architecture, Banqueting House, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, Glamorgan, public park, Temple

The Temple of the Four Seasons, Margam, Glamorgan

The National Museum of Wales owns two fine oil paintings of Margam House, viewed from the north and the south, completed sometime around the turn of the 17th century. A closer look reveals a substantial garden pavilion, known as the Banqueting House, at a little distance from the house. Margam’s mansion has been remodelled a number of times, and the Banqueting House too has seen some changes: it was relocated in the 19th century and survives today as the facade of a very imposing  cottage.

View of Margam House, Glamorgan, Looking South, Thomas Smith (attrib.) (fl. 1680s-1719), ©Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, NMW A 29924. The banqueting house can be seen on the left.

The Banqueting House at Margam was probably built by Sir Edward Mansell, 4th baronet (1637-1706), and was still new and fashionable enough to make a big impression when the Duke of Beaufort and his train stayed at Margam on the Duke’s Progress through Wales in 1684. Thomas Dineley accompanied the Duke and kept an illustrated journal: he records that on Saturday 16 August the party were conducted to the ‘Summer Banquetting-house’ which he described as symmetrical and ‘after ye Italian’ with ‘excellent sculpture’. Inside an ‘infinity of Dutch and other paintings [made] a lustre not to be imagined’. The floor was of marble from Mansell’s own quarries in Wales, and was richly designed in ‘black, red, mixt and white’ stone. The Banqueting House has long been attributed to Inigo Jones, but there seems little evidence, and Dineley makes no mention of an architect.

Margam House, from The Account of the Official Progress of his Grace the first Duke of Beaufort through Wales in 1684. From the original MS of Thomas Dineley, Thomas Dineley. 1684, published 1888. Pen and ink ©Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. The Banqueting House is just visible on the right.

Bishop Pococke, the constant traveller and diarist, reached Margam in September 1756, and saw the ‘very fine summer house’. He described the interiors as having a fine walnut staircase with balusters carved as Corinthian pillars, an inlaid floor, and a ‘wainscot carved and gilt’. He also admired the floor of the entrance which was paved with ‘very beautiful’ marble from the ‘quarries of Gower’.

The Banqueting House was probably taken down in the late 18th century when Thomas Mansel Talbot (1747-1813) demolished the old mansion, although he continued to maintain and develop the park and gardens as a pleasure ground to visit from his new home at Penrice. Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot (1803-1890) built the Margam Castle that we see today a generation later, and it is he who is credited with re-erecting the facade in its current position at the entrance to the walled garden in around 1837 (neither cottage nor walled garden appear on an estate map of 1814). The rather smart cottage became home to the gardener, and over time the building became known as the Temple of the Four Seasons, after the statues that were installed later in the century (although there is an argument that the statues are not actually representations of the seasons).

The Summer House at Margam photographed by the Rev. Calvert Richard Jones in c.1845 ©Victorian & Albert Museum, London, PH.70-1983. Note that the statues have not been added by this date.

A number of 19th century gardening magazines featured the gardens at Margam, but it is curious that the temple was seldom noted, although visitors did tend to be sidetracked by the ancient Chapter House and the late 18th century orangery, which measured over 100m in length. There is a rare mention of the structure when the ‘front of the gardener’s house’ was admired in 1861.

The ‘interesting fragment’, with the statues in situ, was noted in 1909, but by then it seems to have been allowed to decline: old postcards show it covered with climbing plants and slowly disappearing into the surrounding shrubbery. It is no surprise to learn that it became known locally as Ivy Cottage.

The Temple of the Four Seasons, Margam Country Park. Sketch of West Elevation by John Malaiperuman, May 2012 ©John Malaiperumn and courtesy of the artist.

Margam was purchased by the local authority in the 1970s, and opened to the public as a country park. In 2011 experts began to look for a sustainable use for the grade I listed building as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded restoration of the park. It was decided to restore the cottage as a holiday let, and project architect John Malaiperuman drew up plans. The historic front was repaired and conserved, and the Victorian cottage behind it renovated using traditional materials.

Margam Country Park is fascinating and full of interest, especially the amazing orangery – which is a tale for another day. Meanwhile, you can learn more here

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10 thoughts on “The Temple of the Four Seasons, Margam, Glamorgan”

  1. Gand says:

    Nice cottage. I wonder if Frankie Valli ever stayed there.

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Gand. I believe he did. December 1963.

  2. John Malaiperuman says:

    I am more convinced that the design might be by Inigo Jones than you are, because the building is contemporary with him and there were very few other practitioners of the classical style at that time. He was Welsh, and the elevation bears distinct similarities to other drawings by him.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello John. I would love it to be the work of Inigo Jones. I just wanted to make it clear that there is no evidence. It’s curious that the contemporary account makes no mention of an architect, or the usually very well-informed Pococke when he visits in the 18C.

  3. Burgo de Barra says:

    … the Margam/Smith painting prompts welcome memories of Jonathan Myles-Lea …

    1. Editor says:

      It does. Centuries apart but in the same spirit.

  4. Iain Gray says:

    Francis and Libby Dineley are Folly Fellowship members. Francis is an enthusiastic folly builder and Libby a novelist. They are very good company.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Iain. Please share this post with them if you think they might be interested.

  5. Gwyn says:

    Von’s parents had a place on Gower in the 1980s and we often used to walk the dogs in Margam Country Park. I never saw this, so clearly it must have been built since the ’80s.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Gwyn. Well in the face of this incontrovertible evidence I will rewrite the entire post 😉

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