This article is a part of our English Knowledge Base

Author: Dean Menzies

A folly, from the French word for “foolish,” is a building constructed mainly for decoration that serves no practical purpose. Follies first gained popularity in England during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Designs are often eccentric and extravagant and may take a variety of forms.  A folly might resemble a medieval tower, a ruined castle, or a crumbling temple complete with fallen, eroded columns.  They often had symbolic importance.  Roman temples symbolized classical virtues or ideals.  Chinese temples, Egyptian pyramids, or ruined abbeys represented different continents or historical eras.  Some resembled rustic villages and mills, to symbolize rural virtues.

Famine Follies

The Irish potato famine led to the building of follies as a form of poor relief and to provide employment for peasants and unemployed artisans.  These construction projects became known as “famine follies.”  These included roads in the middle of nowhere, between seemingly random points, estate walls, and piers in the middle of bogs.


Typical characteristics of a folly include:

  • They have no purpose other than decoration.
  • They are buildings or parts of building.
  • They are usually built on a much smaller scale than the buildings they imitated.


Follies are found worldwide with the greatest number in Great Britain.


  • Ruinenberg near Sanssouci Park, Potsdam
  • Pfaueninsel artificial ruin, Berlin
  • Lighthouse in the park of Moritzburg Castle near Dresden


  • Chanteloup Pagoda, near Amboise
  • Parc de la Villette in Paris has several follies by architect Bernard Tschumi


  • Carden’s Folly
  • Casino of Marino
  • Killiney Hill, several follies
  • Saint Anne’s Park, several follies


  • La Scarzuola, Montegabbione
  • The Park of Monsters (Bomarzo Gardens)
  • II Giardino dei Tarocchi near Capalbio


  • Ashton Memorial, Lancaster
  • Beckford’s Tower, Somerset
  • Broadway Tower, The Cotswolds
  • Flavell Tower, Dorset
  • Flounder’s Folly Shropshire
  • Hadlow Tower, Hadlow, Kent
  • Perrott’s Folly, Birmingham
  • The Ruined Arch at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London
  • Rushton Triangular Lodge, Northamptonshire (16th century)
  • Sham Castle, Bathwick Hill, Bath, Somerset
  • Solomon’s temple, Buxton, Derbyshire
  • Stowe School, several follies
  • Tattingstone Wonder, near Ipswich, Suffolk
  • Williamson Tunnels, probably the largest folly in the world Liverpool


  • The Caldwell Tower, Lugton, Renfrewshire
  • Captain Frasers Folly Isle of Skye
  • McCraig’s Tower, Oban, Argyll and Bute
  • The Temple near Castle Semple Loch, Renfrewshire


  • Castell Coch, Cardiff
  • Clytha Castle, Monmouthshire
  • Paxton’s Tower, Carmarthenshire
  • Portmeirion

United States

  • Bancroft Tower, Worcester, Massachusetts
  • Belvedere Castle, New York City
  • Bishop Castle, outside of Pueblo Colorado
  • Kingfisher Tower, Otsego Lake (New York)

Works Cited:

“Category: ART.” TwistedSifter. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 February 2016.
“Folly.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 11 February 2016.