I’ve always admired the way Victorians would build a Folly on their land, which had no other purpose than to look good and be admired. One such Victorian was Alexander Brogden, the owner of Holme Island in Grange who, when he had finished building the Furness railway, built a circular Temple of Vesta in his garden. I came across a photo of the temple while I was doing some research on Grange in the Barrow Records Office and was immediately captivated by it. You get a good view of Holme Island from the Prospect Tower in my garden, and you can see that unfortunately it’s now a ruin. It’s also completely inaccessible on private land.
When I first saw the photo of the temple I thought how wonderful it would be to create something as beautiful. The idea stayed with me, and when I had the chance to buy the land behind the Newby Bridge Hotel, I thought that would be an ideal spot for it. The land, which had at one time been part of the ornamental gardens for Newby Bridge Mansion (as the hotel was formerly), had become completely overgrown, but it was in a commanding position overlooking both the lake and the hotel.
I was told that there was no possible chance of the National Park planners giving me permission to build a modern folly, but, with the thought that the Victorians wouldn’t have been daunted by such a detail, I drew up some plans and put them in. The doubters were wrong and the plans were passed, albeit with the unnecessarily sarcastic comment that it was “more Las Vegas than Lake District”.
It has taken several years, but the building is now finished. I think it’s rather lovely. I’ve called it The Rotunda. It isn’t a folly as such but has a practical, and of course commercial, purpose as a wedding chapel. A licence has been granted for couples to get married in the chapel, but they can also spend their wedding night there, as it can be magically transformed into a bridal suite. There’s a hidden bed, which comes down from a wall; a secret door to a concealed bathroom and a TV which drops down from the ceiling. You can lie on the bed and look at the stars through the glass domed roof. Perhaps the planners did have a point after all when they mentioned Las Vegas.