Claude Baudard de Sainte-James (1) was the wealthy Trésorier de la Marine (tax manager for the Navy). He wasn't at all English, but changed his name to fulfil an appearance according to the Anglo mania of the upper aristocracy. He had bought an estate in the vicinity of Bagatelle, where the comte d'Artois had his own "Folie d'Artois", and wanted to rivalize with him. So he commissioned a park to the same architect, François Joseph Bélanger, and asked for something even more astonishing.
The work started in 1777, probably managed by Jean-Baptiste Chaussard, assistant to Bélanger. The park spread on the both sides of the avenue leading to Longchamp. It extended to the river Seine and included a part of the île de Neuilly. A plentiness of grottoes, follies and bridges were built. The bridges crossed a net of artificial brooklets, in which flooded water pumped in the river Seine. In the fore part stood the Folie, an house for the owner.
The Folie still exist and is linked to the college of Neuilly. A small remainder of the park surrounds it, which was the most fulfilled with fabriques.
The place is charming, but the mood of the time has disappeared forever. Nowadays condominiums surround the park and the mind can't abstract of them.
The grotto is the only significant remainder of the fabriques. One can look at it when visiting the park, closed when the college is on duty, but opened during the weekend and school holidays.
A stone bridge in the Italian style also still exists. It over crosses a swamp, mark of the upper brooklet. The ponds, channels and streams, all artificial, have been filled as they became unhealthy when pumping felt in disuse. At the time, water flooded everywhere, and specially from the grotto. Drawns show the water falling from the top of the grotto and from each side.
A temple of Love stands there, but it's an XIXth century part. Its columns were kept from the main cave.
A small square pavilion stands in the private alley starting from the avenue de Madrid at the north of the park. The inhabitants call it " la chapelle " as it was used for the cult some decades ago. Nothing remains of the other follies, of which a Chinese pavilion on a pond.
As some of these financial dealing with public Treasury, Baudard de Saint-James carried unfair business. In 1787 he was put under arrest and his estates were sold out; he died some weeks later. The duke of Choiseul-Praslin bought the Folie for a small part of its cost.
To access the Folie
It stands 34 avenue de Madrid, in NEUILLY-SUR-SEINE, 800 meters in the south of the underground Pont de Neuilly. The bus n° 43 stops nearly in its front (named rue de Madrid).
During school period : closed. Opened for the weekends and during school holidays. Winter : 8 h 00 - 18 h 00. Summer : 8 h 00 - 21 h 00.
Visits used to be scheduled on Wednesday during summer, but they are delayed. Mairie de Neuilly (33) 01 47 47 47 40.
Statement for photography : the grotto faces the north. The short period to shot it is from May to August before 9 a.m. Possibly June and July after 8 p.m. .
Notes1 - His name was actually wrotten Sainte-James with an "e". But the folie, wrotten Folie Sainte-James at his time, is now Folie Saint-James. Formerly baron de Sainte-Gemmes, he changed to Sainte-James.
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