It had been raining heavily and the approach to the hill top through the the herd of rather glamorous limousin cows was potentially dodgy. But the landrover coped well on the red Devon clays and we arrived without too much difficulty.
The north-east side of the upper folly showing the rubble stone between dressed quoins with traces of white render on. Bottom right the north annex joins the north side of the quoin. A displaced brick on the surface on its left side.
Unloading the tools beside the cedar tree, I climbed the last 2m to the top of the mound and looked out. Although of burial mound size, yesterday’s work had demonstrated that the whole thing was built of stone and brick shrouded by the bramble and turf of long abandonment.
Sited on top of an isolated domed hill, there were clear views across the Devon countryside in all directions. Though it is not visible from Killerton House to the east, it is visible from the abandoned 1770s James Wyatt house to the north-east. However, our folly site was chosen and built long before that. It must relate to the old Acland family home at Columbjohn which once stood beside the river to the west. Only a stone gateway and a chapel mark the manor house site today.
We started out by thinking that the folly was built in the later 18th century but yesterday’s finds show that it is older than that. A fancy building too. We found carved stone, westcountry roof slates and also glazed ridge tiles with an apple-green glaze.
The glazed ridge tile fragments. Top right a smal fragment of glazed floor? tile. For scale 10p coin is 2.5 cm across and below and right of it an iron nail. To left of it a fragment of westcountry roof slate.
In the morning Katie and I defined the hexagon, part of the south side had been lost but the rest was clear. Good ashlar quoin stones but between, faced rubble stone which had become cracked and broken with frost. There were the remains of thick white render attached to some of the stones and scattered in the soil.. where it had fallen at the foot of the building. An old 18th century painting shows the tower standing out white in the landscape.
Claire arrived on her quad bike and began to examine the heap of rubble against a brick wall at the base of the mound. We wondered whether this might mark the position of the original flight of steps to the top of the mound.
The ranging pole (0.5m divisions) marks the position of our supposed flight of steps to the top of the mound. A level course of brick at the centre of the wall. Bottom left are the fragments of stone window mullions.
Sure enough, once the turf had been peeled back, there was a level line of bricks 1.5m wide constructed in the central section of the top course of the wall… suggesting that the access was from there.. though no stone treads..just a bent nail..perhaps the steps were wooden and had rotted away.
Claire found large chunks from a ovolo moulded window mullion here. They look 17th century.
In the afternoon, Michael and Katie cut back the turf along sections of the lower edge of the bottom edge of the mound. The brick walls continued, a series of straight walls sections, it seems, encircled the folly. We were now looking at two concentric hexagons, the lower, sides 7.8m long, largely of brick, and the upper, with sides 3.1m long, of stone.
Two sides of the lower folly hexagon after cutting back the turf around the edge of the mound.
At the end of the day, Fi went back to where she had found the glazed ridge tile fragments and this time discovered a small fragment of tile with a thin mottled yellow and black glaze. Perhaps evidence that the floor of the folly was decorated with glazed floor tiles?
It was the end of the afternoon. Some suggestions.. not many are conclusive.. the usual archaeological compromises..run the ideas up the flag staff to let them be shot at… to create a better truth.
Eyre’s Folly or the Pepperbox on Bricksworth Down near Salisbury, Wiltshire
So what can be said…How old is it? The ridge tile is like stuff we found at Corfe Castle below the rubble so just before the Civil War demolition of 1646. The stone discoveries with stepped concave and convex architrave mouldings alongside the chunky ovolo window mullion fragments also suggest a 17th century date. The bricks are hand made and small compared to those at the 1776 house but not thin as you might find in 16th and early 17th century buildings. The lower hexagon is of flemish bond which became popular after about 1680.
Looking for comparisons…. Nothing quite like Killerton’s concentric hexagons found yet but the National Trust’s Pepperbox Hill has a hexagonal brick folly on a hill top. Built in 1606 for the owner Giles Eyre to be seen from Brickworth House near Salisbury. Then there’s the octagonal brick bowling green summer house on Dunster Tor. This was built for Dorothy Luttrell in the 1720s. I found a fragment of green glazed ridge tile in its foundation trench a few years ago. This is also of flemish bond.
Our best illustration of Killerton Folly includes in a later 18th century painting of the Killerton Estate.
Based on all this, Killerton is perhaps about 1675-1725. Bright white with a slate roof, the glazed ridges running up to a round finial on the top as shown in the 18th century painting. Perhaps steps from the south and the small annex breaking out from the higher hexagon on the north.. this might be a stair turret to the upper stories. A place for the Acland family and their guests to look up to from the house or to ride up to and visit.. to survey the landscape.
One other thing…an 18th century document mentions the Folly Garden. The LiDAR plot shows the mound at the centre of a rectangular cultivated enclosure with earthwork features… perhaps we have just scratched the surface of a wider garden landscape….we must delve deeper into the Acland papers held at the Devon Record Office to find out.