18th century Italy was bustling with rich young noblemen on the Grand Tour. This extended study trip/holiday filled the years between formal education ending and the responsibilities of inheriting an estate, and producing heirs of their own, kicked in. In the early years of the 1750s, a coterie in Rome centred on Charles Caulfeild, Viscount Charlemont, a young Irish dilettante as well read as he was well travelled: Charlemont would travel further than most and see Egypt, Constantinople and Greece. Within his circle for the obligatory sojourn in Italy were two men with strong Yorkshire connections: Thomas Brudenell, Baron Bruce of Tottenham, who had a seat at Tanfield Hall near Ripon, and Henry Willoughby of Birdsall Hall in the East Riding of the county.
Also in Rome at this date was the architect Sir William Chambers, who was only a few years older than the three friends. As the son of a merchant, Chambers was not of an equal social standing but he became a friend and architectural mentor, and went on to design garden temples for each man – although it appears that only Charlemont had the means and the inclination to build a tribute to Italy once back home.
On his return from Italy in the later 1750s Charlemont began to remodel his estate at Marino. There was already a modest mansion on the demesne, and Charlemont had a townhouse in nearby Dublin, so the Casino, Italian for ‘little house’ was perfect for the spot. Chambers designed it to look as if it contains only one room, but the structure actually has an ingeniously designed 16 rooms and cabinets, including a grand saloon and a state room. The artifice is helped by the use of curved glass in the window panes, which deflects the light and hides the fact that walls actually divide the windows, which serve more than room.
From the Casino there were views, now lost as the city has expanded, across Dublin Bay to the Wicklow mountains. The conical Sugarloaf Mountain, which dominates the view across the water, must surely have reminded Charlemont of Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples.
Over in Yorkshire, Charlemont’s friends don’t seem to have had such a desire to build. Chambers had published the designs for Charlemont, Willoughby and Bruce in his A treatise on the Decorative Park of Civil Architecture in 1759. The fourth plate was ‘an Elevation of the principal Front of a Cafine, designed by me for Lord Bruce, to be erected at Tanfield-Hall, his Lordships [sic] Seat in Yorkshire’. Bruce lived mainly at Tottenham, his Wiltshire seat and in London, but Tanfield Hall was at this date used by the family for country sports. To date, there’s no evidence that the temple was built, but research continues.
Willoughby’s casino at Birdsall also appears to have been a whim that was never realised. But Chambers liked the idea so much that he had his studio produce a beautiful finished view of the elevation, now in the Royal Academy.
The Casino at Marino admitted visitors again in September 2019 after a two year closure to allow remedial works. Opening dates for 2020 are here http://casinomarino.ie
Update: thanks to David Winpenny for reminding me that Chambers too had Yorkshire connections having spent his early years in Ripon and attended Ripon Grammar School before making his way in the world.