The Folly was built by wealthy Settle solicitor Richard Preston in 1675 or 1679. The datestone above the doorway is too worn to be sure either way. He built it where the then main road from the south entered Settle, a prime location with which to display the wealth and status of the owner.
But Preston’s life is shrouded in uncertainty: how did he amass the wealth to build this large, extraordinary house, and yet why, by the time he died, was the house only partly furnished?
The kitchen, now the Folly café, doubled as the family living and dining room. Richard Preston would have ensured that his wife Lettice had the mod cons of the time: for instance, the large fireplace contained a clockwork jack to turn the spits for roasting meat (the bolts used for the jack can be seen); a bakestone on which to cook havercakes (oat cakes). The peat fire would have smouldered all day, and possibly all night. There may have been coal for the fire too, as Preston was wealthy enough to buy it. Coal came by cart from Ingleton or Garsdale.
The Main Hall
The Hall, now the Folly Museum entrance, was for entertaining and for business. As a solicitor of wealth and status, Richard Preston would have been expected to meet clients in comfort and provide lavish dinners. No money was spared in the Hall’s design; it has one of the best preserved and finest fireplaces in the region. Its ‘joggled voussoirs’ are an unusual feature and derive from an Islamic design. “Arabic” designs were in fashion at the time. Each stone has an Arabic numeral carved on its back to ensure they were assembled in the right order. Arabic numerals are the numbers we use today.
The South Parlour was probably reserved for more intimate and private conversation, away from the hubbub of the family room and being overheard. Its impressive window with its thirty-two panes runs along the length of the west wall and wraps round to the south to catch maximum daylight. The carved stones at the tops of the windows are thought to be ‘apotropaic’ devices to protect the home from evil; the designs are symbols of infinity, and their being three is significant as representing the Trinity. Preston may have included them in case his legal work made him enemies.
The Hall Chamber
The Hall Chamber, directly above the hall, was possibly the master bedroom. As an educated man, Preston would have visited Coffee Houses on his frequent trips to York and London and been exposed there to the new, exciting ideas that accompanied the expansion of empire. A gentleman in his position wanted to keep up with latest fashions in architecture, clothing and reading matter and would have owned expensive books and manuscripts. And yet there was no mention of books in the inventory following his death, which included the main bed – valued at three times his other beds -, an ark, two oak chests, a square table, a screen, a green-upholstered stool and four small boxes.
The same inventory for the South Parlour showed, curiously, that it had become a store for an odd assortment of objects, a crab winch and cart boards and axles, among them. At the time of his death, Richard Preston’s house seems to have been in some disarray.
Lettice Preston, and daughters, continued to live in the Folly after Richard’s death in 1696. In 1703, daughter Margaret and husband Richard Ellershaw, Vicar of Giggleswick, inherited the house while her siblings inherited other parts of the estate. Settle Hall, as it was then called, was quickly sold on, to Margaret Dawson and her son William.
The Dawsons made the property into a tenanted farm with 449 acres of land and some use of the house while other parts were let to other families, boarders and lodgers; graffiti by the lodgers can still be seen in the fireplaces. By the late 19th century, the Folly was part refreshment rooms, part fish-and-chip shop, furniture shop, home of the Settle Young Men’s Friendly Society, a joiners’, and a doctors’ surgery. Today, it is owned by the North Craven Building Preservation Trust and is open to the public as the Museum of North Craven Life.