Hardwick Park – the Circuit Walk

Neptune on the serpentine river from https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g940865-d2487051-Reviews-Hardwick_Park-Sedgefield_County_Durham_England.html#photos;geo=940865&detail=2487051&ff=67648446&albumViewMode=hero&albumid=101&baseMediaId=67648446&thumbnailMinWidth=50&cnt=3&offset=-1&filter=7

Neptune on the serpentine river from https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk

This is a follow-on from last week’s post about Hardwick Park in County Durham, one of the great 18thc circuit walk gardens, now in the later stages of a very successful restoration programme.

There are several descriptions of the circuit walk, the first dating from 1770. It was later described  in William Hutchinson’s  History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham, published in 1794. This was just after William Russell had acquired the estate from John Burdon, [Extracts from it are in italic]. There is also a guide dating from 1800. Links to them are given at the end of the post.   Images referenced as from  Reawakening are taken from the dvd about the restoration The Reawakening of a Sleeping Beauty, produced by the Friends of Hardwick Park.  Read on to find out more….

To the west of Sedgefield, about half a mile, lies Hardwick, the seat of the late John Burdon, Esq.; now the property of W. Russell, Esq; of Brancepeth Castle, one of the most beautiful places in the county; where, as Pope says, ‘Gods might wander with delight.’  The pleasure-grounds are laid out with exquisite taste, and the ornaments are supremely elegant. The walks and plantations are formed on an easy inclination, facing to the west; and a fine bason of water covers the hollow between the rising grounds. Mr. Russell shows a distinguished liberality to the public by the free admission of all visitors.”

Grand Terrace, Hardwick Country Park, © Copyright Andrew Curtis 2011, and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Grand Terrace, Hardwick Country Park, © Copyright Andrew Curtis 2011, and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

On entering the gardener’s gate, you pass the wood by a  serpentine walk which leads to the Grand Terrace, a gravel walk about 24 feet in width, and upwards of 560 paces in length.  At this point of view, (looking over a circular bason of water) the bath house terminates the prospect at one end and the tower of Sedgefield church at the other.

 The Grand Terrace and circular pond can be seen clearly on a modern map. [The coloured dots are the various historic structures] On the eastern side the terrace continued through the woods but as a wide grass path rather than formal gravelled walk.  However, a glance at earlier maps, such as the 1856 OS map,  show how quickly the terrace walk had disappeared, although the buildings along its length were still in evidence.

Looking east back along the The Grand Terrsce towards the entrance , David Marsh July 2015

Looking east back along the The Grand Terrace towards the entrance , David Marsh July 2015

Advancing a little further, you pass the wood, and come instantly to a view of the finest sheet of water in the north of England, consisting of 36 acres  (In fact the lake is only about 14 acres in extent) margined with smooth grass slopes, plantations of flowering shrubs and ever-greens, thickened with forest trees behind; all kept in the greatest order and exactness. The boat in the engraving was really there, and its anchoring point has been found near the circular island.

from Reawkening

from Reawakening

 © Copyright Andrew Curtis 2011, and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

© Copyright Andrew Curtis 2011, and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

From this station you have the dome of a temple to the right; and to the left, the mock ruins of a monastic house, well devised, built of a bright free-stone, and situated at the extremity of the lake.  

At the halfway point of the Grand Terrace, and overlooking the circular pond and the lake is an elegant Gothic Seat, shaded by thick groves and open to this scene, invites the visitor to its cool recess.

Th erestoration process underway from Reawakening

The restoration of the circular pond gets underway                                                                                        from Reawakening

The Gothic Seat from the website of the restorers http://www.williamanelay.co.uk/Hardwick-Park

The Gothic Seat from the website of the restorers

The Trees  were planted carefully  to direct the view and hide the other features, until they were revealed  further round the Circuit Walk.  The Gothic Seat had been badly vandalized so there was very little of the original material to work with, although much of the original masonry had been buried nearby to prevent it from being stolen. As much as possible of this was re-used but, as can be seen from the different colouring of the stone,  a number of the columns, all of the upper levels and the steps leading to the pond are new.

From thence you go to the Bathing House, a small neat stone building of the Doric order, with a yew hedge on each side of it. It has an open portico in front leading to the bath, two rooms beside it for the purpose of undressing, and two others, one on each side, to breakfast and repose in. The bath is small, surrounded with iron pallisades and has steps to descend into it; over it is a cupola with windows, which give light to the bath, and being placed in this manner, the water by means of the reflection has the appearance of being very deep.   

The site of the bath house. The bath and the foundations are still intact DM July 2015

The site of the bath house. The bath and the foundations are still intact
DM July 2015

Inside the portico was a bust of Diana, the Roman Goddess of the hunt who according to legend would often bathe in the woods.  To one side of the bath house was a bedroom, which contained a fire-screen with a painting of ‘Apollo leaning on his lyre, and the Muses washing his feet’  whilst above it was a plaster relief of Neptune’s head with a scroll of shells and flowers.(1800 Guidebook). To the other side  was a breakfast room: clearly Burdon intended to use his Bath House as an occasional overnight retreat.   Some commentators have drawn similarities between Hardwick’s bath-house and the one erected at Gibside for George Bowes in 1733. Its plan and outward appearance differed only in detail from that at Hardwick, built some twenty years later. Burdon’s bathhouse has long gone [probably in the late 19thc] and was lost in a Forestry Commission fir plantation but the Friends of Hardwick are determined that one day it will be rebuilt.

The cascade coming down from the lake into the Bottle Pond, in front f the Bono Retiro, from Reawkeneing

The cascade coming down from the lake into the Bottle Pond, in front f the Bono Retiro,                   from Reawakening

The bath house sat almost at one end of the dam, which because of its historic status could not be altered, but because of its engineering status had to be reinforced. The compromise was a second concrete dam behind it.

The new dam from Reawkening

The new dam from Reawakening


The runs of the Hermitage or Bono Retiro

The runs of the Hermitage or Bono Retiro                      from Reawakening

Below the bath there are some artificial cascades, an hermitage, confined and winding walks, and works, in the stile of the last age, placed here to give the contrast between the polished taste of the present times and the rural ornaments which delighted our ancestors. These ‘works’ are believed to have been fragments from the ruins of the old manor house at Hardwick and positioned by Burdon to suggest a long ancestral link with the site. You pass through more serpentine walks through groves of sycamores and elms, with the violet, the ranunculus, the hyacinth and a hundred other fragrant odours, to reach the Bono Retiro or pleasant retreat

The Bono REtiro and Bottle Pond DM July 2015

The remains of the Bono Retiro and the Bottle Pond from the cascade
DM July 2015

According to the 1800 Guidebook  this was “a building in the rude Gothic style” with five- bays  formed of rendered brick and stone rubble. It had a square tower on either side of  a central pedimented section. It made “an agreeable contrast to the magnificent and splendid edifices which ornament other parts of the grounds.” “On entering the building,” the guidebook went on ” the reflexion of the cascade in a looking glass has a fine effect, affording no less pleasure than the real one.” It must have given the visitor the sense of walking through the reflected water into a fantasy world beyond. In fact, what was actually  inside was on one side Burdon’s library lit by stained glass set in the windows or “a  mock library” as the Town and Country Magazine put it in 1770, whilst the other “was furnished with tea equipage”.

The Temple of Minerva DM July 2015

The Temple of Minerva
DM July 2015

From there serpentine paths led through more woodland back to open ground with a view over the lake and towards the Temple of Minerva. This was built between 1754 and 1757 by John Bell of Durham.

It was “a building in the Ionic order, erected on a round eminence at a little distance from the skirts of the plantations; the colonnade is square, the dome octagonal; in the outside niches our place busts of   Homer, Virgil, Cicero, Sappho, Theocritus, Pindar etc; the floor is 18 ft.² within, inlaid with marble mosaic work.  Strangely the 1800 guidebook says that in the niches were “placed the busts of Homer, Virgil, Horace, Milton, Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, Dryden, and Pope.”   Perhaps tastes had changed or perhaps they were indistinguishable!   As the parkland around was, in typical 18th fashion, used for grazing, the whole of hillock was surrounded by a ha-ha.

All that remained of the Temple before restoration work, from Rewakening

All that remained of the Temple before restoration work, from Reawakening

All that remained of the Temple before restoration work, from Rewakening

All that remained of the Temple before clearance work, from Reawakening

Nowadays, as in Burdon’s time, the temple commands expansive views and is the most prominent of all the buildings on the estate. However in the last century it virtually disappeared, surrounded by trees. This unintended seclusion presumably made it even more prone to vandalism despite its listed status. Complete restoration  – or rather a complete rebuild – meant that it looks structurally as good as new [although sadly without any of the elaborate internal decoration it once had] but has lost its listing. The ha-ha which had been filled in, was excavated again, but, for health and safety reasons, now has a protective fence.

from Reawakeni

from Reawakening

All the way through I’ve been talking about the circuit walk, but it’s clear going back to the original sources rather than relying on secondary ones that this is something of a misnomer and that actually that’s not what a lot of visitors did.  The earliest guide – the 1770 “Beauties of Hardwick” article in Town and Country Magazine, for example suggested that the visitor left the Bono Retiro  and was “ferried over to the opposite side” and did part of the walk in reverse before doubling back on themselves.  Hutchinson on the other hand in his 1794 account, leaves the temple but then instead of continuing round  the lake backtracks, and  returns past the bath house and the Gothic seat to the Grand Terrace to start the rest of the circuit in reverse from there. It is not until the 1800 guide A walk through Hardwicke-Gardens’ that the tour actually makes a proper full circuit.

The Gothic Bridge

The Gothic Bridge

The 1800 guidebook continues… “Soon after leaving the temple, you enter a shaded walk, terminated with a stone seat in the rustic style, within which are two excellent busts of Lycurgus and Lucretius. Turning from this you approach a handsome Gothic Bridge of one arch across the Serpentine River, the extremities of which are lost amongst the surrounding plantations. From here is seen a statue of old bearded Neptune raised upon a pedestal in a fine attitude, with a gilded trident in his hand and a dolphin under his feet, as rising from the waves.”

from Reawakening

from Reawakening

The Seprentine River

The Serpentine River


The replacement Neptune

As can be seen Paine’s bridge was in a perilous state at the beginning of the restoration campaign, and Neptune had disappeared.  This caused some head scratching since  he was made of lead around an iron frame, and stood on an island in the middle of the river so no-one knew how.

Neptune by Keith Maddison, in front of the new visitors centre DM July 2015

Neptune by Keith Maddison, in front of the new visitors centre
DM July 2015

One theory is that the statue was somehow toppled into the river and sank into the mud, but when the river was searched divers found nothing. A more likely explanation  is that the statue was simply stolen when the army left the site and is probably hidden away in someone’s garden now.

from reawkening

from Reawakening

Eventually the Northern Rock Foundation gave the Friends  £26,000 to commission a replacement. The new Neptune, in bronze rather than lead, now stands in almost the same spot and can be seen clearly from the new country park visitor’s centre.

Incidentally the 1770 account notes Neptune  standing “in a fine attitude” but does not mention the bridge whilst Hutchinson in 1794 doesn’t mention Neptune at all, although he does describe the sharp turn in the ‘river’ where the figure stood.


from Reawakening


From the bridge a path leads alongside of the river, past Neptune to what the 1800 guidebook calls a Mock Ruin “intended to resemble the remains of an ancient  Castle with a  round tower entire.”

It was designed as a sham ruin in 1764 by James Paine and was, says Hutchinson, “ornamented with sculptures brought from the ruins of Gisburne Priory….and commanded extensive views.”

