The north range of Settle's Folly is a private house and we were lucky enough to buy it in early 2002. It had been for sale for some time and, whilst it had attracted many viewings, there had been few offers. The planning restrictions that accompany the Grade 1 listing may have intimidated many would-be buyers. The damp, indeed wet condition of the ground floor had probably deterred most of the rest. Another slight deterrent was that there was no interconnection between the ground floor and those above. An architect friend who specialises in historic buildings did a survey.
The building proved to be remarkably sound. It had been re-roofed some decades ago so was watertight - from above at least. Damp is an inadequate word for parts of the ground floor. It smelt musty, much of the plaster was wet and skirting boards were rotten. The ground floor had been a furniture showroom and the doctors' surgery as well as having had several other non-residential uses, including a fish and chip shop in 1895. A worse fire risk is hard to imagine (the building caught fire in 1900). The Folly would be one building in an ideal world. It had been divided into two in the early 1990's when it had proved un-saleable as one. The very one-ness of its spectacular and unaltered fašade is its appeal, and the main reason for its exceptional Listing.
Before any thought could be given to possible uses for the ground floor the dampness problem had to be solved. We first checked that there was no leakage from the mains water supply, then we turned our attention to the dry 'moat' or walkway at the rear which was very wet. Soil had accumulated to a depth of around 50 cm. This was fully excavated and a plastic membrane installed, topped with concrete and a gully was laid, which drains into the main drains. During heavy rainfall this gully carries a large volume of water that would otherwise have gone into the foundations of the building. During the excavation of the dry 'moat', many pottery shards, musket balls and animal bones were found, indicating that the soil and debris had accumulated over many years. The problem with dampness is now cured but much ancient plaster inside the building was ruined so had to be removed. Its removal did expose, for the first time in centuries, vital clues to The Folly's history.
After several months of reflection on what to do with the now dry ground floor it was decided that it would best serve our situation by being brought into residential use, to be incorporated into the rest of our home. This would involve installing heating and a staircase and would mean applying for Listed Building Consent. Our plans involved installing several partition walls to create a bedroom and bathroom, the construction of a staircase and associated fire doors, and opening up a blocked up external doorway at the rear. We had joined the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) who gave sound advice, as did our neighbours who had already tackled some of the problems we were facing. The officials at English Heritage and at Craven District Council's planning department were very helpful as was also the Building Inspector. Settle Town Council were concerned about our plans, according to the Craven Herald. This was most discouraging, as a great deal of trouble had been taken to ensure that our ideas were in sympathy with the building we were seeking to use yet protect. Listed Building Consent was finally obtained - from the Deputy Prime Minister no less.
To cut a long story short the next 18 months were spent making the ground floor habitable. The installation of a new staircase in effect created a new fire chimney so there were knock-on consequences for the floors above and for the fire alarm system. Doors on two floors above had to be replaced with fire doors. We were insistent that nothing would be done which would damage the ancient fabric of the building. Holes for pipework, wiring and fixings would all occupy recent or modern parts of the structure. Wherever possible we would conserve and preserve. Only where earlier work had been bodged or was in need of repair would we interfere with what was already there. Of necessity the work involved removing damaged plaster and rotten wood, wallpaper and other modern remnants of recent uses. The wooden floor had had foam-backed carpet firmly glued to it. Modern gas central heating was installed using a condensing boiler located in the garage. The contractors (Hobson's of Crosshills) were able to install it without causing any damage whatever to the ancient fabric. Similarly the staircase (by Timberworks of Settle) went in with the very minimum of disruption though an access hole inevitably had to be made between the floors.
