Angling for attention…

You don’t have to be the slightest bit interested in fishing to be attracted to some of  the buildings associated with it.  Because of their settings, many are delightful places to spend time in: after all what’s nicer than sitting by water and watching the world go by.

Way back in 2016  I wrote a couple of posts about  fishing lodges and temples.  The first was on the earliest  surviving ones, from the mediaeval and early modern periods, then a second about early 18thc  ones. But I kept finding more so today’s post is a brief look at 3 more historic sites, associated with angling and dating from the later 18thc.

The first is at Fawley Court, a Grade 1 listed country house  in Buckinghamshire, possibly designed by Christopher Wren. It was built in the 1680s for the Freeman family who made their money in the West Indies from sugar and slavery.[For more info see  the Letters of William Freeman,  London Record Society  2002.]

Much of this money was poured back into the estate.

During the 1730s John Freeman probably had advice from John Aislabie of Studley Royal, and laid out pleasure grounds. There are several garden buildings from this period notably a mid-18thc folly. It has  a  ruined gothic facade which disguises a domed grotto behind, and was designed to house Freeman’s collection of Arundel marbles which are now in the Ashmolean Museum Oxford.  Along with other buildings on the estate it was painted by John Piper, who lived nearby.

In the 1760s Sambrooke Freeman who was a member of the Society of Dilettanti, enlarged the estate. He then employed Capability Brown to landscape the grounds before in the early 1770s giving  James Wyatt  what was probably his first commission to  remodel the interior of the house  in a the neoclassical style.

Freeman  also asked Wyatt to build a summerhouse as an eye-catcher at the end of Brown’s principal vista from  the house.  Wyatt designed  a fishing lodge which was  bow-fronted and stuccoed  building with a cupola.  Known as the Temple it sits on a really prominent position at  the tip of a small island in the Thames which overlooks what is now the site of the start of the Henley Regatta.

Wyatt also designed the furniture and planned the interior decor- thought to be the first example of “Etruscan” style, in England with faux  black and terracotta reliefs and medallions.

Sambrooke Freeman’s   improvements, particularly “his elegant building in his island” were praised by Mrs Lybbe Powys when she went to stay in 1771.

The house has, since then, and like so many others, suffered a more chequered history. It was requisitioned during World War II and then was taken over by a Polish order of monks who opened a school for the newly settled Polish community.  They sold it in 2008  and is now a country club. However the bulk of the estate, including the temple was retained by the pre-war owners. Unfortunately it fell into disrepair until, in 1987,  a long lease was sold to   the Stewards of Henley Regatta. They undertook restoration works to  the temple, especially its Wyatt wall paintings,  and its surroundings, replanting trees and creating a nature reserve.  As you might expect the temple is now an exclusive events venue.

At almost exactly the same time James Wyatt was working on the temple at Fawley Court, Richard Woods was working on another fishing lodge at Alresford Park in Essex.   Woods was commissioned  by Thomas Martin, whose family had made their money via the East India Company,  to extend  and convert  an existing cottage. The ‘little fishing house’ is known as The Quarters because it was thought once to have quartered Cromwellian troops during the Civil War.

Woods’ very plain designs for the interiors

Thomas Martin died in 1775 before work was finished. His estate was inherited by his daughter Mary, and it was she with her husband Colonel Rebow who finished the work.  Contemporary estimates survive  ‘for Building the Chinese Temple’ and they refer to ‘the Banqueting room, ante room & passage’ as well as ‘Chinese railing round ye gallery & under ye 2 side windows’.   Yet  for all the talk of Chinese on the outside there is none at all inside.

Gay’s summerhouse at petersham, from Fiona Cowell’s Richard Woods, p.86

Fiona Cowell in her book on Woods suggests, that as this is the only known piece of Chinoiserie by him, he may have been influenced by John Gay’s summerhouse at Petersham which he would probably have known.

But she also thinks he drew on the range of ‘Chinese’ pattern books that were fashionable, but also hybridized styles, since the columns holding up the verandah roof are classical.


Colonel Rebow went on to employ Richard Woods to undertake extensive alterations and additions to the parkland surrounding his own house, nearby Wivenhoe Park, now the home of Essex University.   Mary Rebow wrote that “Mr Woods… told me he had put everything in such a train that he should not have occasion to come down any more until October, when he should just beautify and put the finishing touches to one of the most pleasing pictures in England.”

The Rebow’s son,  Major-General Francis Rebow commanded the Household Brigade during  the Peninsular War  but on his return commissioned John Constable to paint  the parkland and lake at  Wivenhoe. He wanted the picture  to be a busy conversation piece and show everything that was going on in the grounds, much to Constable’s worry. “The great difficulty has been to get so much in as they wanted …  On my left is a grotto with some elms, at the head of a piece of water – in the centre is the house over a beautiful wood and very far to the right is a deer house, which it was necessary to add, so that my view comprehended too many degrees.” But Rebow also wanted him to paint a companion piece of The Quarters.

