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.
In the 1760s Sir Thomas Wentworth* (1726-1792) of Bretton Hall, near Wakefield, set about landscaping his park. Initially, he employed Richard Woods, a professional landscape designer, but soon decided he could manage just as well on his own. In the 1770s he added to his grand design without recourse to even the most eminent landscaper of the age: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. A second lake would, he told friends, be completed without the help of ‘Capability or any such pretending Rogues’.
Dated 1792 the temple in the park of Swinithwaite Hall was built as a banqueting house and belvedere to enjoy ‘the most strikingly beautiful and picturesque scenery of the valley and the whole range of its western mountains’. The valley in question is that of the river Ure, and the most dramatic feature of the vista was the ‘grand and majestic falls […] over the rocks of Aysgarth’, a view that is still partially intact today. The temple was a short ride away from the hall and set within its own miniature pleasure ground with ‘ornamental timber and shrubberies.’ A panel above the door shows a talbot, a breed of dog associated with hunting, suggesting that the temple may also have been used as a grandstand for watching the chase in the valley below.