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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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