The Follies at Barwick Park in Somerset
BARWICK PARK is a landscape park located near the city of Yeovil in South Somerset. The enormous estate was once the property of Syon Abbey, but then passed through various owners after Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1530s. Documentation during these centuries are sketchy, including the acquisition around 1770 by Quaker and landowner John Newman.
Details are unclear, but it appears that Newman and his wife Grace were relations to the owner of the neighboring Newton Surmaville estate, and somehow came to own Barwick Park. As with the property ownership trail, scant is known about the Newmans. In fact, they became a mystery for Art Historian Adam Busiakiewicz when a client asked him to research the identities of the man and woman seen in the portraits below. Purchased from an American auction house in 2017, the “enigmatic sitters” were eventually identified as John and Grace Newman, in large part due to the painted follies seen behind each of them. Read Mr. Busiakiewicz’s account HERE.
John and Grace Newman, by Thomas Beach (1738-1806), oil on canvas bearing date 1768.
Courtesy of Adam Busiakiewicz
The Newmans remain a mystery to this day, insofar as apparently being of so little notoriety that nothing significant is written about them! John Newman was a lawyer, that much is known, and he married Grace Hoskins in 1767. Shortly after their marriage, they settled at Barwick and built a late-18th century style mansion they named Barwick House set amid vast pleasure grounds containing a lake and grotto, a Gothic lodge, and four unique follies. According to one genealogy reference, they did have a son, also named John, who became a lawyer and magistrate, and did marry, but the trail ends there. Again entering murky territory, in the early 19th-century, the estate passed to Thomas Messiter, a barrister, who was the nephew of the first John Newman. No idea why or how he inherited, but in any case, in 1830 Messiter had Barwick House remodeled in a Jacobean Revival style, so aside from very vague references, what the original manor house looked like is largely unknown.
Thankfully, Messiter and subsequent owners did not change the follies or pleasure park. Proper maintenance was sorely lacking, however, but fortunately the private owner of the estate since 1990 has seen to substantial repairs of the house and landscape structures.
As to the follies, I found nothing on the “Gothic lodge” so am unsure if it still exists. The grotto does, although once again I found very little data. It is listed as a Grade II National Heritage Listed Building, with the description quoted below. Click the link for a picture of the entrance, which is copyrighted so I could not share here.
The Grotto Southwest of Barwick House, on Historic England—
Circa 1770; built for John and Grace Newman of Barwick House, Barwick Park. Rustic stone rubble. A subterranean grotto at the western end of the lake at Barwick Park. Comprises three chambers, including a small domed entrance chamber to the north, a small barrel-vaulted side chamber to the west of the entrance chamber containing a pool and to the south the large circular domed principal chamber contains a central pool with a path around it; there are three pairs of niches in the walls of the main chamber, from two of the niches issue springs and at the top of the dome there is an occulus. The niches and the entrance and connecting arches are semi-circular and rustic in form and the interior is of exposed rock rubble. The grotto was approached by a `rocky ravine` [Jones, B.] over which there was a rustic arch… SOURCES: Jones, B., Follies and Grottoes, pp 227-30. RCHME report, 13/12/1996. Buildings of England, page 85.
The four significant follies of Barwick Park are located at the cardinal points of the estate, marking the boundary in all directions.
Jack the Treacle Eater
“Jack the Treacle Eater” is a bizarre folly marking the eastern cardinal point. It is constructed of rough stone rubble and ashlar in an arch supporting a tower with a spire roof and topped by a statue of Hermes, the Greek messenger. See the blog’s Featured Image for a closeup. It dates to about 1775, after John Newman had built the house in 1770.
The name derives from a local boy named Jack, who was a messenger running back and forth to London, with just a pot of treacle for sustenance. Legend has it that at midnight he climbs down from the tower and goes to the lake, where he quenches his great treacle-induced thirst.
The Fish Tower
The Fish Tower is the north boundary marker to the Barwick Park estate in Somerset and was probably erected for John Newman ca.1775. The hollow tower is about 50 feet high, constructed of local stone rubble with Ham stone ashlar at the top, and was originally surmounted by a weather vane in an iron cage. The arched opening is on the north side and there are open slits on the south side.
The Rose Tower
Also called Messiter’s Cone or simply the Cone, this folly marks the western boundary of Barwick Park estate in Somerset and is adjacent to the Yeovil Showground. Built ca.1775 by John Newman, it is a 75 feet tall hollow and tapered cone on a cylindrical base, which is dissected by three arches. The cone has seven levels of pigeon holes in it and is crowned by a ball finial. Considered the most spectacular of the four follies at Barwick Park.
The 40 feet high Needle Obelisk at Barwick Park in Somerset is slender and sharply pointed, constructed of roughly cut local stone, and stands on a square base. It is the south boundary marker of Barwick Park, one of four follies marking the park boundaries at the four cardinal points. There are no inscription to clarify, but it was probably erected by John Newman in about 1775. The Needle is completely surrounded by trees and there is no road or trail access, making photos very difficult to obtain.
To learn more about what constitutes a Georgian garden folly, pop over to my blog Folly: A Unique Architectural Construction and for a brief general overview, read my blog What is a Georgian Garden? Periodically, I have, and will continue, to post blogs about landscaping and gardens. All of these topical blogs, as well as all the blogs I’ve written, are listed and linked on the Pemberley Library page.