The spirit of harmless eccentricity

Chatsworth: the Moorish Summerhouse

When I was at university in the late 1960s, the first social landmark of the academic year was the Fresher’s Bazaar – a recruitment fair in which new students could enrol in societies and clubs as diversions from their studies.

Here was a panorama of extra-curricular talent – sports societies (naturally), various cultural groups (predictably), religious, political and hobby groups. 

The University newspaper, Torchlight, recruited reporters (one of whom would have been Chris Mullin, who rose to be its editor and later became an MP). 

There was a Winnie-the-Pooh Society which, I was later informed, under the pretence of activities with Pooh-sticks planned to overthrow the government. 

Best of all was the Apathy Society which left a single sheet of paper on a bare trestle table where innocents could disqualify themselves from membership by summoning the energy to sign their name.  The Apathy Soc were notorious for never clearing their pigeon-hole.

On this analogy, you might think a society called the Folly Fellowship would be the destination of fools, but it’s quite the opposite.

Its members are knowledgeable, enjoyable individuals who take an interest in a cornucopia of architectural genres:  What is a folly? – The Folly Fellowship (

I came across them when Jonathan Holt bought a back copy of my handbook for a 2009 Derbyshire-based tour, Taking the Waters:  the story of spas and hydros.

He made admirable use of it to include out-of-the-way wells and spas that are largely unknown, such as the Royal Well at Matlock Bath, Quarndon Spa and the Stoney Middleton Bath Houses in his article in the Foundation’s magazine Follies, No 118 (Summer 2024), pp 10-14.

He also gave me a generous shout-out at the end of his article and invited me to join the group on their Derbyshire tour.

Because I already had a commitment on the Saturday I arranged to meet the Folly Fellowship members at Chatsworth on Sunday lunchtime for a tour of the house and the freedom of the gardens. 

Chatsworth is full of garden features and buildings without a purpose other than to entertain guests, from the Tudor Queen Mary’s Bower to the grand Victorian engineering of the Emperor Fountain, the ingenious Willow Tree Fountain to Dame Elisabeth Frink’s War Horse.

I chose to go looking for the one item on Jonathan’s list that I couldn’t identify, the Moorish Summerhouse.  It’s not marked on any of the maps, and I had to ask a garden guide at the ticket-kiosk how to find it.

Six of us tramped up the slope, past the Case and the Kitchen Garden, and up a serpentine path until we came upon it.

The Moorish Summerhouse, otherwise called the Saracen’s Shelter, is a fine structure, sited on a level with Thomas Archer’s Cascade House, exquisitely designed in Moorish style.  It seats six and would make an impressive bus shelter.

We chatted idly and then people wandered off to look at other things.  There are far worse ways of spending a Sunday afternoon.

I can find nothing about the Summerhouse online or in Pevsner, but that doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the spirit of harmless eccentricity that it embodies.

There’s an invitation to join the Folly Fellowship at The Folly Fellowship (

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