architecture, Cumbria, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, Lancashire, landscape, Summerhouse, Temple

The Temple, Holme Island, Cumbria

Image courtesy of Cumbria Archive Service WDSO/288/2/7.

Holme Island is a small island in Morecambe Bay. It sits close to the coast, not far from Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria (formerly Lancashire). The island was connected to the mainland by a causeway in the 19th century, by which date it was home to a rather special small estate.

In 1828 Holme Island was offered for sale, with the particulars stressing its value as the site ‘for a Villa’. The small estate was bought by a Warrington lawyer called John Fitchett, and he had a summer residence built to the designs of the Kendal architect George Webster. After Fitchett’s death the estate was advertised for sale, with the 1839 sales particulars describing the ‘newly-erected Ornamental Residence’ surrounded by glades, lawns, ornamental shrubs, alcoves and terraces.

The temple as illustrated in Edwin Waugh’s ‘Over Sand to the Lakes’, 1860.

The new owner was John Thompson, and in 1845 he commissioned Messrs Seward, a Lancaster foundry company, to cast ‘sixteen noble pillars in the Corinthian order’ which would form a circular temple. This ‘very beautiful specimen’ of iron-casting was seen by the citizens of Lancaster to reflect not only Thompson’s impeccable taste, but also the civic pride at being home to such superior metalworkers. The local paper reported that ‘When the pieces are put together the effect will be very fine, and reflect the highest credit on the skill of the good old town’. George Webster’s practice was extending the house for Thompson around this date, and the design of the temple is also attributed to that office.

The interior of the dome. Photo courtesy of Claire Asplin, whose grandparents owned the island in the middle of the last century. The panels here show Vesta, goddess of the hearth, and Diana the huntress. The island is strictly private and the current condition of the temple is not known.

Local tradition has it that the temple was ‘executed by Italian craftsmen’. This may refer to the lovely painted studies of Roman goddesses that decorated the interior of the dome.

Engraving by W.J. Welch showing the view to the island from Morecambe Bay.

By the time the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map was published in 1848 (surveyed 1845), the island had formal gardens, lawns, plantations, walks and a scattering of ornamental buildings including a ‘pleasure house’ and grotto. At the southern tip of the island was the temple, the elegant edifice raised on a mound and surrounded by a moat crossed by a bridge. Holme Island was described in 1860 as ‘a perfect marine paradise’ and the temple as ‘perfectly modelled after the temple of Vesta’. Like the original outside Rome, the Corinthian columns supporting a frieze decorated with garlands and skulls, although it is not an exact copy.

An undated postcard view of the island with the dome of the temple (just) visible through the trees.

Holme Island is strictly private, accessed only by a private drive from the coastal road. The grade II listed temple is now hidden by trees.

Thank you for reading. Please scroll down to the comments box if you would like to add any thoughts or questions. The Folly Flâneuse is always happy to receive feedback.


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22 thoughts on “The Temple, Holme Island, Cumbria”

  1. Gail Falkingham says:

    Fascinating post about a truly gorgeous temple. Beautiful illustrations 🏛🥰

    1. Editor says:

      Thanks Gail. It’s both fabulous and fascinating. Love the cast iron columns.

  2. Cherrill says:

    It’s great to read some background on an island that has always intigued me. As a child, every summer (and Easter and some half terms), were spent in Grange over Sands visiting my grandparents. Brought up reading Enid Blyton books, I was always convined there was something exciting on the island. Thank you, Cherrill (for anyone local to Grange, my grandparents were H & A Crabtree)

    1. Editor says:

      It’s such a lovely area. You were lucky to spend so much time there as a child. I too was a huge fan of Enid Blyton and The Secret Island!

  3. Leslie Mitchell says:

    Keep up the cracking work. Words of wonder describing wonderful histories.

    1. Editor says:

      Thanks for getting in touch and the lovely comment

  4. Gand says:

    The Saturday wake up blog. Fair warms your cockles.

    1. Editor says:

      Glad you enjoyed it. The Folly Flâneuse is not a fan of cockles but does enjoy Morecambe Bay potted shrimp on toast.