At first glance, says Alison Inglis, “the two paintings would appear to have been executed as a study in contrasts: Wivenhoe Park is a sweeping panorama, full of life and movement, beneath a dramatic, cloud-filled sky. ‘The Quarters’ behind Alresford Hall is half the size, and depicts a single building enclosed by trees – a hushed and secluded scene seemingly devoid of people. Not surprisingly, the straightforward, frontal presentation of the fishing pavilion has been viewed by some writers as ‘more conventional’ than the bold, ‘unaffected’ naturalism of Wivenhoe Park (in which the parkland dominates the distant, partly obscured house).”

screenshotBut first glances can be deceptive.  The painting of The Quarters is not empty of people. Constable wrote to his future wife in 1816, telling her that “I am going to paint two small Landscapes for the General, views, one in the park of the house & a beautifull wood and peice of water, and another a scene in a wood with a beautifull little fishing house, where the young Lady (who is the heroine of all these scenes) goes occasionally to angle.”  This was Rebow’s  daughter Mary and you can see her just disappearing into the woods in this close-up from the painting. Apparently She also appears as a simialrly small figure in a donkey cart in the apinting of Wivenhoe but I cant get a high-enough resolutuion image to check that.

The finished painting, however, gives little indication of the sociable pastimes enjoyed at this site.  Apart from fishing its clear that the lodge was used for entertainment of all sorts.  The building is on the Register of Historic Buildings at Grade 2* was extended and converted into a house in 1951.

[ For more information about The Quarters a good place to start, apart  from the Historic England listing is Alison Inglis’s article :‘The heroine of all these scenes’: John Constable and the Rebow family in 1816.For more information about Richard Woods, a lesser known but underrated designer see Fiona Cowell’s articles in Garden History, Richard Woods: A Preliminary Account: Part I. ‘Woods Surveyer at Chertsey in Surry’ and at London Stile Garden History, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 85-119;  Richard Woods: A Preliminary Account. Part II ‘Mr Wood of Essex’ Garden History, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Spring, 1987), pp. 19-54; Richard Woods : A Preliminary Account. Part III. Influences, Style and Working Methods, Garden History Vol. 15, No. 2 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 115-135 and her book, Richard Woods (1715-1793): Master of the Pleasure Garden]

Our third late 18thc fishing lodge is much grander in scale but still cosily rustic.  Houghton Lodge in Hampshire is one of the earliest and best surviving examples of a Cottage Ornée, a genre of ‘picturesque’ Gothic architecture that flourished in and around the Regency period.   Houghton is thought to have been designed by John Plaw  – one of the pioneers of the style – or possibly John Nash, around 1793. It was probably intended as a fishing lodge. As their website says “Some fishing lodge!”

John Plaw compiled several books of designs for cottages, villas and agricultural buildings, but none of them are quite on the same scale as Houghton, although a couple have a similar bow fronted central section, and a couple were certainly  for riverside properties. He also is known to worked extensively in Hampshire , and his Sketches include at least 6 buildings he claims to have designed there.

Pair Of Lodges 100 Metres West Of Houghton Lodge

Pair Of Lodges at  Houghton Lodge

A plan of 1786 shows the undeveloped site, on the river Test between Winchester and salisbury, but by 1799 when the site was sold it had two lodges, a handsome approach, paved coach yard with stables, outbuildings, brewhouse and cottages, a terrace, pleasure grounds, and kitchen garden. There is also a Gothic grotto.

Houghton  was built at a time when it was  fashionable for the wealthy to take advantage of improved roads and transport and, as Mark Girouard says to enjoy rather than endure a visit to the country. [ Life in the English Country House, 1978, p.218]

The architecture of many rural buildings became more rustic, in line with  the fashion for the picturesque.

Many were low rise, even single story, although perhaps with an upper or attic floor in the roof as at Houghton. This meant that  the principal reception rooms were now on the ground floor, rather than on the first floor or piano nobile as was traditional. This had the advantage that the reception rooms opened straight onto the gardens, or perhaps to a verandah  through French windows. It suited a new kind of less formal country living, although it did not last as a prevailing style.

It is not known who designed the gardens and grounds that surround Houghton  but there is real sense of harmony between the shape of the house, the  lawns that slope gently down in front and the sweeping bends of the river below.  It featured in two articles in Country Life in April 1951. The gardens are now open to the public. Details on the Houghton Lodge website.

I had planned to cover one more fishing lodge but the more I researched it the more I realised it needed a post of its own….so watch out for a royal chinoiserie fishing temple soon.

In the meatime if you want to know more I’d recommend Kate Felus’s book, The Secret Life of the Georgian Garden [2016] which has a section on fishing, and her article “Boats and Boating in the Designed Landscape 1720-1820” in Garden History in 2006 [Vol.34, no.1 pp.22-46] which is aviulable for free on JSTOR if you register for an account.

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