Saturday, February 10, 2001

Who was John "Mad Jack" Fuller?

The eccentric John Mad Jack Fuller, squire of Brightling, is a fascinating topic of research for me. Born in 1757 Fuller was in some ways a typical English squire and Member of Parliament in the Georgian Period. However, his penchant for building follies and his ebullient personality are the stuff of which legends are made. He was a patron of the arts and sciences who made valuable contributions to the community.

In 1777, at the age of 20, Jack Fuller inherited his family's wealth and mansion, Rose Hill at Brightling, East Sussex. He served 4 terms in parliament and was on more than one occasion removed from the House for raucous behaviour. Fuller was a huge man who wore his hair in a pig tail. He never married and had no children.


He is buried in a 25 ft tall pyramid in the churchyard of St. Thomas of Canterbury church, a structure he had built 24 years before he died in 1834. Legend had it that he was interred in full evening dress, sitting upright at a table set with a roast chicken and a bottle of claret. Renovations to the pyramid in the 1980's put this tale to rest.

It is also said that when in London, Fuller bet that he could see the spire of Dallington church from his house. Upon returning home he found that this was not the case and sent a group of men out to erect a conical building designed to resemble the spire. Needless to say, Fuller won the bet and the Sugar Loaf as it has come to be called still stands.

Fuller's Observatory was furnished with state of the art astronomy equipment. It is now a private home. The Observatory, and quite possibly the Greek Rotunda Temple, was designed by noted architect Sir Robert Smirke who also designed the British Museum in London among other important commissions. The Obelisk or Brightling Needle, another of Fuller's legacies, is 65 ft high and is most likely a monument to celebrate Wellington's victory over Napoleon in 1815.


Among Fuller's lasting contributions to the community are: the Belle Tout lighthouse at Beachy Head and the barrel organ at Brightling church which is now the largest of its kind in full operation in Britain today. He is also credited with saving Bodiam castle from demolition as he purchased it from a firm of builders and had it restored. The Tower, another odd structure, is said to have been built by Fuller so that he could keep an eye on the progress of workmen at Bodiam. Fuller was a founding member of the Royal Institution and created two professorships which have endured into the 21st Century.

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