To Brightling in East Sussex on Sunday to visit some follies associated with John Fuller (1757-1834), member of an ancient family of local iron-founders, known because of his eccentricities as 'Mad' Jack Fuller. An MP and firm supporter of slavery, he also donated large sums to the Royal Institute of Great Britain, purchased Bodiam Castle when it was threatened with demolition, was a friend of the artist Turner, and had a number of unusual structures constructed in the locality which still survive and some of which can be visited. There is a nicely-produced pamphlet written by Geoff Hutchinson available to buy in the church that tells you most of what you need to know about the man and his follies.
Twenty four years before his death he had his mausoleum built in the form of a pyramid, probably modelled on the tomb of Cestius in Rome. It can be found in the churchyard of St Thomas a Becket in Brightling, an imposing 25 feet high and built of sandstone blocks. Folklore says that he was eventually interred within sitting at an iron table, a full meal before him, a bottle of claret at arm's length, dressed for dinner and wearing a top hat (also of iron in some accounts). Sadly, this was disproved some years ago: prior to removing the rotted wooden door and bricking the entrance up it was found that Fuller was buried in a recumbent position below the floor (there is now an iron grille, that enables a view of the interior). Another story is that Fuller offered to make a gentleman for life of any man who volunteered to live in the mausoleum for one year without washing, shaving, cutting his hair or having any human contact - there were no takers.
An impressive observatory (completed 1818, now a private house) can be seen further down the road and an obelisk 65 feet high and 646 feet above sea level. Two follies we did manage to get to were the Tower, an atmospheric structure, especially on a darkening winter's afternoon - in the middle of a small copse in dung-strewn fields close to the church. 35 feet high it can be climbed - it was damaged in the hurricane of 1987 but the previous night's hurricane (which smashed one of our windows) had no affect. From there we went to the Sugar Loaf, a conical building 35 feet high with a base 15 feet in diameter with a door and window, which was used as a house for many years. The story attached to it is that this strange structure was hastily thrown up to enable Fuller to win a bet made in London that he could see the tower of Dallington church from his estate. When he realised that he was wrong he ordered the tower to be built in one night. Photographed above in the fading light. The afternoon was rounded off by a first visit to the lovely pub close to the Sugar Loaf at Wood's Corner The Swan Inn for a meal in the back dining room with a welcoming log fire.
Author of Subterranean City, Beneath the Streets of London, London's Coffee Houses, Decadent London, The Folklore of London, Subterranean City (Revised and Expanded Edition), Netherwood, Last Resort of Aleister Crowley, Lord of Strange Deaths, the Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer; Secret Tunnels in England, Folklore and Fact