The Folly

In a break from the normal routine on this blog, today we return to Maggot’s Castle and present some work done by Market Lavington resident, Don Coleman. We have met an ancestor of Don before on this blog. Billy Coleman was a Market Lavington town crier. Click here to see the page about Billy Coleman.

Don has headed his research

The Folly

In the mid 18th century, Eastcott Manor and much of the surrounding land belonged to the Wroughton family. This included the old Common and land called Maggot’s Wood and Maggot’s Mead. The name ‘Maggot’ probably comes from the old name for a magpie, which was corrupted from Margaret pie, a similar derivation as Jenny wren.

The Wroughtons.

The Wroughtons were obviously a family of some wealth and standing in Wiltshire. In the 14th to 16th centuries there had been a large number of people with the surname Wroughton living in the Broad Hinton area. There is no connection at the moment to confirm that these families were belonging to the Wroughtons of Urchfont.

A Seymour Wroughton whose ancestry cannot be traced at present had four children, namely:

Seymour, christened 29 May 1682,
Susanna, christened 28 Jan 1685,
Francis, christened 12 Oct 1693,
William, christened 12 Nov 1697.

All children were christened at Urchfont. A Jane, daughter of Seymour Wroughton of “Heskett” married John Seymour, Alderman of Limerick who was made Sheriff in 1708 and served as mayor in 1720. Jane was probably another child of Seymour senior but is not listed in any database. It is difficult to differentiate between Seymour, senior and his son named Seymour, so it may have been either who built Castle house.

Susanna married well as her husband was Sir Richard Wenman, fifth Viscount Wenman. They had two sons, Philip and Richard. Sir Richard died at Thame Park on 28 Nov 1729 and was succeeded by his eldest son.

In 1732 Francis Wroughton held 175 acres of land including Urchfont field and the old enclosures. Francis married Catharine Chamberlayne (1668 – 9 Feb 1741) in or just after 1699 but had no issue. Catherine was a daughter and co-heir of Sir Thomas Chamberlayne of Wickham and Northbrooke in Oxfordshire. Francis was her third husband; she had been married previously to Sir Richard Wenham who inherited the titles of Baron Wenham of Kilmainham and Viscount Wenham of Tuam. Catherine’s second husband was James, 1st Earl of Abingdon who died in 1698.

When Francis died on 29 April 1733 he was buried at Long Newton, Wilts. Francis and Catherine apparently had no issue as on his death the estate was inherited by his brother William.

William had married a lady named Sarah but at the moment it is not possible to trace her descent. William was obviously a scholar of some sort as he “subscribed to Book the 2nd containing 12 anthems for Country choirs”. William died on 3 Oct 1750, aged 52 and the land passed to his son Seymour. William’s wife Sarah died on 22 Aug 1777, aged 77.

Seymour had matriculated from Magdalen College on 22 March 1754 and created M.A. in 1760. In 1786 Seymour became High Sheriff of Wiltshire. Seymour died on 31 May 1789 aged 53. Seymour was said to have come to a violent end whilst driving his coach and four recklessly along the sloping drive down to Folly house.

The House.

At some time around 1730, a house had been built on the ground known as Maggot’s Mead. Seymour either rebuilt it, or remodelled it around 1732 and the original name of Castle House was forgotten. Later it became known as Folly House. The house stood north of Folly Wood, about one mile north-west of Eastcott, directly below the steep outcrop of greensand known in the 18th century as Maggot Castle.

The access to the house, from the lane between Workforth Common and Crookwood Farm, was by a carriage drive cut through the greensand and across fields and plantations to the house. The formal gardens to the north were laid out with three fishponds, with flowers and ornamental walls between the upper and middle ponds. Part of the house was built over the upper pond. To the south-east, there was an elaborate summerhouse, or gazebo, on a high mound. This was known as Maggot Castle. Stables and a coach house, with comfortable living accommodation for the groom above, were below the lower fishpond, near the lane.

George Sloper, a Devizes baker, recorded on 7th June 1771  putting ’20 Brace tench and four Brace carp’ into the Mill pond at Neck Mill, Stert. These he had obtained from Wroughton’s Folly, Easterton.

In 1789, the mansion, by then probably known as Folly House, was a substantial building with garrets, cellars and extensive outhousing. Its dining and drawing rooms were well furnished and the library stocked with works on assorted topics, including literature, philosophy and gardening. There were at least six bedchambers.

