Bettison’s Folly, Hornsea, with Dr Emma Wells

in Hornsea

This curious construction stretching 55-feet into the sky shimmers in all weathers, a product of its “treacle” bricks (over-baked rejects from the kiln) which reflect when the sunlight catches just right. More curious still, light penetrates through the perplexing windows made of beer bottles (presumably, leftovers from its original owner’s company). The structure is in fact a Victorian folly perched yet partly hidden from view within the town of Hornsea in the former East Riding. Known as Bettison’s Folly, it is also colloquially dubbed Bettison’s Tower or even the forgotten folly.

Bettison’s Tower or Folly, a Victorian brick built tower in Hornsea, East Yorkshire

William Bettison was a Hull-based brewer and newspaper proprietor, who insisted in c.1844 that such an erection was required for the extensive pleasure grounds of his country retreat on Newbegin, not just as an architectural nod to the past. Far from imitating Rapunzel, this owner had an intended use for the folly that was far more prosaic. The tower was said to have been built simply to ensure that the businessman received his “tea” on time. Allegedly, his manservant would clamber up the structure to look out for his master returning home in his carriage along Southorpe Hill, before swiftly descending back down to commence preparations for supper.

And that wasn’t the only element used to communicate: the cranked-up flagpole was also used to convey private messages, and, during World War II, when Hull became the second most heavily bombed city after London, the tower became an air-raid lookout point with a siren.

Unfortunately, this folly flâneuse is now hemmed in by a modern residential estate, so its landmark status is pretty much well and truly lost—but, whether to ensure he ate on time or simply built as a fad to admire his surrounding scenery, Bettison’s Folly remains a quirky beacon to an even quirkier Yorkshireman.

Books by Dr Emma Wells

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