Follies of Mad Jack Fuller

in Brightling, East Sussex

The members of the Fuller family were local landowners at Brightling, East Sussex from the late 16th Century onwards. The family fortune had been built upon iron and the manufacture of iron goods, especially cannons and similar equipment for the British Royal Navy. There was also a substantial income from sugar plantations in Jamaica.

By the time that John Fuller inherited the family home (then called Rose Hill, now Brightling Park) and fortunes in 1777 at the age of 20, the family was heavily involved in politics, both nationally and locally. John served several terms as Member of Parliament during his life, as well as fulfilling the role of squire for the area around Brightling.

He seems to have fostered an image of eccentricity throughout his many years (he died at the age of 77). A large man, living life to the full, he never married but enjoyed supporting good causes and assumed the role of local philanthropist - he paid for the first lifeboat at Eastbourne, and towards the building of the Belle Tout Lighthouse on the cliffs at nearby Beachy Head.

He is said to have revelled in the name 'Mad Jack Fuller' - presumably to enhance the eccentric image. During his life he arranged and paid for a number of follies and other structures in and around Brightling, perhaps the strangest being his own tomb in which he is buried in Brightling churchyard.

The tomb

During his lifetime Jack arranged for the building of his own tomb (in the shape of a Pyramid) in the churchyard at Brightling. It was said that he was buried inside the tomb sitting at a table, complete with bottle of wine at hand and wearing a top hat.  Broken glass was strewn across the floor to stop the Devil's footsteps!

Sadly both stories were proven to be untrue when it was necessary to enter the tomb to carry out restoration work many years later. Jack died in 1834.

The temple

This folly - seen here as a silhouette on the tree line - is not readily accessible to the visitor. It lies in the grounds of Brightling Park.

Presumably it was intended to add a 'classic' perspective to the landscape as seen from the family home.

The obelisk

This is on Brightling Down, on the edge of the village and with views all around.  65 feet high, it is thought to have been built to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

It is sometimes known as the Brightling Needle.

The sugar loaf

This lies a couple of miles from the village, on a hill ridge. There are several plausible reasons given for its existence - one being that it was as a result of a wager.

Supposedly Mad Jack bet a friend, during a visit to London, that he could see the spire of the church in a nearby village (Dallington) from his home at Brightling. On returning home he discovered that the spire was not visible since it was blocked by a hill, and quickly had the Sugar Loaf - whose shape closely resembles that of the spire - built on a ridge of hills between his home and the village.

The Sugar Loaf gets its name from the way in which sugar was supplied at the time - in cones called loaves.

The tower

Jack bought Bodiam Castle, in Kent, to save it from demolition.

It is said that he had the tower at Brightling (which is some 35 feet high) built as a reminder of the restoration work being undertaken at Bodiam.

The tower is hollow and serves no useful purpose.

The observatory

The building of the observatory on the edge of the village (and completed around 1818) was probably inspired by a German friend of Mad Jack who was an astronomer.

It was used for a while (astronomy then being a fashionable science) but has long been turned into a private residence and is not open to the visitor.
For more on Mad Jack, his family and his follies visit
‘The Life and Times of John “Mad Jack” Fuller