architecture, Folly, garden, landscape, Summerhouse, Temple, West Yorkshire

Temple of Venus & Bacchus, Bretton Hall, West Yorkshire. And a ‘Hammock of Love’ …

'Summer House at Bretton' J.C.Nattes, 1805 (detail). Courtesy of Barnsley Museums, Cannon Hall Museum Collection.

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’.

In 1769 the first lake was embellished with an island on which Sir Thomas built ‘a little Gothic Temple … where a dozen might be sociable’, shown here in a sketch by the itinerant artist and drawing master J.C. Nattes. The Temple was the centrepiece when Sir Thomas threw a grand party in 1771. A ‘genteel cold collation’ was served at the building, which was illuminated with lamps. As guests sailed up the lake in Sir Thomas’s boat, The Aurora, a band played, fireworks were set off and a huge bonfire blazed at the end of the lake.

Although Sir Thomas described the temple as gothic it had in fact two facades, one gothic and one with a pediment. This classical front is known only from another sketch by Nattes in the collection of the National Trust at Stourhead. The architect was probably John Carr of York.

Sir Thomas wrote that he intended to dedicate the temple to Bacchus, god of wine, and Venus, goddess of love, and planned to erect statues of the two deities on the island . The building housed a pantry and kitchen and a bedroom above; the former presumably the haunt of Bacchus and the latter the domain of Venus. The baronet was a rake, who vowed never to marry, but kept a mistress and, in the manner of the age, exercised his droit de seigneur. He fathered a number of children, four of whom lived in his household and were accepted by polite society.

If only Sir Thomas had crossed paths with the French architect Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757-1826) he might have been tempted to build a more daring structure in which to conduct his dalliances. The Folly Flâneuse was very sorry to miss a recent exhibition in Paris which featured Lequeu’s exotic output. Sir Thomas might have been tempted by this garden pavilion with its ‘Hammock of Love’, complete with ecstatic couple.

Lequeu, Jean-Jacques (1757-1826). Dessinateur. 72.Guinguette de l’entrée du petit bois admirable ; Ce hamac d’amour est dans le petit jardin de voluptés des plus agréables : [figures 172* et 172**] : [dessin] / Jn Jques Lequeu inv. et delin.. 1777-1825. Copyright Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Lequeu was a supreme draughtsman, producing wonderfully intricate pen and ink designs, but his career was not a success as his proposed buildings, including this barn in the shape of a cow, were just too eccentric to make it off the drawing board.

Lequeu, Jean-Jacques (1757-1826). Dessinateur. 74.L’étable à vache tournée au midi est sur la fraîche prairie ; Porte de sortie du parc des plaisirs, de la chasse du prince : [figures 174 et 175] : [dessin] / Jn Jque Lequeu inv. et delin.. 1777-1825.
Lequeu also drew what he called ‘Figure Lascives’. His anatomically correct drawings of genitalia were kept hidden away by curators at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and although known by scholars were only exposed to a wider audience at the recent exhibition at the Petit Palais.

There’s more on all of Lequeu’s erections here https://gallica.bnf.fr/html/und/images/jean-jacques-lequeu

Already ruinous when it was photographed by Country Life in 1938, the temple at Bretton was demolished as unsafe after the mansion became a college in the later decades of the 19th century. The park at Bretton is now home to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park https://ysp.org.uk and the mansion is currently being restored as a hotel http://www.rushbond.co.uk/our-projects/bretton-hall-estate-wakefield/

*He took the name Blackett in 1777.

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3 thoughts on “Temple of Venus & Bacchus, Bretton Hall, West Yorkshire. And a ‘Hammock of Love’ …”

  1. Simon says:

    Another fascinating article! Do you know if there any connection between this Thomas Wentworth and the Wentworths at either Wentworth Woodhouse or Wentworth Castle?

    1. Editor says:

      To be honest I don’t know if there is a connection. The Wentworths had been at Bretton for many centuries until they sold the estate in the mid 20C so if there are family links they must be fairly distant. Sorry not to have a definitive answer! Hope you are finding time for some folly-spotting in Yorkshire.

      1. Simon says:

        Thank you. Both those at Bretton and Wentworth Castle seem to have lots named Thomas or William in their family trees which made me wonder. Hoping for more folly hunting (and maybe even building) in 2019 than in 2018!

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