architecture, belvedere, country house, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, landscape garden, Temple, West Yorkshire

The Temple of Venus, Harewood House, West Yorkshire

Until the middle of the 19th century visitors to Harewood House, near Leeds, could open the doors of the Saloon (today known as the Main Library) on the piano nobile and ‘walk out upon the fine portico’. From there they could admire the lake and plantations created by the finest landscape designers of the 18th century, and on the horizon they would glimpse a fine domed temple.

Harewood was built by John Carr for Edwin Lascelles (1713-1795) who was created Baron Harewood in 1790. In 1780, soon after the house was complete, Lascelles commissioned Carr to design a temple for the elevated ground south of the house. Carr (1723-1807) annotated his elevation drawing with the title ‘Temple of Venus’ and it shows an octagonal central drum surrounded by an arcaded basement and a colonnade around the first floor.

Elevation and section of the Temple of Venus by John Carr, signed and dated 1780. Reproduced by courtesy of the Harewood House Trust.

This first suggestion was quickly abandoned and Carr drew a new design with the central tower flanked by two wings ‘to allow a covered way to the upper room’. He was paid for all three drawings in December 1780. The section shows a grand interior, with a domed ceiling with decorative plasterwork. The name ‘Temple of Venus’ probably references the pigeon house which Carr remodelled to create the temple, doves being an attribute of Venus. There is no record of a statue of the goddess being placed in the temple, and in fact, the name disappears completely after the one inscription on Carr’s elevation, and it becomes known simply as ‘the temple’.

The revised elevation of the temple with wings. Note that a pediment was considered and is sketched in. Unsigned but attributed to John Carr. Reproduced by courtesy of the Harewood House Trust.

After the drawings were presented there was then an unexplained gap of 14 years when nothing seems to have happened. Then in 1794 there was a flurry of work to execute Carr’s designs: the pigeon house was cleaned, stone, timber and lead taken to the ‘temple’, and in 1796 the interior was plastered and a marble chimney piece was fitted. In the midst of all this work Edwin Lascelles, Lord Harewood, died and was succeeded by his cousin Edward Lascelles (1740-1820, created 1st Earl of Harewood in 1812). Once complete the temple became a popular destination for walks from the house.

John Varley’s View of the North front of Harewood House, 1803. The temple can just be spotted on the horizon through the trees on the right. Reproduced by courtesy of the Harewood House Trust.

The temple, whilst still an eye-catcher from the mansion, was later put to a more practical use as a dwelling house. At the time of the 1841 census it was home to John Lister, an ‘agricultural labourer’ and his 2 sons and 2 daughters. By 1851 Lister had died and the temple was home to his daughter Elizabeth, who had formerly been in service at Harewood House, and her siblings.

A view in the park at Harewood with the Temple top left. Attributed to the talented Harriet Lascelles (1802-1889), daughter of the 2nd Earl of Harewood and later Countess of Sheffield. Courtesy of the Harewood House Trust.

By 1855 Lord Harewood was considering demolishing the temple and had the materials valued. In 1857 wood and lead were stripped from the building, and in 1859 full demolition began: the earl’s agent wrote that it was ‘exceedingly well built and difficult to pull down’ and it eventually took 145 man-days to dismantle the temple and sort the materials. Much of the stone was reused at John Sawer’s nearby farm at Lofthouse.

The temple was then largely forgotten, although the ground around it remained known as Temple Wood. In autumn 2001 Harewood was the focus of an episode of the BBC’s House Detectives at Large. The BBC filmed archaeologists from the University of Bradford investigating the site of the temple, and uncovering the foundations of the octagonal central block and the two side wings. The clay pipes and pottery found on site were utilitarian, and probably dated from the period when the Lister family were in residence. So thorough had the clearance been in 1859 that a single block of dressed stone was the only remnant above ground.

The urn in the Northern Pleasure Grounds in 2000. Photo’ courtesy of Susan Kellerman.

One fragment of the temple might survive. In the private northern pleasure grounds a substantial stone urn stands as a feature. Its dimensions correspond with the urn on John Carr’s reworked plan, so perhaps this ornamental fragment was salvaged from the demolition in 1859 and given a new home.

J.M.W. Turner ‘Harewood House from the South’, 1798. Reproduced by courtesy of the Harewood House Trust. Turner would have known the newly-built temple well as it stood close to the spot from where he painted views of the house in 1798.

John Carr was born in 1723 so this year we celebrate the 300th anniversary of his birth. Whilst the temple is gone, as is the portico on the south front (swept away by Sir Charles Barry when he remodelled the house in the 1840s), Harewood House, its stables and many estate buildings are still very much a monument to Carr’s skill and imagination as an architect.

The site of the Temple of Venus is not publicly accessible, but the view across the lake to the house that it enjoyed can be appreciated from the footpath which enters the park at Lofthouse Lodge, south of the house on the A61.

Also born 300 years ago in 1723 was Sir Joshua Reynolds. Harewood House is marking the occasion with a new look at his many works there, including the chance to see the portrait of Edwin Lascelles at close range and out of its grand frame. Reframing Reynolds can be seen until 28 August 2023, but if you can’t make it by then the portraits are always on display

Thanks to Susan Kellerman who was the Folly Flâneuse’s partner-in-crime when first researching the temple many years ago, and to Rebecca Burton, Curator and Archivist at Harewood House.

Top image: View in the park at Harewood (detail). An intriguing view attributed to Harriet Lascelles with a design for a bridge (unexecuted) added in an unknown hand. Courtesy of the Harewood House Trust.

Please get in touch if you have any thoughts or further information – scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the comments box. Thank you for reading.

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7 thoughts on “The Temple of Venus, Harewood House, West Yorkshire”

  1. Anna Aspinall says:

    Much enjoyed looking forward every Saturday to your agenda. Unfortunately seems 2 be a problem.. The programme was suddenly removed from my iPad & evrty time I try 2 resubscribe it says there has been an error. Can u help? Ido miss the Follies Flaneuse!

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Anna. There has been a problem this morning with the automated email and I am waiting for some technical help to find out what went wrong. If the problem you have had has been going on for longer could you please email me via the ‘contact’ tab and I will do my best to find out what the issue is.

  2. archaeogail says:

    Another fascinating post! Fantastic to see the beautiful drawings by John Carr, and heartbreaking to read that such efforts were made to remove all traces of the structure so completely. What a tragic loss. 😭🏛

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Gail and many thanks for sharing your appreciation. Yes, another sad loss, but as you say we do at least have a visual record (although that is a very poor second to being able to see this magnificent building).

    2. Susan Kellerman says:

      Acknowledgement and celebration this year of the anniversary of the birth of John Carr has been sadly (criminally) lacking, so thank you to the FF for reminding us all of his achievements. Had Lord Harewood resisted the temptation at the time to demolish this extraordinary building, it could have been one of the great additional attractions for visitors to Harewood to enjoy, not to mention a stunning film location.
      And a final comment: working through the records of the building of the Temple in the West Yorkshire archives, and then the eventual discovery of Carr’s drawings at the house, is testament to the enormous joy and satisfaction that research can bring. What every researcher hopes for.

      1. Editor says:

        Good morning Susan. Yes, those ‘Eureka’ moments make up for the many hours spent ploughing through receipts for candles and manure!

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