    2. Beverly Thompson says:

      We used to spend all our summers in Grange in the 60’s and 70’s as my Nanna lived there. I was always fascinated by the island and longed to go there. My mum always said that when the family built the causeway to drive there from the mainland it affected the tides. And this is why there was no sand anymore. I don’t know how correct that was.

      1. Editor says:

        Hello Beverly. I hadn’t heard that story. The waters and sands of Morecambe Bay are fascinating (and treacherous). Pleased you have happy memories of the area.

        1. Beverly Thompson says:

          It was absolute idyllic. We went out after breakfast and were free to go where we liked. I particularly remember the old house that had been bombed and still had an old bike lean8ng against the fireplace. I so wanted to look around. It was always known by our family as the stepping stones due to the pond, filled with newts and water lilies you could walk across. Also went blackberry picking there. Also the putting green and watching the trains go by. Magical place. And of course the lido. Feel very nostalgic. I wonder why there aren’t more pictures of what is on the island considering a few families have lived there. Would love to see more. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Gwyn says:

    Surely the irresistible charm of La Flâneuse would annihilate any feeble resistance put up by the owner and allow us a visit?

    1. Editor says:

      Will certainly turn on the charm and give it a try when we arrive in more settled times

  6. Judy Popley says:

    Yet another interesting and intriguing place. I then (as I always do) clinked on to previous blogs. Grimston Hall near Tadcaster and it’s interesting history. Keep up the good work.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Judy. Good to hear from you and thanks for the lovely feedback. This year has been rather challenging, but I’m still going and hopefully will continue to find ideas for posts.

  7. Pat Rowland says:

    I understand visitors are not welcome.
    The island was part of John Wilkinson’s Estate and the 1828 sale involved the disposal of all of the estate, long delayed by litigation disputing the will. The purchaser was reputed to be one of Wilkinson’s lawyers, he was certainly involved in the sale of the estate. There is a datestone of 1832 on the stables.
    In Sketches of Grange published by John Hudson in 1850 there is a lovely description
    ‘On the southern point of the island, a Grecian Temple has been erected, at a prodigious cost, we understand. We had thought it ornamental when viewed from the opposite shore, but it struck us, when near, as an error in taste, and, though beautiful as a building, very much out of place. It is encompassed by a miniature ditch, which is crossed by a formidable-looking bridge; but in place of water you gaze upon a flower-bed, filled with blossoms of every hue, and which circle this ‘model temple of Vesta’ like a radiant garland.’
    The Sewards were also producing stained glass windows from about 1825.
    It is a shame that the gardens have not been open to the public for many years and these days the temple is not visible.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Pat and thanks for commenting. Yes isn’t it apposite that the iron master John Wilkinson was an earlier owner of the island. I’m sure he’d have loved the temple built with iron columns. And what a lovely account you have shared. The temple is certainly incongruous on an isle in Morecambe Bay, but I think it is enchanting. It’s a shame it is private but I hope the owners cherish it.

      1. Claire Asplin says:

        Interesting article about the early history of the Island. It was originally given as a Shooting Box to reward Sir John Harrington for killing the Last Wolf in England.
        It is my understanding that 7 Italian craftsmen were brought over to construct the Temple.
        Around 1860 it was the home of Alexander Brogden who built the Furness Railway, which you have to cross to access the Island.
        During the 2nd World War it was occupied by the Women’s Royal Air Force.
        Around 1947 my Grand Parents purchased it and owned the estate for 20 years till 1967 when the current owner bought it from my Grand Mother.
        I have a photo of the inside of the folly but others sadly were thrown away..

        1. Editor says:

          Hello Claire and thanks for getting in touch with this very welcome extra information. I have updated the post with the information about the Italian craftsmen and the wonderful photo of the painted dome which you have kindly shared.

          1. Sam says:

            My father in law lived at Arnside and on one of his ordinance survey maps of the area he has noted the island belonging to a Mr Richard Scholes.

          2. Editor says:

            Hello Sam. Thanks for this, it’s always good to receive new information.

          3. Claire Asplin says:

            Yes Sam. Mr. Scholes purchased it from my gran in 1967 and is still there.

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