To be, or not to be, a ‘folly’.
Oh, the sheer extravagance of follies! But was it really a ‘folly’ that I looked out on for nearly 20 years?
I always maintained that my department at Kimbolton School had the best view of any department in the country. Situated in the former bedrooms of the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, my classroom windows to the east looked down the magnificent Mall, an avenue of ancient Wellingtonia trees; and to the north, the vista swept up to a mysterious building known locally as the ‘folly’, but more correctly called The Warren House.
Some six years ago I received a visit in my department (ie. the former Duchess’s bedroom) from people working for the Landmark Trust. No, they hadn’t come to see me, but to gaze from the north window (as I had done many many times) at The Warren House, in order to see for themselves what the Duchess had looked upon in the 18th century. The House had been built specifically as an eye-catcher for the north side of the Castle, and it had been aligned precisely with the Duchess’s bedroom windows so that it could be viewed with great effect.
Researchers then learned that the House had acquired a role beyond that of mere eye-catcher, and had become a dwelling for the warrener, a man in the employ of the Estate who nurtured and protected the breeding of rabbits, which were highly valued for both their meat and skins. Over the years, the building fell into disuse, the land was sold then re-sold. The shell of the building had been patched up only because it had been placed under a conservation order (at the request of the community), but there it stood for many years serving no purpose, and crumbling away.
I had spent the best part of 20 years looking out on this building, seeing it slowly deteriorate, and wondering what would become of it. That fateful visitation by the Landmark Trust was to prove conclusive. They decided to take it on as a project, restore it and open it as holiday accommodation. Like so many of their other restoration projects, another historic building has been saved, and some of the finance will be recuperated because it now has commercial viability.
The Warren House was opened to the public for viewing last week and, for the first time in 20 years, I was able to stand on the front balcony of the ‘folly’ and look back down at Kimbolton Castle, into the windows of the former Duchess’s bedroom, and ask myself: now, was The Warren House really the ‘folly’? Or could the Castle have been built as an eye-catcher for The Warren House?