Every day is a school day

Every day is a school day,  and the Gothic Folly is definitely throwing up some unusual terms and features.  Paul Coleman, Project Manager and Building Surveyor continues…..

Crenels, crenulation, merlons, machicolation, battlements, embrasures, coping and cap stones are all part of what made the ruin at Wimpole such a striking feature in the landscape giving it that sham castle appearance.  So what are these and why are they here?

When Sanderson Miller designed the Folly (1749-51) and when it was built in 1772, the intension was for it to have a romantic, castle-like appearance with mock fortifications; places from which to view the approaching enemy and defend your property. So we see a familiar castle design with stepped stone features, also called ‘crows teeth’ or crenulations.

Sanderson Miller’s original sketch

However, these features at the top of the building were constructed in a stone called clunch, a very very soft chalk limestone which in external locations does not weather that well and can suffer from rapid deterioration.  Exactly what happened at the Folly 100 years after its construction (1881), when we see the signs of the ruin becoming damaged by exposure to weather and the fortifications in a crumbling state. 


1881; crenulations deteriorating

 By the early 1900s they were in such a state with stonework failing and falling that they were eventually removed and replaced with a brick substitute.  So began the demise of the romantic appearance, with hard brickwork topping the tower.

early 1900s, stone replaced with brickwork

early 1900s, stone replaced with brickwork

1930s, further stone replaced with brickwork

1930s, further stone replaced with brickwork

Later in the 1980s the castellated effect was removed completely and we were left with a brick plain top with no character or reference to its former battlements.

As it is today, before restoration

figure 4c

A bald tower?

figure 4a Current (2)

Up on the roof…

figure 4b current

1980s flat brickwork to be replaced

All very well but what do those terms mean?

Battlements adorn the top of all good castles, town walls and churches; they are low walls for protection, tooth shaped in appearance with gaps where soldiers would stand to defend the building, popping out through the gaps to shoot the enemy with arrows or other missiles. The raised section between the gaps are the merlons.

So the technical bit, the up and down shape (tooth shape) has solid walls and gaps. A merlon is the solid upright bit of the battlement; merlons sometime have slits designed in them for looking through or firing – these are shown on Miller’s original drawings from 1749, however were never built into the stonework.  The space between merlons (the gaps) are called crenels.  The up and down appearance of merlons and crenels is called a crenulation.

 Where crenels (the gaps) were designed to fire cannons, they were called embrasures.

 To add some different terms, merlons can also be referred to a cops or kneelers.

The stones which cover a merlon (the very top piece) are called a cap stone or coping stone, used to protect and provide weathering to the wall.

And finally, machicolations: a very effective way of defending your castle.  They are an opening at high level where the battlements are stepped out to overhang the wall.  The opening allows stones, burning objects or boiling oil to be dropped onto your attacker.  These were common in European castles however when used in English buildings where more common on entry points to be defended such as gateways and draw bridges.

However, as the Folly is a sham, so are the crenulations and machicolations!  They were never used in anger or for defence but to add to the castle-like appearance of the building.

The current works at the Folly will see the 20th century brickwork at the top of the building removed and replaced with new stonework to replicate the historic design.  We are using old photographs and Sanderson Miller’s original pen and ink sketches to recreate the scale, design and appearance.

These works and the conservation of the stone can be seen first hand with our guided tours and you can gain access to the scaffold to see how we are repairing the building.  Why not challenge a guide to tell their machicolations from their crenulations when you go?!

Who’s working at the Gothic Tower?

Hello! We’re Cliveden Conservation and we’re carrying out the conservation project at Wimpole’s Gothic Tower.

CCW-team working on all levels copyWho are Cliveden Conservation?

We were founded in 1982, originally for the preservation of the National Trust buildings and statuary, then branched out and became our own company. Our enthusiastic and highly skilled conservators work out of our 3 workshops across England to conserve and restore buildings, stone, sculpture, plaster and the decorative arts. Our projects, small and large, take us to places all over the world, but we’ve maintained strong ties with the National Trust and are pleased to be leading the Gothic Tower conservation project.




What is the conservation project?

IMG_2938-de veg-before copy

Wall prior to conservation commencing

IMG_2942-de veg-after copy

Wall following removal of vegetation

In order to make the folly more accessible for the public, an amount of work needs to be done to bring it back to life and make it safe for visitors.

What that entails is

  • Archaeological investigations: to understand the full history of the folly
  • Removing vegetation: from the towers and ruined wall tops
  • Cleaning stone surfaces: to remove loose material and help the stone “breath”
  • Pointing and mortar repairs: making the folly’s stone and brickwork stable and safe to be around, and making the wall tops weatherproof
  • Measuring stones that will be replaced
  • Drawing plans

CCW-removing vegetation and dismantling precarious stone work copyAll these tasks have been carried out or are currently underway. The tasks we have ahead of us are the:

  • Replacement of decayed and damaged stonework
  • Shelter coating: to consolidate and help weatherproof stone surfaces
  • Reinstatement of historic elements: such as brick steps and the wooden porch at the base of the tower, doors, windows, and crenellations at the top of the tower

We have a great team here at the folly, working hard in all weather conditions. If you climb the scaffold on the Gothic Tower Scaffold Tours, you’ll be able to spot us busily working around the site. You may even see us working up close and personal as we work our way around the main tower.

Gothic Tower Conservation Project

Wimpole_folly 6

An engraving of the Gothic Tower at Wimpole

In June 1749 Sanderson Miller was asked by George Lyttelton to design a ruined Gothic castle for his friend Lord Hardwicke. This was to be similar to the one erected by Miller in the grounds of Hagley Hall in 1748-9.


The Gothic Tower surrounded by scaffold with the scaffold stairwell leading to two viewing platforms.

Those of you who are frequent visitors to Wimpole, either walking in the park or viewing the Gothic Tower from the garden, will have noticed recently that it has been enveloped in scaffolding.  This is to allow access to the structure whilst it undergoes major conservation works undertaken by Cliveden Conservation.


Stonework of the arrow slits






Made possible through funding from DEFRAs Higher Level Scheme (HLS) managed by Natural England, the conservation of the tower structure and stonework is part of the project due to be completed by December 2014. At the same time, further funding from the National Trust will allow the reinstatement of the windows, doors and external rear staircase.

So what’s the plan?
• Repairs to all stonework and walls
• Reinstatement of the crenellation on top of the tower, windows, doors and the external rear staircase.
• Conservation of flora and fauna with an increase in the short grass conservation areas
• Removal of fence line in front of the tower and improving public access to the exterior of the building.

Do you have a head for heights?


A great view beyond

Take this unique opportunity to climb the scaffold to experience the view from the same height as the Prospect Room within the tower and get a sense of what it would have been like for past visitors.  You’ll get a great view of the Hall and surrounding park from the scaffold and also find out about how it is being conserved from our volunteers.