We were particularly fortunate to have on hand James Innerdale (SPAB). He was able to advise on techniques that enabled us to achieve some spectacular results, especially with damaged stonework. Both main fireplaces had been damaged and poorly repaired with cement. As the chance of matching the stone with newly cut pieces was almost nil his advice was to remove the cement and make good the damage with modern basecoat plaster. Besides being cheaper he declared that the result would be a better match. The basecoat plaster is applied slightly proud of the finished profile, then in a day or two it is carefully pared down to an exact shape. The process is additive and the original damage remains below the plaster, if anybody subsequently needs to inspect it and make interpretations. He was also able to provide reassurance on which pieces of original plaster were beyond saving and which should be retained. We were particularly careful to retain most of the plaster lining to the massive (13 m internal height) main chimney flue. Climbing the inside of the flue required a triple extending ladder at a very steep angle and some nerve. The reward was near the top where we discovered a crudely made opening of sufficient size for a man to hide, whose purpose we continue to speculate on.
The now restored ground floor consists of an entrance lobby, main hall, bedroom, bathroom and under-tower area.
The Entrance Lobby Removal of damaged plaster exposed the inner aspect of a small blocked-off window, together with a yellow ochre finish on the window reveal. Just two coats of lime-wash around the window suggests that it was first blocked off, along with other windows in The Folly, on or soon after the introduction of the window tax in 1697.
Around the internal archway neatly dressed stones each bear the letter K (see photograph). Nowhere else in The Folly do mason's marks like this appear. The K may relate to a family named Kidd, who were masons in the mid to late 1600s (see will of Thomas Kidd, 1679). When we moved in, the inner doorway was fitted with a modern arched door which, with its window, had been the showroom door in recent times. What proved to be a splendid and original pine and oak door now serves the lobby; it was lying under rubbish at the rear of the house. Dip stripping and waxing brought the door back to life and the hand-made hinges fitted the hinge pins precisely. It now hangs back in its intended doorway.
The Main Hall This room extended right to the back wall of the house. The most obvious feature is the huge inglenook fireplace (see photograph). Each stone of the arch is numbered on the reverse. Unlike the similarly proportioned fireplace in the museum next door, the stones (or voussoirs) are not joggled, that is they do not interlock. This simpler design may indicate a slightly earlier building date than the fireplace next door or maybe it was simply the work of a different stonemason. The chimney flue contains several features. Towards the top of the flue, on the inner face, is a crudely made opening measuring about 1.2 m square. Square holes in the opposite wall could be bressumer beam sockets from an earlier building. Lower down, on the right hand side a separate flue enters. This points towards a hearth outside, possibly from a forge, brew house or something similar. Behind the present rear wall of the fireplace is another, soot-blackened wall. The present rear wall was certainly there in 1895 when a photograph of the Hearsum family's fish and chip range shows the exhaust flue passing through the back wall. The stones which made good the hole can still be seen. Behind a now walled-up doorway within the fireplace is a plastered (and smoke stained) recess. The chimney has been accurately surveyed by pot-holer and mining engineer Mark Simpson.
The ceiling beams have been supported by recycled oak uprights. The span is 6.3 m, far too long for safety. There had been a wall down the middle of the room, signs of which can be seen on the ceiling and floor. A photograph taken around 1970 shows the wall in place. The oak uprights go through the floor and are set in concrete. They were first fixed to the beams above and then jacked up with Acro props. The then dangling uprights had large polythene bags put round their bases which were filled with concrete and allowed to set before the jacks were released. The uprights are therefore under compression.
Two carved stone corbels above the front windows were covered in many layers of paint, removed quickly with a compressed air needle descaler. The front windows are of extravagant proportions and admit a remarkable amount of light. They also let out a remarkable amount of heat; the old glass is between 1 mm and 1.2 mm thick.
The floor is for the most part modern. However, towards the left end of the front windows is just a square meter of 25 cm wide pitch pine boarding of older date. (Upstairs the flooring is 30 cm wide oak planks.) There is good reason to suppose that the floor level has been raised at some time, perhaps in an effort to control the damp. There is rumoured to be a cellar under The Folly. Builder Richard Preston's inventory lists 'ye contents of ye cellar'. No obvious cellar now exists and the space below the floorboards is only about 50 cm deep, with compacted earth below. It was once the fashion to infill cellars so if there were a cellar here, the lie of the land would put it beneath this north end. Alternatively the space under the stairs, still accessible, may have been the cellar.