On Seymour Wroughton ‘ s death the contents of the house were auctioned and the house afterwards became ruinous. In a late 19th century letter from a resident of Orchard Cottage (then Royal Cottage) in the village of Stert nearby, mention is made of part of the banister rail as coming from Wroughton House. Parts of the house are said to be incorporated into the house at Potterne that is now the Wiltshire Fire Service headquarters.

The most extraordinary thing is that, though the house was a substantial building and expensive to erect, all traces of it were quickly lost. One opinion of the cause of it becoming derelict was that owing to one of the fishponds being partly under the house, the ground slipped in the first wet season and caused irreparable damage. Actually the subsoil in the area is unstable. Children used to be told that the Folly was so named because a rich man had once tried to build a house there, but had used all his money just trying to lay the foundations. They had continually sunk into a quagmire. The house was sited adjacent to what is now the main London to Penzance railway line. Strangely enough, on the 22nd August 1961 there was a landslip on the railway line a few hundred yards from the site of Folly House. Because of the bog-like nature of the ground beneath the line, it took several weeks and 19,000 tons of stone, ash and fly to stabilise the line.

All that marks the site of the house today are the drive, still a farm track and slight earthworks that were the fishponds. Close examination may reveal the site of the gazebo on the high ground above the track.

Later Stories.

The legends and tales of haunting about the area doubtless originated in the reputed eccentricity of Wroughton himself, the desolate condition of the house and its isolated site. Even now there are no buildings near the site, and it is an eerie place in the twilight.

Local villagers became afraid of the place, hence the stories that became attached to it. Seymour was said to be a heavy drinker, like many men of his time and social standing. He was said to have driven his horse recklessly. One night, the story goes, he galloped madly along the carriageway to the Folly, turned the coach over and broke his neck. Today, locals say, a coach and four can be heard galloping along the road known as Eastcott Common that leads to the Folly.

Her mother told Betty Crook of Urchfont that if you went on a certain night to the place designed as a cellar in Maggot Castle, you would see your future husband. In a letter from Watson-Taylor Esq. of Erlestoke, he admits that years ago the foundations of a stone house could be seen, along with a mound of earth in the cellar.

Among the legends of Seymour Wroughton’s house is the story that two servant girls had gone missing, suggesting that he had murdered them.

Francis, William and Seymour Wroughton were all buried at Urchfont. They have marble commemorative tablets on the church wall. Seymour’s tablet records nothing more than the dates of his birth and death.

Along with the story of Wroughton’s Folly is the story of Quabb’s Hole. This was a hole dug out of the sand, on the hill above Maggot Castle, separated from the Folly by a deep ravine, where the land slopes from Easterton to Crook’s farm. Quabb was a loner, a poacher and petty thief, whose exploits have been much embroidered. He stole sheep and hens and poached when and where he could, living alone in his cave where he died.

When discovered, the cave was full of sheepskins and feathers. It was then filled in and forgotten. The story is never heard now but the events must have taken place about the beginning of the 19th century .

For the site of the Folly, refer to Ordnance Survey map 173 grid reference 018570.

Note: Newspaper report from January 1842:

Report on skeletons discovered at Stert (innkeeper named Burry at Lydeway allegedly murdered customers at the ‘Shepherd and Dog’). A person said he knew a man who was a friend of Burry and heard him say that he had killed many a man between the Charlton Cat and Wedhampton and buried them at Wroughton Folly.

North Transept

“Near this place are deposited the remains of William Wroughton, of Eastcott in the County of Wilts, Esqr., who departed this life October the 3rd, Anno Dom., 1750. Ætat 52 years. Also of Mrs Sarah Wroughton, wife of the above William Wroughton, Esqr., who departed this life the 22nd August 1777. Ætat 77.

Sacred to the memory of Seymour Wroughton, Esqr., of Eastcott, who departed this life May 31, 1789, aged 53.”


Victoria County History, volume IX
“The Story of Easterton” by Betty Judge.
Monumental Inscriptions in Wiltshire Churches.
Stert, the Hidden Village.
History of Commoners of GB and Ireland.
Burke’s Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies.


Tags: ,

2 Responses to “The Folly”

  1. i cox Says:

    The marriage of Francis with Catherine as 1699. Francis bpt 1693 ? Catherine is 25yrs older? Is there a Francis senior?

Can you add anything to this or do you want to know more?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: