architecture, belvedere, Buckinghamshire, Column, eyecatcher, Folly, garden, garden history, landscape, Temple

The Column, Langley Park, Wexham, Buckinghamshire

In 1738 Langley Park was purchased by the 3rd Duke of Marlborough (1706-1758), and one of his first projects was the construction of an elegant casino with views to Windsor Castle. In the middle of the 19th century that temple was demolished, and replaced by an equally charming monumental column. That too survived for only a century, but happily a pictorial record helps tell the story.

Sir Roger Newdigate’s sketch of the temple at Langley Park. Courtesy of Warwickshire Country Record Office, CR1841/7. Historian Gervase Jackson-Stops attributed the design of the temple to Roger Morris.

With Blenheim Palace still home to the formidable Sarah, Dowager Duchess of Marlborough, the Duke made Langley Park his home. A new house does not seem to have been a priority, but he began working on the landscape only a couple of years after he bought the estate. The pavilion is known from a sketch taken by the gentleman architect Sir Roger Newdigate, of Arley Hall in Warwickshire, on one of his peregrinations. Horace Walpole was not impressed by the parkland feature (‘it is by no means gracious’), but Lady Newdigate found it an ‘elegant temple’ and its elevated position allowed for ‘beautiful prospects’ from the first floor banqueting room. It was extant when the Ordnance Survey drawings were made in 1811, but must have been taken down before the 1860s when a monumental column was built in its place.

Watercolour design by Frederick Pepys Cockerell for a Memorial Column at Langley Park, Buckinghamshire, for Sir Robert Harvey, Bart. Great Britain, ca. 1864. ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

In 1788 Langley Park was sold to Sir Robert Bateson Harvey, recently created a baronet in Ireland. His grandson (via Harvey’s illegitimate son), another Robert Bateson Harvey (1825-1887), succeeded to the estate in 1863. This was a big year for Harvey: not only did he inherit Langley Park from his father, but he was also elected Member of Parliament for Buckinghamshire. So this 30m high column, completed in 1865, may ostensibly have commemorated his late father, but on its elevated site it must also have been a symbol of his achievements and status. The latter was further enhanced when he was created a baronet in the English baronetage in 1868.

An early view of the column, photographer unknown.

The monument was designed by Frederick Pepys Cockerell (1833-1878), and the original design, shown above, survives in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. The builders were Fassnidge & Sons of Uxbridge, and their accounts survive showing that the tower cost £1646.12.3. The two side wings contained rooms, and the column contained a staircase up to a viewing platform, where a grand panorama included Windsor Castle. As this old view shows, Cockerell’s original design was modified and simplified in a number of ways – no doubt for reasons of economy.

The gardens at Langley were further developed in the early years of the 20th century. The Pulham practise created a rock garden from 1909, a Japanese garden was introduced, and in 1912 new planting was laid out around the monument. The death of the 2nd baronet without issue in 1931 was followed by the Second World War, and Langley Park was requisitioned. The estate became home to Polish troops who are reputed to have used the column for mortar practice. In 1944 the last baronet’s heirs sold the estate to Buckinghamshire County Council, with the house being put into institutional use and the grounds becoming a country park. By the late 1950s the column was thought to be a risk to public safety, and the County Planning Officer ordered that it be taken down.

Architectural Historian John Harris was among the crowds who gathered to watch the ‘spectacular demolition’ by explosives in January 1959. He chastised the local authority for sanctioning the destruction of the monument, but saw a glimmer of hope that one day it could be rebuilt, as the original plans survived. Sadly this hope remains unrealised, and only a plinth and haha survive in the park as a memorial to two exquisite garden features.

The monument to the 7th earl of Carlisle, completed in 1870 to Cockerell’s design. Photograph courtesy of Michael Cousins.

But as a consolation prize a similar column by Cockerell does survive, and in fine condition after restoration early this century. Soon after completing the Langley Park monument, Cockerell was one of four architects invited to submit a design for a monument to the 7th Earl of Carlisle (1802-1864) of Castle Howard in Yorkshire, and he won the commission. Erected on high ground a couple of miles from the mansion, it features garlands tumbling down the shaft, similar to that at Langley Park. Unlike at Langley, there is no internal staircase in the column of the Carlisle Monument, as its elevated position already enjoyed an extensive prospect.

For more on the temple see the paper by Gervase Jackson-Stops in the Georgian Group Journal. Top marks to the Georgian Group for making the newly digitised journals available to all https://georgiangroup.org.uk/wpcontent/uploads/2020/10/GGJ_1994_03_Jackson-Stops_0001-2.pdf

For Langley Country Park see https://countryparks.buckscc.gov.uk/langley-park/

The Langley Park mansion is now a hotel https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/loniv-the-langley-a-luxury-collection-hotel-buckinghamshire/

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2 thoughts on “The Column, Langley Park, Wexham, Buckinghamshire”

  1. Gand says:

    A casino, eh. Was that a bit of a gamble then?
    Shame it didn’t last a lot longer before it had it’s chips.

  2. Editor says:

    Afternoon Gand. Good to see you are back in fine punning form

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