The arrival of an updated volume in the Buildings of England series is always a cause for celebration. Better known simply as ‘Pevsners’, after Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983), the author of the earliest volumes, the books are regularly revised. The latest volume to be painstakingly brought up to date covers the county of Wiltshire, and is the work of Julian Orbach. The first edition of the Wiltshire volume appeared in 1963, and was close to Pevsner’s heart, as he had a home in Clyffe Pypard where he and his family spent much of their time: his dedication calls Wiltshire ‘the county of the cottage’.
Pevsner was always keen to include the garden ornaments that embellished the landscapes of great houses in his volumes, and in Wiltshire there were plenty of outstanding parks: Bowood, Wardour, Fonthill and Wilton to name but a few. And of course Stourhead, which Pevsner ranked alongside Stowe as ‘the best place in England to enthuse in landscaped grounds and garden furnishings’ (a very Pevsnerian phrase). But it is in discussing a lesser known landscape ornament that Pevsner’s dry style is best illustrated. At Wick Hill, near Bremhill, stands the Maud Heath Monument. As the legend goes, Maud Heath was a ‘public-spirited old pedlar woman’ who became very wealthy. In 1474 she created a trust to fund the construction of a causeway from Wick Hill to Chippenham, and an endowment for its future maintenance.
Centuries later the 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne (1780-1863) of nearby Bowood House, and William Lisle Bowles (1762-1850), vicar of Bremhill, two of the Trustees of Maud Heath’s Charity, erected a column topped with a seated figure of Maud. Bowles composed the poem which features in the inscription:
Thou who dost pause on this aerial hight [sic]
Where MAUD HEATH’s Pathway winds in shade or light,
Christian Wayfarer in a world of strife
Be STILL and ponder on the Path of Life.
Bowles composed sonnets which were admired by the young Coleridge, but later in life, as his poems grew from 14 to over 2,000 lines (his publisher, John Murray, unsuccessfully suggested that his compositions might be condensed a little), his work fell out of favour.
Work began on the column in October 1837, and was completed the following year. A stone chair was erected at the same date, but broken by vandals soon after. The ‘handsome reward’ which was offered presumably led to information on the culprits, and as this drawing by Charles George Harper (1892-1933) shows the chair was restored and it remains in place today. The sculptor of the odd, but rather endearing, depiction of Maud and her basket of wares is not known, but occasional restoration work has kept her looking her best – including after she literally lost her head in a storm in 1990. Trees now obscure the full panorama, but Maud certainly enjoys an extensive prospect.
To return to Nikolaus Pevsner: he was no fan of the stanza or the sculptor, and his wonderful deadpan conclusion was that ‘The quality of the poetry matches that of the statue’.
Maud Heath has given her name to a vineyard close to her monument. It seemed only right that The Folly Flâneuse should toast Maud Heath and everyone who has contributed to a ‘Pevsner’ over the years.
The new Wiltshire volume contains follies and landscape ornaments that have been built in the years since Pevsner’s death in 1963 (he is buried with his wife in the churchyard at Clyffe Pypard). To pick just two: in the first years of the present century Sir Henry and Lady Keswick erected a stunning glass pyramid, to a design by I.M. Pei, at Oare House. Completely different in character is Colin’s Barn near Chedglow, a rustic, organic, labour of love built by Colin Stokes in the last decade of the 20th century, and recently listed by Historic England.
An early Pevsner would fit in your pocket. After updates by Bridget Cherry in 1975, and now Julian Orbach, a backpack might be in order, but it will be worth the effort. For more on the new Wiltshire volume, which is published on 8 June, see https://yalebooks.co.uk/display.asp?k=9780300251203
There’s more on Maud Heath and her philanthropy here https://bremhillparishhistory.com/article/maud-heaths-causeway/
Oare House and Colin’s Barn are private. Maud Heath’s monument has full public access.
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