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 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.
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.
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’.
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.
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