WHEN WEALTHY MEN ERECTED BUILDINGS-FOR FUN
Sir Paulet St John was riding across one of the highest points in Hampshire, Farley Mount, enjoying the fresh air. His thoughts were miles away.
Today a folly stands on top of the hill. A folly is an expensive, ornamental building with no definite practical purpose. This folly stands as a monument to a horse named ‘Beware Chalk Pit’.
On that day, while Sir Paulet St John was riding across the Farley Mount, a deep pit almost suddenly opened up under his horse’s hooves. He had not noticed it, but fortunately his horse had-and saved both itself an its rider with a fantastic 25 ft leap to the opposite rim.
Therefore, the monument to that amazing leap, a 30 ft pyramid can still be seen today, situated four miles of the historic city of Winchester, Hampshire. It was built to mark the horse’s grave after it died, but not before carrying its owner to a racing victory a year after that near-death experience at Farley Mount.
The plaques on the interior and exterior of the monument read:
Underneath lies buried a horse, the property of Paulet St. John Esq., that in the month of September 1733 leaped into a chalk pit twenty-five feet deep a fox hunting with his master on his back and in October 1734 he won the Hunters Plate on Worthy Downs and was rode by his owner and was entered in the name of “Beware Chalk Pit”.
The folk band Contraband recorded “Beware Chalk Pit” by Graham Penny, featuring the words: There’s a tale I’ll tell to you, tis remarkable but true, of Sir Paulet St. John and his noble steed, an event as you shall see, back in seventeen thirty three, of which Hampshire gentlemen should all take heed. CHORUS: Beware Chalk Pit, Beware Chalk Pit, as you go galloping o’er the downs, Beware Chalk Pit.
The great age of English folly building lasted through the 18th and 19th centuries, but some were built even later.
The 140 ft Gothic tower outside Faringdon, in Berkshire, for example, was built by Lord Berners in 1935. But he had difficulty in obtaining a planning permission. When a visitor complained that the folly was only so far from the house that a telescope was required to see it, Berners replied that, as a retired admiral, he wouldn’t dream of viewing the countryside any other way. It once had a sign saying “Members of the public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk”.
Sir Thomas Tresham, fascinated by the number three, put up the trianglular lodge in 1593.His belief in the Holy Trinity is represented everywhere in the Lodge by the number three: it has three walls 33 feet long, each with three triangular windows and surmounted by three gargoyles. One wall is inscribed ’15’, another ’93’, and the last ‘TT’. The building has three floors, upon a basement, and a triangular chimney. Three Latin texts, each 33 letters long, run around the building on each facade.
Imposing and costly, the Ashton memorial was built between 1907 and 1909 by millionaire industrialist Lord Ashton in memory of his second wife, Jessy, at a cost of over £80,000 (equivalent to £7.5 million in 2015). Today, the memorial serves as an exhibition space on the upper floor and a venue for concerts and weddings.
The viewing platform of the monument is closed to the public. According to various sources, this is because of an unfortunate incident where a cow climbed the spiral staircase inside and plunged to its death from the pinnacle as it was unable to go back down. Therefore, in order to prevent humans from imitating the poor creature’s ascent, the stairs are closed.