Clarkson’s History of Richmond, revised in 1821, recounts that Cuthbert Readshaw created a ‘highly romantic walk’ by the Swale in 1760. Cuthbert Readshaw, who died in 1773 was a merchant who lived in the Bailey (ie the market place) in Richmond, and according to his will he was in ‘the business of wine and spirits and other branches of trade’.
To access the walk 18th century visitors would have travelled downhill from the town centre and crossed the river via the Green Bridge. Promenading along the south bank of the River Swale they would have encountered the picturesque scene of leafy Billy Bank Wood (aka Bordel Bank) and occasional artful outbreaks of the craggy rock face behind. Tucked in the woods was the cleft or cave known as Arthur’s Oven, conjuring romantic images of ancient and wilder times.
Eventually visitors would reach the conical hill called Round Howe. This neat mound also excited the senses with many believing it to be the site of ancient druidic rituals ‘during the earliest periods of British history’. Others thought its origin owed more to geology, being ‘one of the most wonderful productions of nature’. In the 17th and 18th century the landscape was changed by both art and industry; alongside his picturesque riverside enhancements Readshaw, who had extensive mining interests, may have been one of the men working the hillside for copper.
Around the time he laid out the walk Readshaw also landscaped the Round Howe and built a temple on the summit ‘which with his pleasure-boat in the pool below, formed an agreeable contrast to the rude scenery of nature’. Jeffreys’ map published in 1775 shows the wooded hillside had 6 geometric paths leading to the top, with the summerhouse at the hub of the wheel. The temple was both eye-catcher from the town and viewpoint back to the to the panorama of the town, castle, river. The view also encompassed the Yorke seat The Green, on the opposite bank, topped with the the elegant and prominent Culloden Tower of c.1746 (now Landmark Trust). It is not clear if Readshaw was creating the landscape for his own personal use, or if it was a commercial venture like the London pleasure gardens at Vauxhall and Ranelagh.
The agricultural commentator Arthur Young visited Richmond in the late 1760s and described ‘a little temple… at a distance in the vale, romantically situated among hanging woods’ which added ‘much to the scene’. This view (above) by George Cuit seems to be the only pictorial record, and shows it was a classical rotunda with Corinthian columns, garlanded frieze and a shallow domed roof reminiscent of the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli.
Curiously, although Richmond was visited by many tourists in the later decades of the 18th century, Young’s is the only contemporary account of the temple known to survive, probably because the structure had only a brief existence. By 1791 an engraving of the scene shows that the hilltop is bare. Was it poorly built and soon collapsed? Was it an ephemeral structure, never intended to have a long life? Did Readshaw’s lease of the land expire? No explanation has been found; please comment below if you can help.
A further complication is added by the difficulty in separating the inter-connected Readshaw families living in Richmond in the late 18th century – all of who seem to have been called Caleb or Cuthbert. In 1768 Arthur Young said the little temple belonged to ‘Mr Ritchie’ and this was corrected to ‘Mr Readshaw in the 2nd edition of his Six Months Tour through the North of England, published in 1771. Young doesn’t give a first name, and it is not until Clarkson’s heavily revised edition of the History of 1821 that the name Cuthbert Readshaw is used. By this date the temple was gone, and Clarkson was clearly relying on hearsay as he erroneously described the former building as ‘chinese’. So was Cuthbert Readshaw the builder, or could it have been Caleb Readshaw of The Grove, another prominent Richmond citizen of the time? Another mystery to be solved.
The Round Howe and Billy Bank Wood are in the care of the National Trust. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hudswell-woods
NB this post was revised on 1 December and Jane Hatcher, Richmond historian, is thanked for her help.