The financial pressures of owning a country house usually mean that the priority always has to be the main building with little left over for the kinds of follies, garden buildings and ‘eye-catchers’ which were a common enhancement in previous centuries.
Over the last few decades there have only be a few notable additions to parklands including the strikingly modern garden pavilion designed by I.M. Pei for the Keswicks in Wiltshire. However even this has a practical use but in the spirit of landscapers such as ‘Capability’ Brown, a proposal has been submitted for a new pyramid to be built as an ‘eye-catcher’ at the end of a 1km walk at Doddington Hall in Lincolnshire. Doddington is a beautiful, symmetrical, red-brick house designed by the celebrated Elizabethan architect Robert Smythson. It also has the rare distinction of being one of the few houses to have never been sold since it was completed in 1600.
Fingers crossed that this interesting proposal will be approved and completed to continue an important tradition of folly building in English gardens.
When the historic Ranton Abbey was accidentally set alight and gutted in 1942 by the Dutch troops stationed there, it was likely that it would go the way of many other houses and simply be demolished. Yet the Earls of Lichfield, who owned the 300-acre estate, simply left it and focused on turning the land into a first-class shoot, allowing the house to slowly collapse, leaving just the ivy-clad walls visible today.
The death of the 5th Earl, the famous photographer Patrick Lichfield, in 2005, prompted the family to look again at the estate. However, rather than simply sell it they decided to obtain planning permission for the building of a new house and have now put both for sale at £3.5m. Although an obvious course of action, the choices made seem a bit odd. The new house is strongly Palladian in design but the projections produced so far have it sited so close to the red-brick shell of the old house, and the grey stone of the church, that it seems to have almost landed there by accident. It certainly does not seem to appear at home in this location and appears almost arbitrary, resulting in three large architectural elements fighting for prominence in a small area.
As the respected architectural writer Marcus Binney says in the ‘Bricks and Mortar’ supplement of Friday’s Times newspaper, surely the better option would be to restore the original house. This would bring back the balance which existed before and remove at once the obvious difficulties of leaving the old house as a giant garden ornament to compete with the new house. Whoever buys the estate and planning permission will hopefully think again about this scheme and look seriously at restoration.