This establishment really is intriguing and mystifying, actual documentation is scarce and a lot of the following information maybe conjecture.
Rock Lane is an ancient sunken pathway which leads from Perrygrove (by the Lucozade / Ribena Suntory) down the hillside to Whitecliff, where it emerges directly opposite the long defunct Whitecliff Ironworks. It is known that these workings commenced in 1798 and came into operation about 1801 or 1802. A public house to slake the thirst of those men involved in the construction of the ironworks or those workers producing iron at the furnace would be entirely expected, but the Folly Inn is documented in the straggling and sparsely populated settlement of Whitecliff as early as 1757 – forty years or so before the ironworks. Whitecliff, itself, is about a third of a mile to the south-west of Coleford on the road to Newland.
Whitecliff Ironworks were not a success and the production of iron was limited mainly due to the quality of the coke used. A second furnace came into operation in 1808, but the entire works had been abandoned by 1816. If the Folly Inn was to benefit from custom from workers from the Iron works, either in construction or production, it was only for 18 years.
Yet 75 years after the failure and abandonment of the Whitecliff Ironworks the Folly Inn is still trading. The 1891 licensing records describes it as a beer house with an annual rateable value of £11.4s.0d. George Davis is listed as the owner, and Milson Davis is the occupying landlord. The Folly Inn was free of brewery tie. Twelve years before that, in 1879, John Taylor is detailed as the owner.
The license of the ‘Folly Inn in the Parish of Newland’ was voluntarily lapsed upon the granting of a new licence for the Rocklea Hotel in Symonds Yat (in the Parish of English Bicknor). The Victoria County History of Gloucestershire states that the Rocklea Hotel changed its name to the Royal Hotel in 1901 or 1902. The present-day Royal Lodge in Symonds Yat East is a very grand establishment which was originally built in 1876 as a Royal hunting lodge and was converted to a hotel in the 1920’s. Was this the Rocklea Hotel?
In Heather Hurley’s book ‘The Pubs of the Royal Forest of Dean’ (Logaston Press 2004) she notes that the Folly ‘is now a heap of stones alongside Rock Lane’ On exploring the ancient trackway in the Spring of 2019, with white garlic flowers and bluebells transforming this secluded path into something quite magical, I discovered that there are definitely signs of a deserted building just a few yards uphill opposite the old ironworks. Two upright stones suggest the entrance of a collapsed doorway but there is only a scattering on stones amongst the encroaching vegetation. If this forgotten structure was the Folly Inn it must have been a very small and unique beer house, something akin to a hermits’ cave nestling on the side of the valley. Perhaps then it was an entirely different landscape, with no mature trees hiding it from view. The Folly Inn might even have had an open aspect facing the Whitecliff valley.
If the Folly Inn was built in an eccentric architectural style of which the name seems to suggest, it seems odd that there is so little historical account of it. Normally such a quirky establishment would be rooted in local folklore.