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.
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.
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).
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.
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 http://www.margamcountrypark.co.uk/15996
For more on the holiday let see https://www.holidaycottages.co.uk/cottage/14865-ivy-cottage-at-margam-country-park