For 350 years The Folly has served as everything from a farmhouse to a cafe to a bank. Now the Grade I listed building has a new lease of life thanks to the North Craven Preservation Trust. At the launch of a £1.625m preservation campaign, playwright and Trust president Alan Bennett told editor Adrian Braddy some of the history.
North Craven’s most famous resident could easily be described as “much loved”, and “distinguished if rather eccentric”, but on this occasion the words were used by that individual to describe another of the area’s greatest assets.
Playwright Alan Bennett, who has a home in Clapham, was speaking at the launch of an appeal to raise £1.625m to preserve The Folly, Settle’s only grade one listed building.
Originally built as a home and office for a wealthy lawyer, The Folly was undoubtedly designed to make an impact.
“It looks older that it is,” Mr Bennett explained.
“It was put up in the 1670s by an attorney, Richard Preston, who practiced from here. He was obviously a bit of an architectural buff but rather an old-fashioned one and seems to have had access to various architectural pattern books, some of them 100 years old, but good pattern books.
“He obviously went through them and thought ‘ooh, that looks nice, I’ll have a bit of that, I’ll have that staircase. Literally I think it was put together like that.
“Pesvner, in Buildings of England, says rather unkindly that it is ‘indiscriminately eclectic’. That’s like saying it’s architecturally pick ‘n’ mix.”
The Folly had extensive gardens across the street with a garden tower, now demolished. However, its standing in the town was diminished in the 18th Century when the new toll road became the main route into Settle.
“It’s had a funny history,” Mr Bennett said.
“It was sidelined quite early in its existence as was originally on the main road but then when the main road moved it was rather at the back of Settle.”
The eccentrically built Folly was divided into the North and South Ranges and in 1990, a developer gained permission to split the ranges, dividing the house into two for retail and residential purposes.
Six years later, The North Craven Preservation Trust, which is presided over by Mr Bennett, purchased one half of The Folly, and eventually converted it into the Museum of North Craven Life, which opened in 2001.
Last year, the Trust was able to buy the North Range, reuniting both halves of The Folly for the first time in many years.
Mr Bennett said: “It may be now that we’ve got the whole building we can throw much more light onto the way the building was put together and on the history of it.”
On Preston’s death in 1695, the house passed to his eldest daughter who sold it in 1703 to the Dawson family of Langcliffe. They only lived there briefly, though their descendants owned it for almost 300 years.
From 1708 the Dawsons leased The Folly for commercial and domestic purposes, as Mr Bennett explained: “It has had various uses, some of them not at all distinguished. You might make a pilgrimage to Settle having seen a picture of The Folly and come round the corner and find it’s a fish and chip shop, which it was. It was a bakery and for a long time, Drysdale’s upholsterers, and I may be wrong but I seem to remember it being a launderette, but that may be my imagination.
“It was certainly a doctor’s surgery when I first came to Settle. So it’s never really had a life comparable to its status.”
At different times the building has also housed a furniture shop, warehouse, bakery, farmhouse and cafe.
But despite its many uses, The Folly has survived virtually intact. “It’s never been in any danger, because it is grade one listed,” Mr Bennett explained.
“I remember, in the early’ 60s I think it was, that a belvedere in the garden was knocked down, which it wouldn’t be today, but other than that it has stood rather above any controversies about demolition and so on. It has actually been rather a matronly figure.”
In modern times, Philip Dawson was the only member of the Dawson family to live in The Folly and he owned it until 1983, restoring the roof and leaded windows.
Mr Bennett said Mr Dawson would also allow The Folly to be used on ceremonial occasions.
“In 1975, the Duke of Gloucester came to open the Twisleton's Yard and the first museum, we all came here for lunch,” he recalled.
“That was quite a funny occasion, the royal visit. It was the first one that I’d ever had any experience of and I was astonished at the protocol involved – the fact that even in Settle, where time isn’t of the essence really, everything had to be organised down to the split second. It was extraordinary.
“The Duke of Gloucester was himself a practising architect. A nice, shy, rather diffident man, his brother had been killed in an air crash and he’d then had to come into the royal circus as it were and he was a very good person to have for any conservation project because it was close to his heart.
“Presiding over the visit was the then-Lord Lieutenant, Lord Normanby. Now Lord Normanby was a nice man but he was much more daunting. He was about seven feet tall and he was in his full dress uniform with a sword and he was trying to get ahead of the procession.
“All the schoolchildren who’d been marshalled for the occasion along the route cheered him to the echo and then when the Duke of Gloucester came along, they fell silent.
“Then we adjourned to The Folly for lunch. It was lived in at that time by Philip Dawson, and his sister presided over the lunch, and that was a bit awkward.
“The conversation didn’t exactly flow and I can remember her at one point in a silence saying to one of the Royal party ‘I believe we share a chiropodist’. That has stayed with me ever since.”
The Duke is not the only member of the royal family to have visited The Folly.
On December 17, 2001, after a major restoration, part of the building was opened as the Museum of North Craven Life by the Prince of Wales.
“Partly because time had moved on and things were a lot more relaxed – that was very much an easier occasion,” Mr Bennett recalled. “Prince Charles cuts through any protocol. He was faced with, I think, three floors of Settle ladies, and they were in full cry. What we thought he would do would be to stand on the stairs and then address everybody and say thanks in general terms, but instead he plunged into these rooms and had a scone here and a Victoria sponge there and really worked the rooms. It was wonderful to see.
“He was really so conscientious about it.”
The visit of Prince Charles heralded the dawn of a new era for The Folly. Mr Bennett said: “I think none of us on that occasion could have foreseen that, having got the South Range, we would, within ten years, be in the position to control the North Range and it’s thanks to a very generous grant from the Architectural Heritage Trust and very generous private donations that we’ve been able to do it.”
The campaign to raise £1.625m will repay loans for the acquisition of the two parts of the building, and also provide an endowment fund to generate an income for the maintenance of the building.
For more information about the appeal go to ncbpt.org.uk/appeal.