architecture, belvedere, eyecatcher, Folly, garden, landscape, public park, Tower, West Yorkshire

Bella Vista, Bretton Park, near Wakefield, West Yorkshire

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.

Elevation of Bella Vista, unsigned and undated but attributed to John Carr c.1770. Image from the Bretton Estate Archive at the West Yorkshire History Centre – by kind permission of Lord Allendale.

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.

The squat lodge after the removal of the upper stories. Undated postcard courtesy of a private collection.

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:

Bella Vista by Ed Kluz. Courtesy of the artist.

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.

Bella Vista by Vicky Ambery-Smith. Courtesy of the artist and a private collection.

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 The site of Bella Vista is not within the YSP but can be seen from a public footpath.

Bretton Hall in January 2020, with Mikayel Ohanjanyan’s work ‘Diario’ in the foreground.

For more on Ed Kluz see and you can buy the screen print here

You can see more of Vicky Ambery-Smith’s work here

If you would like to share any thoughts or information, please scroll down to the comments box. Thank you for reading.

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11 thoughts on “Bella Vista, Bretton Park, near Wakefield, West Yorkshire”

  1. Gand says:

    Well what a beautiful view the Flaneuse portrays of a delightful building in the Bretton estate in God’s own County.
    I read this whilst having a coffee from an Ed Kluse mug of the YSP exhibition. Very fitting.

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Gand. Thanks for the comments and enjoy the weekend.

  2. Garance says:

    Even though local (ish) to Bretton, there is always more for me to learn – in this case social history – 11 people in that tiny space!

    The builder of the house I live in was John Wilkinson Denison and his architect, William Lindley, a pupil of John Carr. I wonder if there might be links with the man who produced 11 children?

    Many thanks for your regular informative and fascinating stream of places and spaces across the land.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Garance. Pleased to have given you some pleasure and some food for thought on this grey morning.

  3. Gwyn Headley says:

    Fascinating as always, Mme Flâneuse, and what a beautiful building. A sad loss. I’m intrigued by the first and second floor windows. In the Carr elevation the first floor has lancet windows and the second floor foiled, as does the Kluz print and the Ambery-Smith model which are taken from it. Yet the postcard shows the first storey with foiled windows, not lancet, arguing that we’re looking at the second storey lowered. It’s unlikely that the first and top floors would have been taken out and the second left, so it can’t have been built as proposed in the elevation. Who knows?

    1. Editor says:

      Eagle-eyed as ever Mr H. That’s why I said it was built ‘close’ to the original design. Sadly, the archives are scant and no other views are known so I can’t be sure of the detail, which may of course have changed between the design and the implementation. I’d like a time machine for Christmas, please. But it must have been the most elegant of eye catchers.

  4. Gand says:

    Not sure about enjoying weekend. I am going to Elland Road today. Could prove to be sheer folly in itself

  5. Steph says:

    Fantastic! I love the print by Ed Kluz – I do wish I’d had the chance to see his ‘Sheer Folly’ Yorkshire Sculpture Park exhibit!

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Steph and thanks for taking the time to comment. Such a sad loss, but great to see Bella Vista living on in Ed’s and Vicky’s work.

  6. Julia Abel Smith says:

    The most perfect wedding cake folly!

    1. Editor says:

      Morning Julia. Indeed, a lovely confection!

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