Below is a summary of each display panel from the Permanent Exhibition. You can view a higher resolution copy of the panel in image (JPG) format or PDF format by clicking on the thumbnail image of the board, or the PDF link at the foot of each section of text. All five boards are also availabe in one PDF.
An Enigmatic Story
Much of The Folly's history is shrouded in uncertainty, although current research is uncovering important new evidence concerning the house and its builder
What is known for certain is that The Folly was built in the late 1670s by Richard Preston, a wealthy Settle lawyer. It stands by the old main road into the town from the south, and was obviously intended to make an impact. When built, it would have had an open aspect over the Ribble valley and have easily been the largest building in Settle. Preston died in 1695 and the house passed in 1702 to his elder daughter Margaret, who quickly sold it to another wealthy local gentleman, William Dawson of Langcliffe, in whose family's hands it remained until 1980.
From around 1708, the Dawsons leased The Folly to a succession of tenants and its uses included a farmhouse, bakery, warehouse, furniture shop, refreshment rooms, fish-and-chip shop, bank and salvage business. Nineteenth-century Census records show that The Folly was generally occupied by two or three different families and their lodgers. In 1871 there were 21 people living in the house.
Philip Dawson was the last member of the family to own The Folly. Having restored and lived in it for ten years, he sold it in 1980 to an antiques dealer who sold it several years later to a developer whose plans were never realised. In 1990 The Folly was yet again put on the market, but failed to find a buyer.
In 1994, the house was divided into two and the north range sold for retail and residential use.The remainder stood empty and began to deteriorate until North Craven Building Preservation Trust purchased it in 1996 with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. In 2010 the Trust was able to acquire the north range, thus reuniting the house once more into a single ownership.
Why 'The Folly'? There is no certain answer to this question. A popular story relates that Richard Preston bankrupted himself in the course of building the house and never completed it. There is no evidence for this and Preston's probate inventory shows that he died a wealthy man. A more likely explanation is that it acquired the name because after 1708 or so, it was never used for the purpose for which it was built: an imposing gentlemen's house.
'Capricious and Wilful'
Words used by Nikolaus Pevsner to describe The Folly sum up a building which strongly reflects the inclinations of Richard Preston, its builder and challenges any easy explanation.
Architecturally, The Folly is something of an enigma, combining features which were the height of fashion in the 1670s - the alternating long and short cornerstones on the front exterior - with those of a century earlier - the ground floor windows with their semi-circular heads. These windows are also remarkable for the way in which they wrap around the corners of the house to form a near-continuous wall of glass. Light was obviously of great importance to Richard Preston.
The plan of the house is conservative. The central hall range, containing the most important rooms, is slightly set back from the north and south ranges. The north range, with its separate entrance was the service wing containing dining parlour, kitchen and storerooms. The principal room in the south range is also named 'parlor' in Preston's probate inventory. The prominence of the staircase and the existence of additional fireplaces indicates that there were also important rooms on the first floor. The unheated top floor would possibly have been used for storage. A notable feature is the stair tower with a prospect room at the top, now accessible only through a small ceiling hatch.
The front exterior makes an immediate impact. Of special interest are the arched windows at first floor level and the three squareheaded niches set below the top floor windows, possibly intended for sculpture. The main entrance has a highly unusual and elaborate doorcase, flanked by fluted columns. Above the door is a much-weathered datestone, incorporating the initials of Richard and Lettice Preston and the date 1679. The back of the house is much plainer and some of the masonry at the north end appears older than the rest, suggesting an earlier building on the site.
Main features of the interior of the house include the principal inglenook fireplace with its arch of 'joggled voussoirs' or keystones which still bear the original numbering on their inner faces. There is a second inglenook fireplace in the north range. Masons' marks in the form of the letters 'K' and a reversed 'F' appear inside both entrance lobbies. The oak panelling and doors are probably original and survivors of more extensive panelling destroyed by fire in 1900. The 'dog-leg' staircase is made of oak, with beautifully twisted balusters, a moulded handrail and ball finials.
Rescue and Restoration
The North Craven Building Preservation Trust purchased the hall and south ranges of The Folly in 1996, aided by a loan from the Architectural Heritage Fund and grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Yorkshire Forward. The aim was to restore the building and open it to the public as a historic house and the new home for the Museum of North Craven Life.
Next began the complex and time-consuming task of raising match funding from a wide range of sources, to enable restoration and conversion to begin. By early 2000 sufficient grant-aid had been secured to allow building work to commence in June of that year.
From then until March 2001, substantial repairs were carried out to the fabric and structure of the building, including the strengthening of beams and the laying of new oak floors. Unsightly modern partitions were removed and new services were provided. Original blue slate flags were uncovered on the ground floor, enabling earlier levels to be restored and improving wheelchair access.
The building welcomed its first visitors in July 2001 and in December of that year, the first phase of The Folly Project was opened by HRH The Prince of Wales.
Although the north range does not require such major restoration, ongoing repair and maintenance is a fact of life for a building of this age and the Trust also needs to carry out work to enable the two parts of the house to be properly integrated and made suitable for public access and enjoyment.
In order to increase our knowledge of the history of The Folly and of its builder, Richard Preston, much more research needs to be done. Current lines of enquiry include:
Looking to the Future
Further substantial funds have still to be raised to secure the future of this Grade I listed building and enable the North Craven Building Preservation Trust to: