Last week’s post was about the earliest surviving garden buildings designed for fishing which dated from the 16th and 17thc. After I’d published it I realised that I’d missed out some tiny but atmospheric details from some plates by Jan Drapentier for Henry Chauncy’s Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire, published in 1700.
The quality isn’t brilliant but I thought I’d include a couple in this post before going on to show how as the 18th century progressed fishing temples became more sophisticated, often doubling up as boathouses or places to eat. Perhaps this is associated with the shift from formal gardens to designing the landscape in a new way, and particularly with an increasing emphasis on the importance of water.
Whatever the reason the result is a collection of amazing garden and landscape buildings. So read on to find out more about some of them.
Kate Felus has researched and written about some aspects of these and other watery buildings quite extensively and I’d recommend you take a look at her article “Boats and Boating in the Designed Landscape 1720-1820” in Garden History in 2006 [Vol.34, no.1 pp.22-46]. She argues that “very few designed landscapes are totally devoid of water, and even where the geology is unsympathetic, a clever engineer could create a modest sheet of water.” She goes on to say that “the architectural and functional apogee of this sort of building, where boating and fishing were combined with dining, must be Robert Adam’s superbly elegant Fishing Pavilion at Kedleston in Derbyshire” but before we get to Kedleston [which we will!] let’s take a look at some earlier 18thc examples.
A surprising discovery along the way was that there are a lot of 18thc conversation piece paintings and portraits not just involving angling parties, but where entire families are shown ‘informally’ in their gardens with fishing paraphernalia. However, despite some nice garden or landscape settings not a single fishing temple, pavilion or even hut have I found in any of them!
Some of the earliest were located on the canals that ran through formal gardens, as at Shotover near Oxford. James Tyrrell, the Whig writer and friend of John Locke, inherited the estate in 1701 and began rebuilding the house, and redesigning the formal gardens in 1714. Existing fish ponds were remodelled and extended to form the Long Canal and the Fish Pond, separated by a narrow earth dam which together stretch for 400m. At the head of the canal stands a stone-built Gothic Temple, in loggia form but with battlements It can be see silhouetted against the water at the bottom of Bickham’s print.
Some sources have thought this to be Gothick Revival but, in fact, it is probably, as argued by Mavis Batey, actually a piece of Gothic Survival, in the best tradition of Oxford colleges. Dated around 1720 it resembles the 1716 front of the Codrington Library at All Souls by William Townesend, and he is thought to be the architect here too. (Batey, Oxford Gardens 1982, pp 106-9).
A near contemporary of the temple at Shotover was that at Hartwell, near Aylesbury. This was probably designed by James Gibbs in the Ionic style around 1723, and it too was a little distance from the water. It can be seen in the distance at the end of the canal in one of the well-known series of paintings of Hartwell by Nebot, and can still be seen although the canal has been filled in. There is of course no real evidence that either building was used as a base for fishing or boating, but surely, argues Felus, they must at least have been good shelter for those indulging in such pastimes.
A few years later Charles Spencer, third Duke of Marlborough who was a very keen angler, bought a 5 acre island in the Thames near Bray in Berkshire. He then spent a small fortune on constructing two buildings. One was a Fishing Temple which was open-sided on the ground floor and had a room above painted with shells,mermaids and Neptune. A hundred metres or so away there was an octagonal Fishing Lodge or Pavilion where he could stay and also entertain guests. This too was well decorated but in a rather unusual style. It was described by the Countess of Hertford in 1738 : “He has a small house upon it, whose outside represents a farm – the inside what you please: for the parlour, which is the only room in it except the kitchen, is painted upon the ceiling in grotesque, with monkeys fishing, shooting etc., and its sides are hung with paper. When a person sits in this room he cannot see the water though the island is not above a stone’s cast over: nor is he prevented from this by shade: for, except for six or eight walnut trees and a few orange trees in tubs there is not a leaf upon the island; it arises entirely from the river running very much below its banks.” [Correspondence between Frances Countess of Hertford and Henrietta Countess of Pomfret between 1738 and 1741, published 1805]
I should point out though that the simian paintings are not the reason the site is called Monkey Island but were probably chosen as a play on its name which derives from a corruption of Monks Eyot [or island]
The Lodge eventually became a private residence until in 1970 it was greatly extended and, with the Temple, it became the Monkey Island Hotel. Both buildings are Grade 1 listed.
In Scotland only slightly later, in 1741, Lord Braco commissioned William Adam to build a Fishing Temple at Duff House in Banffshire. Two stories high it stands on an island in the river and was one of the few elements of the estate landscape that was ever completed. Unfortunately it is no longer under the same ownership as the house, [which is now an outpost of the National Gallery of Scotland] and has been on the at-risk register for years. Photographs show it in a very dilapidated state, but apparently not unsalvageable given the willpower and money.
Other fishing temples, lodges and pavilions which have survived from the mid-18thc can be found at Abbots Hall, Stowmarket where one stands on an island in a fishing pond, and Panshanger in Hertfordshire.
Kate Felus points out that “as the century progressed and the landscape garden and its architecture became more sophisticated, fishing pavilions moved closer to their lakes, eventually to be sited right above them.”
One of the most beautiful survivals that prove this point is the Temple at Stoke Nayland. Built around 1760 by Robert Taylor it was the fishing lodge for nearby Tendring Hall, Sir John Soane’s first major country house, tragically demolished in the 1950s.
It stands at the western end of a much older formalized fishpond/canal and has now been converted into a house. As it used to be owned by David Hicks, who laid out the garden, and is now owned by another interior designer there are a lot more photos than you might expect, and a good place to start if you want to know more is to follow the links under one of the images above.
And now finally to Kedleston, Robert Adam’s masterpiece. Before 1758, when Adam was commissioned to improve the grounds, Kedleston had been laid out in a formal geometric style by Royal gardener Charles Bridgeman, with terraces mounting the hill to the rear and a canalised stream and pond. William Emes was employed between 1756 and 1760 but it was Adam who masterminded the landscaping scheme for Sir Nathaniel Curzon who inherited the estate in 1758. Adam was also to go on and design and decorate Curzon’s spectacular new house.
Adam swept away not only Bridgeman’s gardens, but the public road and all the buildings along it including the mediaeval village. A major part of Adam’s scheme was, as in so many other landscape projects of the time, the creation of a lake made by enlarging and then damming up the small brook which ran through the estate. Again, as was typical, Adam planned a long winding path around the grounds complete with temples and follies such as a rustic hermitage, a Turkish tent, and a theatre. Although many of his eye-catchers and landscape ‘incidents’ were never built, prominent amongst those that were was a fishing lodge.
Built between 1770 and 1772 in the neoclassical style it is sited on the edge of the upper lake, an easy walk, or, of course, an even easier ride, across the park from the house. Unfortunately, as Kate Felus points out, there are no known contemporary images of the park at Kedleston, but the documentary evidence suggest that the pavilion was originally set in a flower garden and surrounded by trees, with the lakeside deliberately planted as well. These days only a couple of trees survive so the building really stands out in the landscape instead of being tucked away as it would have been, and this obviously alters the way the building is appreciated by the modern visitor.
Adam’s design take full account of the lakeside position. From the park itself the pavilion appears to be single storied, with the roofs of the 2 side wings merely seeming to form a low flanking wall. However, as you go in, there are a pair of staircases that lead down to a lower waterside level.
The ‘ground’ floor is a banqueting room, with fish-related paintings, and a beautiful Venetian window that allows the lazy angler to fish without leaving the comforts of the room.
On the lower floor there are two vaulted boathouses and between them one of those strange Georgian delights – a cold bath. Cold baths would have made an excellent subject for an article on here but they have already been extremely ably covered by Clare Hickman and if you want to know more I’d recommend following the links from her piece at:
As Kate Felus says:”With its own garden, civilized room for dining, and the pleasures of boating and fishing, this building was a resort in its own right.”
The late 18thc was the heyday of fishing pavilions like this and I will take a look at a few more in another post soon.