In praise of The Folly: Past, present and future

Anne Read

 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 





O.S. map of 1927 showing Stephen Park, which was originally a hunting lodge. It was built by Stephen Hammerton who thed in 1591, and was confiscated by Henry VIII because the Hammertons took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace.






Replacing the oak beam
Photo: Anne Read



The Folly Interior
Photo: Anne Read

Newcomers and visitors to Settle, on catching sight of The Folly for the first time, are generally intrigued enough to ask, 'What is it? What is its name? Can we go inside?' The Folly undoubtedly makes an immediate impression, demanding to be noticed and enticing the passer-by to pause and become involved. It is the purpose of the present article to relate something of the history of this highly individual building and describe the North Craven Building Preservation Trust's (NCBPT) plans to secure its future.

Brief History

There are several available accounts of the early history of The Folly, but it will be nonetheless useful to provide a summary here, in order to set present and future developments in context. The Folly was built in 1675 (1679?) by Richard Preston, a well-to-do tanner. Preston owned all the land in the south of Settle from Castlebergh to the banks of the Ribble and his new house, which he named 'Tanner Hall', was the centrepiece of his estate. The house stands by the original main road into the town and was undoubtedly built to impress. Richard Preston had accumulated a very sizeable estate, not just in Settle but in the surrounding area, and following his death in 1695/6, this was divided among his three daughters in 1702/3. His eldest daughter, Margaret who had married the Rev. Richard Ellershaw of Giggleswick, inherited The Folly, but quickly sold it to Margaret Dawson of Langcliffe, whose lands adjoined those of The Folly. Margaret Dawson's son, William, married in 1705 and he and his wife Jane lived in The Folly until Jane's early death in 1708. From 1708 the Dawson family leased out the house and no other family member was to live there for over two hundred and fifty years. During this period the building was subdivided and occupied by a variety of tenants. At different times it was a bakery, warehouse, furniture business, refreshment rooms, blacksmith's shop and doctor's surgery. Probably partly as a consequence of its apparent abandonment by the Dawson family and on account of its astonishing contrast with the buildings that grew up around it in the eighteenth century, the house became known as 'Preston's Folly', a name that was eventually simplified to 'The Folly'. Architecturally, The Folly, Settle's only Grade 1 listed building, is also something of an enigma. It combines features representing the height of fashion in the 1670s - the quoins in the angles of the front of the house and the grand main staircase with those of a hundred and fifty years earlier - the ground floor windows with semi-circular leaded lights. Richard Preston was clearly a man of strong and individual tastes, who knew exactly how he wanted his new house to look and carefully considered every detail of the design.

Recent History

In 1958 ownership of The Folly passed to Philip Dawson who was the last member of the family to own the building. He made extensive repairs to the house, returning it to residential use and making it his home until 1980. Eventually he conceded that The Folly was too big to maintain as a single dwelling and sought to secure its future by offering it to the National Trust. The National Trust took a lease on the ground floor in 1978 and ran an information centre and shop for two years while negotiations continued. Despite the success of the information centre, the National Trust declined the offer of The Folly's freehold, because Philip Dawson was unable to offer an endowment sufficient to satisfy their requirements. In 1980 Philip Dawson put The Folly on the market. It was purchased by an antiques dealer, Mr P S Walden, who obtained planning permission to use the ground floor as his showrooms. In 1989 he sold it on to a property developer, Mr H Burton, who obtained planning and listed building consent to convert the whole building to retail use by running it as an up-market 'department' store, selling high quality goods and specialist foods. Fortunately for the fabric of The Folly this scheme was never implemented. Mr Burton went to live in New Zealand and in 1990 instructed that the building should be put back on the market. By this time the property market had collapsed and, despite repeated reductions in the asking price, The Folly remained unsold and empty. In late 1994 planning and listed building consents were obtained to subdivide the building and separate the north range from the hall and south ranges. Following the consents, Mr N Opie purchased the north range and ran the ground floor as a shop while living in the upper floors. The north range has recently again been sold and at the time of writing (February 2001) its future use is unknown. Meanwhile, the hall and south ranges had been unoccupied since 1990 and their condition was deteriorating rapidly to the point where The Folly was acknowledged to be a 'building at risk'.

NCBPT's Acquisition of The Folly

Since its establishment in 1976 NCBPT had taken a close interest in the fortunes of The Folly because of its special significance to the town, and discussions about a possible purchase by the Trust were begun as early as 1980. However, on each occasion that the building came onto the market, the asking price was substantially beyond the Trust's resources. It was only the decision of the owner in 1974 to subdivide the building and the subsequent sale of the north range, which reduced the value of the hall and south ranges to within possible reach. Because of the ongoing deterioration of the fabric and the strong affection in which the building is held locally, NCBPT determined to mount a campaign to save The Folly and safeguard its future. A loan was obtained from the Architectural Heritage Fund, and Niall Phillips Architects, a firm with considerable experience in the restoration of listed buildings and a good track record in obtaining Heritage Lottery Funding (HLF), were retained by NCBPT to assist in the production of a feasibility study and business plan for submission, together with an application for grant-aid, to the HLF. The application was successful and NCBPT was able to purchase the hall and south ranges in 1996 for 170,000, with the aim of restoring the building, opening it to the public and providing a new home for the Museum of North Craven Life.

