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The Folly House

 ‘The Folly’ is the official name given to a group of picturesque cottages behind Chewton House and it is generally assumed that the buildings seen today are the source of the name.  Some sources state that Collinson’s history of Somerset  confirms this the but no reference to a ‘Folly’ in either the published history or the survey notes compiled  by Edmund Rack. The first references so far discovered for a ‘Folly’ in Chewton Mendip come from the poor law records. A Record dated c1767 “”…Pd Jas Dowling for carrying of ye bed & bedstead to the folly for Sus Jones…”. This confirms that the Folly’ was a form or poor house. because both people feature as frequent recipients of poor relief. The next record from c1768 confirms that the ‘Folly’ was not an alternative name for the Church House  because rent was paid for both properties which may help to identify when it was built because no earlier references have yet been found. The rent paid may hint at the size. The parish paid 10d (approximately 4p) rent for the Church House but only 8d for the Folly. It is possible that the Folly was previously known as the Court House but that was a relativly large building.

 The alternative name for the group of cottages is ‘the estate’  which supports the theory that they were built by the  Earl Waldegrave for his workers but the dates on the stone tablets in the walls of the cottages is after the earliest records of a ‘folly’ in Chewton Mendip to prove that the cottages standing are not the original Folly. All the known factors confirm this provenance and  offer an explanation for the origin of the name ‘the folly’ which is that it was a folly to have built such fine houses for workers. Closer examination of the cottages remaining do not support this theory, the buildings are of a similar quality to other contemporary cottages. The other theory does not ‘hold water’, or does depending on how you interpret the aphorism. It has been suggested that the name folly is derived from it being a folly to build houses where there was no water supply but again that applies to many properties in the village.
Subseqquent  poor law records provides more information about what the structure may have looked like. A record dated 1768 simply states “…the Overseers do put the Church house in report such as Thatching and other necessaries, likewise the folly such as appears necessary…” The records are incomplete but there were records of the Court House being repaired in the 1750 as recorded in the poor book  of 1730-1769 which are consistent with the Folly being the same building under a different name..
 The second reference is from 1770. “…that the Folly be put in such further repair as appears necessary to William Hippisley and John York…”
The Hippisley’s were major landowners in Chewton Mendip as well as Ston Easton and Emborough and frequently performed significant roles in Chewton Mendip but the reference is John York(e) is of greater interest. Some members of the Yorke family were very wealthy in the 17th and early 18th centuries but at least one members suffered bankruptcy in th middle of the 18th century. It is possible that the name ‘folly’ refers to an error by the York family.
 The York link also suggests that the Court House was used as a girls school. The last record from 1778 confirms that whatever the Folly House was, it was not the Church House but it was of a similar construction to the Church House and the Court House. “…the Folly House be thatched as much as appears necessary and Church House…”.
No further records of the fooly have yet been found so it is assumed it was demolished sometime before 1785 when the existing cottages were built.
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