Towards the rear of the main hall is an exposed wall corner with large quoins. When the stones were exposed it became clear that the vertical edges of the lower courses were much more worn than those above. An obvious conclusion to draw is that the lower stones have become worn by the passage of traffic. This wall corner, nowadays in the middle of the building, is thought to be the outside corner of an earlier building that had stood on the site for many years before the main body of The Folly was built. This corner wall encloses a stack of three floors with ceilings just 2.1 m high, as opposed to 2.7 m high ceilings throughout the rest of The Folly. One theory is that this part of the building was part of a town wall that, with Castlebergh, provided a fortification. The road immediately in front of The Folly, and whatever preceded it, was once the main trunk road from the Lake District to Yorkshire. Perhaps this accounts for the wear to the lower quoins. A low stone doorway in this apparently older wall has the style and proportions of an outside door rather than an internal one. So, there is a doorway to the exterior right in the middle of today's Folly.
The Bedroom This room was probably The Folly's main kitchen. The fireplace here has been much modified over the years, firstly to accommodate fire irons and appliances, and later a cast iron stove or kitchen range. Its flue is wide and goes straight up to the chimney pots without any bend. It was in the back wall of this room that we reinstated the back door, made by Alec Faraday of Timberworks, Settle, with hinges made by David and Rachel Clements, blacksmiths. The doorway had been blocked up during the early to mid 20th century. Rubble infill contained shards of a beer bottle and a carriage label relating to Grisedale's furnishers.
The fireplace wall was plastered but the plaster was in a poor state so had to be removed. This exposed dressed stonework by the back door yet the dressing does not go all the way up to the ceiling. This may indicate that it belonged to an earlier building which was adapted when the main Folly was built.
To the right of the kitchen fireplace a wall hanging covered some exciting discoveries. When the damp plaster was removed it was clear that the section of wall had secrets to yield. Removal of the stonework of the upper section revealed a large, partly rubble-filled, cavity. Work was stopped immediately; local historians Philip and Rita Hudson were called in and English Heritage were informed. The cavity was excavated by the Hudsons and revealed the remains of a beehive bread oven. Only the bottom course of the brick lining now exists. Above the oven an entirely separate flue rises to the roof.
Below the bread oven was an ash pit which had been walled up and was rubble filled; at the bottom is what appears to be a stone floor, considerably below the present floor level. As the rubble was being excavated, the remains of two leather shoes, two silver thimbles and a spool of cotton thread were discovered. The shoes were photographed in situ and taken to shoemaker Daniel Nelson on Duke Street. Daniel makes shoes for historical re-enactment groups and is an expert on period footwear. He was able to reassemble the remains and found that they were a shoe and a boot, much repaired, and dating from between 1750 and 1800. The major parts of the shoes, together with modern replicas, are now displayed in the museum next door. There is a slight inward curve of the stone wall in the bedroom, between the bedroom door and the bread oven wall. That is the only hint that remains on this side of the wall of a stone staircase that wound its way to the top of the house. Further evidence of the stairway can be seen in the bathroom. It is thought that the stone stairway once occupied the space where the old bread oven was located so the stairway remains provide further evidence that the bathroom area and the floors above it pre-date the rest of The Folly.
The doorway from the bedroom to the bathroom corridor is crudely cut and has no carved stonework. It may date from 1970 when for a short time The Folly served as Barclays Bank. Through this doorway the lower ceiling height indicates an older part of the house. There are two floors above this one, each with low ceilings.
The Ground Floor Bathroom This pre-1670's area is thought to have become the dairy when The Folly was created. It is below the present-day ground level and would have been a cool place. The reverse of the treads of the former staircase can be seen in this room. Dairies were exempt from window tax, provided they were so labelled on the outside.
Acknowledgements Alison Armstrong and Arnold Pacey of the Yorkshire Vernacular Buildings Study Group; Roger Dyson, the Folly Museum Trust's buildings advisor; Phil and Rita Hudson; James Innerdale, SPAB's northern officer; Anne Read, the honorary curator of the museum; Mark Simpson.
Main fireplace © M.Rand
K mark, digitally enhanced © M.Rand