At 275 feet, Wainhouse Tower is one of Halifax's most distinguished monuments and the tallest folly in the world. 'Folly' is a wonderful word, deliciously archaic yet as relevant as ever. It either refers to foolishness, or a costly ornamental building serving no real purpose. This Yorkshire tower is the latter, but costing an eye-watering £14,000 in 1875, many contemporaries might have thought it straddled both definitions.
John Wainhouse, a local industrialist, built it as a chimney for his dye-works and as a way of humbling his neighbour, Sir Henry Edwards, a Conservative MP. Edwards had once boasted that he possessed the most private residence in Halifax, into which no outsider could peer. Wainhouse's chimney, with its elegant viewing platforms, soon curtailed Edwards' smug satisfaction.
I love follies; they are quirky landmarks that lend character to otherwise barren landscapes. The foolishness type of folly, however, is rather more disturbing. This folly renders the most attractive of landscapes and people undesirable. In the Bible, the fool is not someone with a low IQ or few formal qualifications. Rather, it is he who rejects God's counsel and lives as he pleases. This is folly, and it stands out far more than Wainhouse Tower.