Saturday, March 07, 2015

The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome

by Gordon Campbell, Oxford University Press, 2013

"In 1777 John Fuller, who is popularly but inaccurately known as Mad Jack Fuller (he seems to have been wholly sane), inherited from his uncle the family estate of Rose Hill, in Brightling (Sussex).  After a tumultuous political career, in the course of which he defended he living conditions of plantation slaves (he owned a plantation in Jamaica) and was ejected from the House of Commons for drunkenness, Fuller left parliament at the dissolution of 1812 and settled at Rose Hill, where he had already embarked on the construction of a memorable set of follies. He began with a Coadestone (i.e. ceramic) summer house with a ‘Tudor’ arch (restored in 1992) and went on to commission his own mausoleum (an 8-metre high pyramid in Brightling churchyard), a rotunda garden temple, an obelisk known as the Needle, a hermit’s tower and a building known as the Sugar Loaf (an 11-metre cone which alludes to his sugar plantation).
The 8-metre hermit’s tower was built with a view to accommodating an ornamental hermit, and Fuller is said to have advertised for a hermit with the usual conditions of service.  Here, for example is the account in Follies: A National Trust Guide:

                "The requirements were a little excessive: no shaving, no washing, no
                cutting of hair and nails, no conversation with any outsider for a period
                of seven years, after which the happy hermit would be made a Gentleman.
                No takers.”

I have not been able to trace the advertisement.  The reason for this failure, I think, is that there was no advertisement.  Fuller’s follies are enigmatic, and myths have emerged from the fog of uncertainty.  Fuller is said, for example, to be interred in his pyramid sitting at a table dressed for dinner, with a bottle of claret awaiting consumption.  In the same way, the tower, which may have been a viewing platform for Bodiam Castle (which Fuller owned and restored), is now known as the hermit’s tower.  It has been expertly restored by the British Gypsum Company, and tourists can climb to the top to enjoy the view, but Fuller’s intention to accommodate a hermit in the building is a harmless fantasy devised long after his death."

[No page numbers give in ebook version]

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