Assembling the Funding Package

In order to proceed with the restoration and conversion work and provide for the relocation of the Museum, it was necessary for NCBPT to seek further substantial funding. Thus began the highly complex and often deeply frustrating process of assembling grants from a range of bodies, all having individual criteria, priorities and timetables, coupled with an apparent unwillingness to cooperate with one another or commit to a scheme until other key partners had done so. A further complication was that different bodies were willing to fund only certain elements of the scheme and nearly all operated percentage-based contributions, which inevitably results in additional funds having to be raised. This experience will be very familiar to anyone who has been involved in obtaining grants for partnership schemes! In addition, The Folly's Grade 1 listed status has imposed its own constraints on the funding timetable, because of the need for English Heritage, in its advisory role to both the local planning authority and the HLF, to agree any alterations to the fabric of The Folly and approve all materials used in restoration. That these and many other elements of the process were eventually drawn together to a stage where work could commence, is due in no small measure to the efforts and skills of NCBPT's honorary secretary. The major partners in the project to date have been HLF, Yorkshire Forward, the European Union, with additional funds from the local authority and Charitable Trusts.

Restoration and Conversion

Building work commenced in June 2000. In the main it has involved repairs to the fabric and structure, removal of unsightly modern partitions and fittings and provision of new services, including fire alarm and security systems and disabled access, kitchen and toilet facilities. During the course of the work it became apparent that floor timbers on the upper levels would require strengthening to meet the standards prescribed for a public building. This has been done and new oak floors have been laid in the first and second floor rooms. One of the most pleasing aspects of the scheme has been the opening up of the hall room on the top floor by the removal of a modern corridor and partitions. Some interesting discoveries have been made, including an original blue slate floor beneath the concrete screed of the south room on the ground floor. Restoring the earlier floor levels has enabled the removal of a dangerous step and improved wheelchair access. Various fragments of tools, paper, pottery, glass and bone have been found underneath floorboards and in wall spaces and have been retained for further study. There has unfortunately been no sign of the secret passage behind the ground floor panelling, referred to by the Revd. G. H. Brown in his 'On Foot Round Settle', but an as yet unexplained cavity between the first floor and front lobby was uncovered and duly photographed.

On completion, the ground floor main hall room will serve as principal entry and reception area for the building, with tea-room, kitchen and toilet facilities in the south range. Museum displays will be accommodated on the upper floors, together with a combined office and museum store. The staircase and landings will also provide an excellent display area for pictures and photographs. The aim, in planning the public exhibition areas, is to create spaces which are sufficiently flexible to accommodate a variety of uses and which will respect, rather than detract from, the architectural features of the building. For example, the museum intends to develop and promote an education programme to encourage visitors to use The Folly as a study centre and starting point for increasing their knowledge of the area.

Phased Occupation

When The Folly is handed over to NCBPT by the building contractors in March 2001 it will be as an empty shell. The task of fitting out, furnishing and moving the museum from its current premises in Chapel Street will then be carried out in phases as resources permit. Although the HLF has provided an element of funding for museum exhibitions in its grant, it represents inevitably a percentage only of the total cost. NCBPT thus needs to secure match funding before any new displays can be constructed.

NCBPT places the highest priority on opening The Folly to the public as soon as possible, and it is intended to arrange a series of Open Days at regular intervals throughout 2001 to enable local people to see what progress has been made and to be involved in future plans. The aim is also to open to the general public throughout the summer season. The museum displays for the remainder of 2001 will be steadily developing and will consist of the permanent exhibition on North Craven, adapted and refurbished, together with other material which can be arranged at relatively low cost. This will include an exhibition to celebrate the histories of the Victoria Hall and The Folly, Settle's two major HLF and Yorkshire Forward funded Millennium projects.

Planning for the Future

Having safeguarded the building, NCBPT's next priority is to concentrate on providing for the future maintenance and management of The Folly and the museum. It is estimated that an income of 70,000 per annum will be required to cover overall running cost. Revenue funding is urgently needed and NCBPT is working on a targeted fund-raising programme. The building itself offers opportunities for income generation in the form of a tea-room, shop, hire fees, functions etc. Discussions are under way with NCBPT's companion body, Heritage Trust for the North West, which already has a successful track record in managing other historic buildings enterprises, with a view to drawing up an agreement between the two trusts for the management of The Folly. It is however envisaged that local volunteers will continue to play a crucial role, particularly in the running of the museum. Subject to satisfactory progress with fund raising, NCBPT is aiming for full opening of The Folly in 2002, with a programme of exhibitions and events and extended hours of access. Plans include the acquisition of some appropriate pieces of period furniture, especially for the main hall, the development of a major new exhibition on the buildings and building materials of Settle and North Craven and the organisation of special interest days, to bring together different sections of the community on, for example, family or local history projects.

Securing the future of The Folly will be possible if it is able to become a welcoming and accessible focus for community involvement and pride. This unique and hugely appealing house has survived the vicissitudes of over three hundred years. We owe it to those who follow us to pass it on in good heart and with a fresh purpose. Anne Read


Brayshaw, T. and Robinson, R.M. A History of the Ancient Parish of
Giggleswick 1932.

Harrington, C. Historic buildings: The Folly and others, in An Appreciation of Settle. Settle and District Civic Society, 1973.

North Craven Building Preservation Trust and Niall Phillips Architects Ltd. The Folly, Settle, North Yorkshire: feasibility study and business plan, 1995-96.

Roberts, T. I. Richard Preston and The Folly, Settle. Unpublished typescript, 1995.



Plan of Stephen Park, 1662 and 1672.

O.S. map of 1927 showing Stephen Park, which was originally a hunting lodge. It was built by Stephen Hammerton who thed in 1591, and was confiscated by Henry VIII because the Hammertons took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Replacing the oak beam

The Folly interior