I have a bit of a thing about follies and pleasure houses. On my recent research ramblings through Rutland I came across the most perfect little Georgian fishing house on the Exton Park estate which gave a wonderful insight into one of the ways in which our Regency characters whiled away their time at their country estates.
Fort Henry, as it is called, was built in 1786 in the Gothic style complete with pinnacles and turrets. It was commissioned by the Earl of Gainsborough and is surrounded by woods, water and pleasure gardens. Here, during the Regency period, the Noel family would come to spend lazy days by and on the water, bathing, sailing and fishing. The interior of the folly, with views across the lake, was decorated with ornate plasterwork and provided a space for informal meals and entertainments. In a rather nice democratic touch, the Earl also apparently held special entertainments for his estate workers and servants at Fort Henry!
The Earl was hardly original in building himself a fishing folly. George IV had a fishing temple in the chinoiserie style on the north bank of Virginia Water built at a cost of £8730. Fly-fishing was a pastime popular with Georgian gentlemen. It is the subject of Mr Darcy's first conversation with Mr Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice, a hobby that was evidently of common interest to landowners and wealthy merchants alike. Fishing was also favoured by the ladies as well. Susanne Knight refers in an article to the journals of Diana Sperling, a young lady who recorded all sorts of country house pursuits including an outing of three ladies and two gentlemen who were all vying for the catch of the day! It isn't known whether the ladies also bathed at Fort Henry but it is entirely possible to imagine that they might have slipped away for a private dip in such secluded waters!