Tony Smith with the Gothic Ruin

Tony Smith with the Gothic Ruin, from Reawkening

You might notice that the tower isn’t strictly vertical, but has a slight ‘bend’ in the middle. Apparently there was an almost immediate ‘lean’ to the structure as it was being built because it sits on sand that is 12ft deep.  When restoration took place this quirk was retained but  the tower was stabilised by the injection of solidifying foam to support it.

Next heading round was a grotto, not even mentioned by the 1800 guide or Hutchinson. It too incorporated  bits from Gisburne Priory but has had to be closed off and rendered safe because of public access concerns.

The grotto - in ruins -with the Gothic ruin in the background

The grotto – in ruins -with the Gothic ruin in the background                                                                       from Reawakening

The banquetting HOuse from Reawkening

The Banqueting House
from Reawakening

The 1800 guide then describes how to  “proceed by the margin of the Serpentine River,  to the Banqueting House”, which is “built on an artificial mount, having a spacious lawn in front and surrounded by an amphitheatre of wood. The style of building is superb: the front is adorned with six pilasters of the Corinthian order, a Venetian door of glass, and a window on each side in the Ionic order, with a pediment over each, a circular arch above, and finished with an open balustrade. There is also a handsome bow window at each end of the building, both of which are finished with balustrades, similar to those in the front. Strangers are introduced at the back entrance, in order that they may be the more struck with the magnificence and splendour which everywhere prevail in this noble apartment.”  The interior was extremely well decorated – with ceiling paintings by Francis Hayman – and lavishly  furnished, with a portrait of Burdon hanging over the fireplace.

The Banqueting House was demolished in 1947 and the stonework was used to build the facade of a cinema in nearby Trimdon Village.  When the cinema in its turn was knocked down, the material was reclaimed and is in storage and  the Friends are determined to rebuild it when funds allow.

The duck decoy

from Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, The Book of Duck Decoys: Their Construction, Management and History, 1886

from Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, The Book of Duck Decoys: Their Construction, Management and History, 1886

from Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, The Book of Duck Decoys: Their Construction, Management and History, 1886

A more modern detour takes the visitor past a rebuilt duck decoy- a long hooped tunnel, wide at the mouth and narrowing down over its length. There are two ways this can be used to trap ducks which are naturally curious. When they spot a predator  they have a tendency to watch it from a distance, even if this means following it. So, the gamekeeper sends his dog  to lure the ducks inside by appearing, as in the print above, at one of the gaps in the surrounding screening. As the ducks go further into the tunnel, the dog moves to the next gap and so on until the ducks are trapped at the narrow end.  The other way is for the gamekeeper to throw food over the screens to lure them in, and to proceed slowly down towards the end of the trap, feeding and leading the ducks to their doom.


The entrance to the decoy http://restlessjo.me/tag/duck-decoy/

Rachael Hall @Rach_NTArch National Trust Archaeologist in the Midlands.

Rachael Hall
National Trust Archaeologist in the Midlands.

The decoy at Hardwick was substantial and has been rebuilt although is not used for its original purpose!

The lakeside path then leads round to a rustic rubble bridge, complete with mini cascade which has been rebuilt [again not strictly in accordance with Paine’s original, because of health and safety considerations]

The rebuilt rubble bridge DM July 2015

The rebuilt rubble bridge
DM July 2015


Finally “you are conducted through a serpentine walk to the upper end of the grand terrace, nearly opposite to that by which you first entered it;  quitting with regret those charming scenes which never fail to leave a lasting impression on the memory.”



If you read last weeks post you will recall that I was guided around by James Paine himself. He concluded the tour by reminding visitors  that they had “seen a garden constructed in the latest style… with  an ornamental nature of peeps, paths and prospects.”

And Paine finished with a flourish, quoting the then fashionable Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey:

“It is a scene, where if a god should cast his sight,

A god might gaze, and wander with delight!

Joy touch’d the Messenger of Heav’n:

He stay’d Entranc’d,  and all the blissful haunts survey’d.”

And of course, I hope you will be as entranced as I was when you visit Hardwick!

Follow up references to the texts can be found at:


About The Gardens Trust

Email - education@thegardenstrust.org Website - www.thegardenstrust.org
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