Imagine you are a wealthy landowner at the turn of the 19th century, roaming your vast woodlands and country park wondering how on earth you can help the local people who are presently suffering due to unemployment. Then a most fantastic idea pops into your head – get the men to build a replica of Stonehenge in your woods and pay them for it. Sounds crazy, right? Except this is exactly what William Danby of Swinton Park did!
William Danby, born in 1752, lived in the family home Swinton Park, near Masham which he almost completely rebuilt in the popular ‘Gothick’ taste, until his death in 1833. In 1800, the local area was suffering a time of agricultural depression and high unemployment, so Danby set the local men the task of constructing a moderately large replica of Stonehenge in return for a full shilling a day . Using Stonehenge as an influence, the same sized stones were used and placed so that they created a room of around 30m x 15m. The temple also features a sacrificial stone altar positioned in the centre, like several historical temples around the country. Similarly copying Stonehenge, flat stacked stones are also featured in Druid’s Temple. The result is a folly like no other, and with a reputation across the country.
To complete the folly, known as Druid’s Temple, Danby attempted to hire a silent druidic hermit to live there for a seven-year period. He was relatively unsuccessful in this endeavour as the longest anybody managed to remain there was 4 ½ years. Probably a major factor for this was that as part of the ‘hermit’s’ contract, they were not allowed to shave their beard or speak to anybody at all! Why Danby wanted a hermit is unclear, perhaps he just wanted to add to the authenticity of his folly.
Today, Druid’s Temple is open to the public. It is a really interesting place to visit, set in the woodland in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales and makes for a scenic walk on a sunny day. You can park up nearby, enjoy an ice-cream from the local glamping site and walk through the woods to reach the temple. As you approach the folly, it looks impressive, and will certainly get the kid’s imaginations running away with them! It is strange as you feel like you are looking upon ancient history, whilst knowing that the temple is only just over 200 years old. Whilst walking around the woods, you also come across other stones dotted around too. I will definitely return to the area as it is somewhere unique to visit and enjoy a picnic!