Bretton Hall, near Wakefield, is now best known as the home of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where artworks have been displayed in the open air, and in purpose built galleries, since 1977. But long before these works arrived, the park was home to a collection of ornamental garden buildings, including the enchanting tiered tower called Bella Vista.
Bretton Hall was the seat of the Wentworth family, and in the second half of the 18th century Sir Thomas Wentworth (later Wentworth Blackett, 1725-1792) remodelled the park with lakes, planting and follies, including a double-faced temple (see link below) and a grotto. Bella Vista (sometimes Belle Vista) was probably designed by John Carr of York, who was active at Bretton in the 1760s and 70s, and representations on estate maps from the early 19th century show that a tiered structure was built, close to this original design.
Bella Vista stood high above the mansion, with sweeping views across the Bretton parkland and beyond, and was backed by woodland called the Bella Vista Plantation. Although constructed to this elaborate design as an eye-catcher from the house and pleasure grounds below, Bella Vista was also a belvedere, a destination for carriage rides and picnics, and it it also had a more practical function as a lodge.
By 1881 it was home to a family of 11 – George Wilkinson, a labourer, his wife, and 9 children between the ages of 2 months and 24 years of age called Bella Vista Lodge their home. This remarkable feat was achieved by covering in the open arcade at ground level (which originally housed the stairs to the upper stories), and creating a series of small rooms to augment the existing internal spaces. An ingenious use of space, but it must still have been a bit of a squeeze. The upper tiers were probably removed at the time of this conversion.
Bella Vista fell into disrepair after the Second World War when Bretton Park had been requisitioned, and was demolished as unsafe in the 1950s. Only the entrance drive and gate piers survive.
The lost building was recreated a few years ago by two of the Folly Flâneuse’s favourite artists. In 2017-2018 the Yorkshire Sculpture Park held an exhibition of work by Ed Kluz, called Sheer Folly: Fanciful Buildings of Britain. To accompany the show Ed produced this delightful limited edition screen print of Bella Vista by moonlight:
Complementing Ed’s work, the exhibition also featured an exquisite miniature silver model of the folly by Vicky Ambery-Smith, who creates jewellery and small decorative pieces in silver and gold.
Bretton Hall is currently being converted into a hotel by property developers Rushbond (let’s hope they name a bedroom the ‘Bella Vista Room’, as was the case when it was a family home).
The gardens and pleasure grounds of Bretton Hall are home to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park https://ysp.org.uk. The site of Bella Vista is not within the YSP but can be seen from a public footpath.
You can see more of Vicky Ambery-Smith’s work here http://www.vickiamberysmith.co.uk
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