architecture, belvedere, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, Kent, landscape, Monument, Observatory, Tower

Monumenta Romana and the Belvedere, Waldershare, Kent

In the 1720s Sir Robert and Lady Furnese erected a vast garden building at Waldershare Park, their seat in Kent, which became known as the Belvedere. 300 years later a diminutive structure, the Monumenta Romana, has appeared in its shadow



The Belvedere as pictured on a postcard sent in 1939. Courtesy of a private collection.

The Belvedere was abandoned long ago, and by the 1980s the grade I listed structure was in poor condition and a target for vandals. In 1995 it seemed that a solution had been found, when the Vivat Trust, a charity that rescued historic buildings and converted them into holiday lets (sadly no longer in operation), became involved. The trust agreed a lease with the owner of Waldershare Park, Lord Guilford, and English Heritage agreed to part-fund the project. Vernon Gibberd and Andrew Plumridge, specialists in the field, were appointed as architects, and the Vivat Trust launched an appeal. Gibberd’s plan for the Belvedere included adding a cupola on the roof, allowing guests a view across the English Channel to France.

Proposal by Vernon Gibberd (1931-2019) for converting the Belvedere into a holiday let, c.1995.

Writing in Follies, the magazine of the Folly Fellowship in 1997, Vernon Gibberd described progress as slow, but there appeared no real cause for alarm. However soon after that article appeared English Heritage pulled their funding, and suggested they would take the monument into their own care. Two-and-a-bit decades later nothing has been resolved: the Belvedere still stands empty, and has been included in the Historic England ‘Heritage at Risk Register’ since 1998. There is no public access.

The Belvedere across the fields, sadly in the shade on a morning visit.

Happily the Belvedere can at least be viewed from the field below, through which passes the North Downs Way. This stretch of the national trail follows the ancient pilgrimage route the Via Francigena, which runs from Canterbury to Rome, and to mark this historic route Dover Arts Development has created the Via Francigena Art Trail. At Waldershare architect Charles Holland was commissioned to design a new artwork which he called the Monumenta Romana. The artwork, constructed of salvaged timber, incorporates seating where the walker can rest and contemplate.

Holland took inspiration from the classical monuments that Sir Robert Furnese appreciated on his Grand Tour in the early 18th century (Furnese was painted with his hand resting on a volume entitled Monumenta Romana) and from the Belvedere itself. The artwork takes the form of a cupola that might once have topped the Belvedere, just as Gibberd had proposed some years earlier, and in Holland’s words ‘the two structures can be seen to complete each other’.

A freezing cold, but beautifully bright, January day of low sun and long shadows.

If the walk from Canterbury to Rome is not for you, simply follow the North Downs Way a short distance from the bottom of Singledge Lane, near the village of Coldred.

The tower from above. ©Nic Orchard, 2024.

Update April 2024. Thanks to the Flâneuse’s airborne accomplice, Nic Orchard, for this recent aerial view of the tower.

Comments are very welcome, please scroll down to the foot of the page to get in touch. Thank you for reading.

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10 thoughts on “Monumenta Romana and the Belvedere, Waldershare, Kent”

  1. Kate Dyson says:

    As usual – a fascinating tale. It looks a perfect project for the Landmark Trust. Maybe access across privately owned land is tricky? That might prevent restoration projects

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Kate. I’m pleased you enjoyed reading about these two structures. Sadly I think the main obstacle to the restoration of the Belvedere is ££££££. It would be wonderful to see it restored and used.

  2. Roger White says:

    Back in the 1980s John Sambrook, a talented draughtsman in the GLC Historic Buildings Division, felt that the way to save the building was to convert it into a residence for his wife and daughter. He was prepared to do this with his own money, largely funded by selling his house in London, and entered into negotiations with the Waldershare Estate. Unfortunately the Estate, as I recall, though willing to let John go ahead and take the building off their hands, would only grant a lease for his lifetime, which meant that when he died the restored building would revert to the Estate, leaving his dependants homeless and penniless. Inevitably the project foundered on that.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Roger. Thanks for adding to the story. Another opportunity missed, sadly.

    2. Professor Stephen bann CBE FBA FSA says:

      You may be interested that the Waldershare Belvedere was prominently featured in the artists’ book EMINENT VIEWS (1995) by Bob Chaplin and myself where it precedes other examples such as the Hoober Stand at Wentworth Woodhouse and elevated sites in the United States such as Olana and Monticello. I also wrote an essay entitled ‘Mould, Rubble, and the Validation of the Fragment in the Discourse of the Past’ in Neville and Villeneuve, Waste-Site Stories (State University of New York Press, 2002, pp. 133-42) where I also illustrate a fragment of chalk from the workings of the Channel Tunnel My view would be that the Belvedere was not intended to view France, but ‘the Kentish coast at the site where the Romans and St Augustine, in their turn, first landed’ (ibid., p. 137).

      1. Editor says:

        Hello and thank you for getting in touch. I am very interested to learn about your book, and I will try to find a copy. The Belvedere must have offered a wonderful panorama. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the historical site that would have been visible.

  3. Gwyn Headley says:

    I remember visiting the site with Vernon Gibberd in the 1990s. There was a ladder to the first floor window which I was far too cowardly to climb, but Plumridge ascended it with aplomb and so has seen the inside, which I haven’t. It is a very large and very ugly building and sadly I see little hope for it.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Gwyn. It’s certainly large, but I’d describe it as awkward rather than ugly – I think it has a certain charm. But I have to agree that it is hard to see where its future lies. It’s very sad that opportunities were missed all those years ago.

  4. Christine says:

    A sad tale. But I do like the Monumenta Romana. Very pleasing – and it shows it is possible to be both useful and a folly!

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Christine. It’s a lovely little structure in a tranquil spot. At first it seems very small, but then you realise that with the Belvedere as a backdrop the scale is just right. It must be a wonderful spot to rest if taking on the national trail.

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