The Bark Temple in 1955. Photo courtesy of the Hawkes Collection.
The Folly Flâneuse is putting her feet up this week, and handing over to her very good friend The Garden Historian. As guest contributor he reveals the history of the lovely, but now lost, timber temple at Exton Park.
In 1953, when Barbara Jones coined the opening words ‘survival is capricious’ for her account of the Bark Temple in Follies & Grottoes, she was probably unaware of how prophetic they were. At the time, she mused whether it was ‘perhaps built as a band stand for dances by the lake’; yet feeling the building’s oppressiveness as it slipped into ruin, added ‘but an innocent purpose for it seems unthinkable.’ She was actually so right on the former, and so wrong on the latter.
Gosford House, a seat of the Earl of Wemyss and March, is a stunning mansion which looks across the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh. Designed by the eminent architect Robert Adam (1728-1792) shortly before his death, building work began in the 1790s. The house sits in the prettiest of grounds, with watercourses, ponds, summerhouses and a sublime mausoleum. In the following century one of the summerhouses was given a new use by the Aberlady Curling Club, which held matches there whenever the pond was suitably frozen.
In 1987 Save Britain’s Heritage, the charity which campaigns to save historic buildings from needless destruction, published Pavilions in Peril, a report into the great number of garden buildings in Britain that faced an uncertain future. In drawing attention to historic buildings that are vacant and whose future is uncertain, the charity hoped to identify new owners able to repair and/or find a new use for the structures, thus securing their future. 33 years after that report was written The Folly Flâneuse is delighted to write that there have been some fabulous restorations (see link below to an earlier post), but read on for the not-so-good news…
One of the few upsides to the current situation is that there is time to rootle around in the attic and find all sorts of forgotten files full of treasure. Opening one box revealed this invitation to the private view of The Sitooteries, 20 years ago this month. What’s a sitooterie you may ask? Well it’s as simple as it sounds – a building to sit out in (the term is supposed to originate in Scotland, so try saying it in your best Caledonian accent).
As the nation settles into staying at home, forgoing a social life and, more practically, visits to the hairdresser and beauty salon, the Folly Flâneuse got to thinking about those fashionable landscape ornaments called hermitages, in which men (presumably women had more sense than to apply for the vacancy) lived in isolation. With ragged clothing, long fingernails, and unkempt beards, the hermits animated the landscape, whilst creating a little drama for the visitors who caught a (staged) glimpse of the recluse.
Studley Royal, near Ripon, stays comfortably in the upper reaches of the list of most-visited National Trust properties, helped by the fact that the landscape garden features that epitome of eye-catchers, Fountains Abbey. But only a few miles away from Studley’s shops and scones is Hackfall, a tranquil vale* which is sublime, romantic and wild – and totally devoid of facilities. Both were created in the 18th century by the Aislabie family of Studley.
The grounds of Kyre Park were laid out in the second half of the 18th century for the Pytts family. A roughly horseshoe string of ponds was created, with ornamental cascades and bridges, and this landscape formed the backdrop to pageants and garden parties in the Edwardian era. In 1930 the estate was sold, and a series of institutional tenants then occupied the house. In the 1980s the depressing phrases ‘semi-ruinous’ and ‘partially collapsed’ were used to describe a Hermit’s Cave and a tunnel. But by the end of the century Kyre Park had found its saviours…
Root houses, so named because they incorporated natural materials such as tree trunks, branches, bark, moss or heather, became key features of gardens and parks in the 18th century. Richard Payne Knight summed up the genre in his poem The Landscape in 1794
The cover’d seat, that shelters from the storm,
May oft a feature of the landscape form,
Whether composed of native stumps and roots,
It spreads the creeper’s rich fantastic shoots;