Today’s Object of the Week is a riverside folly. Or is it a house? In actual fact it’s both.

THE Count’s House, which stands by the River Wear in Durham, is named after a 3ft 3in Polish dwarf Count Joseph Boruwlaski, who is said to have inhabited this tiny abode.

The Count was a remarkable man in his own right who became a celebrity in the city, where came to live in about 1800.

Read more about the Count here: Standing tall in the courts of Europe

He died in 1837 and is buried at Durham Cathedral beneath a slab marked with his initials “JB”.

However the Count’s House is a misnomer, as it was never Boruwlaski’s home.

The Northern Echo: The CountThe Count

In truth, he lived nearby, very close by, up the bank in a substantial, though not enormous house, of the kind that less diminutive Durham residents could only dream about.

It’s possible Boruwlaski frequented what became known as the Count’s House during his riverside walks, but it was never his house. In fact the Count’s House wasn’t even built as a place to live.

Dating from about 1820, this intriguing little building, probably designed by Durham architect Ignatius Bonomi, was erected by the Dean and Chapter as a folly.

It is hard to imagine anyone living in such a cramped and tiny house – but the remarkable truth is that for many years people did live here.

Census records show that in 1881 it was home to a family of seven – the Wilsons, headed in that year by 41-year-old gardener Robert, his wife, Elizabeth, a 20-year-old son and four other children.

At that time it was called ‘Miss Wooler’s Garden Cottage, and Miss Charlotte Wooler, the property’s owner, lived nearby at 9 South Bailey.

Garden Cottage was previously Shipperdson’s Cottage, named after Edward Shipperdson, a contemporary of Boruwlaski who was listed among the city’s nobility and gentry in the early 19th century. Like Wooler, Shipperdson lived at number 9.

The Northern Echo: Day trippers from Newcastle, about 1910, pay a visit to the Count's House, in DurhamDay trippers from Newcastle, about 1910, pay a visit to the Count's House, in Durham

It is unlikely anyone today remembers the Woolers or Wilsons, but in 1899 the Lee family moved into the Count’s House.

The head of the family was William Lee, a Yorkshireman, of Stainton, near Middlesbrough, aged 75 in 1901 and described as a jobbing gardener.

Here in Count’s House, he lived with his Scottish wife Annie, 59, and ten-year-old daughter, Eva. They paid rent to the Duncombe Shafto family who by then resided at number 9.

As gardeners, it seems likely that Lee and the previous occupier, Wilson were involved in maintaining the gardens and riverbanks of the peninsula.

Mr Perry certainly believes William worked for the Dean and Chapter, who still maintain the riverbanks today.

It was probably William who set up the café in the Count’s House that served teas, scones and teacakes to the tourists and visitors who strolled along the riverbanks at weekends. Eva helped and appears in a photograph, aged 12, along with customers at the café.

The Northern Echo: Diners at the Count's House cafe, about 1913. Eva Lee is pictured standing at the gateDiners at the Count's House cafe, about 1913. Eva Lee is pictured standing at the gate

William owned a horse called Dolly, and photographs picture him with the nag and a money bag at various locations where he may have sold the café’s produce.

William’s son-in-law, Welshman, John Millman, who married Eva, would continue this activity.

Millman came to live at Count’s House, and was often seen carting scones and teacakes around local villages.

John and Eva’s daughters, Doris and Lucy, were born in 1923 and 1928.

Though William had passed away, Eva’s mother, Annie, was still living in the house when Lucy was born, so the Count’s House was filled with a family of five.

Rather incredibly, there were also lodgers, mostly students, living in the house.

How they all squeezed in is hard to imagine. There was an extension, now demolished, but it was tiny, about a quarter of the size of the house. It was located near the chimney and may have been the kitchen where café produce was made.

The rest of the house was divided into two rooms where the family and lodgers slept on the floor.

And we must not forget the dog. The family rescued a sheepdog with a brick tied to its neck from the river.

They adopted the dog and called it Rover. It wasn’t the only rescue the family made.

On another occasion, Eva rescued a woman from the river.

The lady rewarded Eva with the gift of a pendant, but, unlike the dog, the rescued lady didn’t move in.

The Millmans moved from the Count’s House in 1933, when Doris was five. They lived in other places around the city after that time, notably Lambton Walk on the riverbank near Framwellgate Bridge and also by the river at Kepier Hospital Farm, where they lived above the archway.

As for the Count’s House, it became the antiques furniture store of Robert Allan, but he chose not to live there.

Lucy could recall children breaking into the house and throwing Allan’s furniture in the river.

Sadly, vandalism can still be a problem in this isolated spot, as the Count’s House remains empty. It is an unsuitable home for modern times and today it is nothing more than a folly and curiosity, but of course that is exactly what it was intended to be.

* Thanks to North East historian David Simpson for much of the information contained in this feature. For more on the region's history and culture, visit his website at