simon said that his research started when an unsuccessful bid was made in the 1990s to create Northampton’s north west bypass.

He said: “Being a long-term resident, I thought this isn’t right but there is no point saying I don’t want this in my back yard.”

He spoke to organisations including English Heritage and the park’s importance was soon recognised.

He said: “People don’t realise when they look at the fields and hedges and they think ‘how does that make it a park?’”

He explained that the follies themselves were created to accentuate the traditionally English landscape, complete with its hedgerows.

The Boughton Park estate was bought by the political figure Thomas Wentworth, the first Earl of Strafford, in 1717, although the family is also closely connected to Wentworth Castle in Yorkshire where he also created many landscape structures marking political events or ideas.

His son William, a friend of 18th century politician Horace Walpole, inherited his father’s enthusiasm for landscape follies and has been credited with the design of the Obelisk and many other structures.

Simon wrote in his book: “The majority of William Wentworth’s architectural flights of fancy at Boughton still exist today in their original form. Indeed, it is still possible to look across this tranquil valley of Boughton Park to see the follies in their original setting, unspoilt by the onset of the 21st century...

“Personal tragedy almost certainly brought an end to William’s estate enhancements at both Boughton and Wentworth. It has recently been noted that ‘estate accounts came to an abrupt end in 1785, some six years before William’s death. This was the year that Lady Anne (his wife) died...and one wondered whether he lost interest in doing much work on the estate after this date.’”

The first Boughton Park folly was the Hawking Tower in Harborough Road, which was believed to have been constructed between 1739 and 1756. Now Grade II listed, the similarity can be drawn between this structure and the Steeple Lodge at Wentworth Castle. Some restoration took place at the tower in the 1940s, when an interesting sight was uncovered.

Simon explained in his book: “It was during this period that, whilst installing a cesspit, the end of a mysterious tunnel was rediscovered...of brick construction and approximately four feet tall, the tunnel aligned roughly between the Hawking Tower and the former bowling green.”

Simon recently appeared in the Chron to talk about another of the follies, the 100ft obelisk off Obelisk Rise in Kingsthorpe, as he is concerned abut the condition of the Grade II listed monument. Built in 1764, the structure was originally put in place as a tribute to the memory of the Duke of Devonshire.

Following Simon’s research, the Boughton Park area was given a Grade II listing; a move which he hopes will help in its protection for future generations.

He said: “It isn’t as much of a protection as you might have with a listed building but it means anyone who wants to do anything has to justify themselves. There are only seven sites listed in the Daventry district and it has raised awareness of the park as an important place.”

The hardback book costs £10 from the Whyte Melville in Boughton or at Waterstones, Northampton.