site unseen The Pyramid, Brightling Churchyard, East Sussex

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The Independent Online
The recent death of actor Sir Robert Stephens has snuffed out yet another "character", one of those full-bodied and memorable individuals who live life to its utmost and devil take the consequences.

English history is full of such men (but rather fewer women - something to do with male selfishness no doubt) who go their own way with vigour and style. Eccentrics such as Squire John Mytton, who reputedly got through eight bottles of port a day and once set fire to his own nightgown in an attempt to get rid of his hiccups. Or the hermit Lord Rokeby, who grew a beard down to his knees and spent most of his time living in a bath. Or the celebrated miser and MP John Elwes who preferred to eat mouldy two-month old pancakes rather than spend some of his fortune on fresh food.

Most of them have left us little except anecdotes of their personal habits, but one, "Mad Jack Fuller", scattered his Sussex estate with follies which can still be visited today.

Born in 1757, John Fuller was educated at that well-known school for eccentrics (Eton), inherited the family fortune and went into politics. Like John Mytton he was a ferocious boozer - but only a relatively abstemious three bottles of port a day for him - and weighed some 22 stone, no doubt explaining his nickname "hippopotamus".

Mad Jack's true genius went not into political in-fighting, but into buildings on his Brightling estate, often designed by famous architects of the day such as Sir Robert Smirke, who was also responsible for the British Museum.

For instance, there is the Greek-style Rotunda Temple, where Fuller apparently entertained his lady friends but also kept smuggled wine in the base of the drum. Nearby is a Tower so that he could keep an eye out for a threatened French invasion, and also the Obelisk or Brightling Needle, put up to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

Down the road is the conical-shaped Sugar Loaf which Fuller put up in order to win a bet that he could see the spire of neighbouring Dallington church from his estate. Having found out that he couldn't, he put up this duplicate instead. His house has an observatory which allowed the servants to peer through a telescope and spot the master returning home from London.

Best of all is the weird pyramid-shaped structure in the corner of the churchyard of St Thomas, Brightling, which he erected several years before his death. Built of sandstone bricks and 25ft tall, Fuller's remains were placed beneath the floor of this mausoleum on his death in 1834. Legend had it that Mad Jack was buried with a top hat and clutching a bottle of claret.

Mind you, I suspect that eccentrics are often easier to love from afar than to actually live with, or near. If Mad Jack Fuller was your neighbour, you would go out each morning not knowing quite what might be blocking the front door.

Mad Jack Fuller's follies are dotted all around the village of Brightling, East Sussex. Guide books are normally available inside the church

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