The Needle’s Eye: Scene of an 18th Century Wager (Legend Says)

The mysterious Needle's Eye folly on the Wentworth estate near Rotherham 2 (Image: Ozankk; the Needle’s Eye)

I’ve always been intrigued by the folklore of Sheffield and its surrounding landscape, where I grew up. I while I haven’t lived there for many years, it’s a place I continually return to in my reading (Dr David Clarke’s blog makes for a great starting point). From the legends that shroud the mysterious Peak District to the industrial east end and the great estates to the north of the city, the region is steeped in history that spans the ages.

In a land of follies and other enigmatic structures, the South Yorkshire village of Wentworth, near Rotherham, has its fair share. We’ve visited Hoober Stand and Keppel’s Column before, but the Needle’s Eye – a 46 ft sandstone pyramid crowned by a funerary urn – was a new one!

The Needle’s Eye cuts a strange and somewhat ominous sight on the rural landscape. What’s more, the 18th century folly has become the subject of a local legend over the years.

The mysterious Needle's Eye folly on the Wentworth estate near Rotherham (Image: Darren Flinders)

Locals speak of a bet that was waged by the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, Charles Watson-Wentworth, who claimed that he was able to “drive a coach and horses through an eye of a needle”. Presumably, in order to win the wager, a suitably-sized ‘needle’ with an ‘eye’ of sufficient dimensions to drive a coach and horses through would need to be located. Rockingham thus wasted no time in putting notable Yorkshire architect John Carr to work designing the apparatus.

The result of Carr’s endeavours was the grand pyramid folly pictured here. Conveniently situated between two abandoned carriage paths from centuries past, the Needle’s ‘Eye’ came in the form of an archway spanning almost 10 ft. There’s also evidence the structure served a practical purpose (beyond simply allowing a gambling man to win a bet), in the form of musket-ball holes dubiously visible at around head height. So while many follies had no use at all, Carr’s creation may have represented an early form of adaptive reuse – from wager-winning architecture to firing squad venue with no redesign required.

Related: The Mysterious Crosspool Tunnel in Sheffield

 
 


 
 
 

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