Monday, January 2, 2012

Fonthill Bishop, Wiltshire

A great arch for a great house

As is well known, England is rich in country houses, but was once richer still. Hundreds of country houses have succumbed to the mallet and swinging ball of the demolition contractor, for reasons ranging from economics to fashion. The vanished country houses often leave traces behind, though, and amongst the most noticeable are lodges and gatehouses, built to mark and guard the entrances to country estates and often kept because they make good houses. A favourite of mine is the domed lodge at Stoke Edith in Herefordshire. Here’s another, the grand Palladian lodge near the B3089 at Fonthill Bishop in Wiltshire.

Fonthill is a name to make architectural historians pause. The place was the home of the most grandiose and bizarre Gothic revival house ever, Fonthill Abbey, built in the early-19th century by super-rich dilettante and author William Beckford. It is long gone (although a fragment remains, which I hope to see one day). But before Fonthill Abbey there was Fonthill Spendens, a vast Palladian house built for Beckford’s father between 1755 and 1770; its park was entered through this lodge.

The round arch, pediment, and blocks of heavily rusticated masonry are emphatically Palladian in style, so much so that some say the building is the work of the original English Palladian architect, Inigo Jones. If so, that would make it a 17th-century building, but it’s more likely to date from the time when Splendens was built. If so, it’s a powerful reminder of the kind of architecture of Splendens, a house that was pulled down in 1807, when William Beckford, a dedicated follower of Gothic fashion, was building his new house. If Fonthill Splendens was as solid as this great archway, it probably did not come down without a struggle.


Hels said...

*sigh* fashions come and go in domestic architecture, as in every other area of human endeavour. But if Fonthill Spendens, a vast Palladian house built for Old Beckford in the second half of the 18th century was destroyed for gothickery in 1807, what a tragic waste of resources and taste.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Absolutely. And Beckford's Gothic house didn't last very long either - a waste all round.

Vinogirl said...

I always think these reminders of past splendor look rather forlorn. First I ever remember seeing where some gate posts left after the demolition of a lodge on the Earl of Derby's estate (outside of Liverpool). Of course, Knowsley Hall still stands and I was lucky enough to get a quick tour of it once (knew a valet of Lord Stanley's) back in the 80s. Nice house!
Happy New Year!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Vinogirl: Now that is some house! (Which I've not been inside, by the way.)
The Fonthill lodge does not look too forlorn - at least it seems to be cared for, which is good. Which also goes for the Stoke Edith one I mentioned. But the ones with tiles missing and windows broken - now they ARE melancholy.

Peter Ashley said...

One of my all time favourite entrance archways, along with the larger flint and gault brick Triumphal Arch at Holkham in Norfolk. Both announced their respective houses from some distance away; in the case of Holkham there was still two miles to go.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: Yes. Indeed, from the engravings I've seen, Fonthill Splendens looked rather like Holkham, although presumably it was built of the same kind of stone as this arch.

Incidentally, as you know this building, you will realise that I photographed it from the 'back' or inside, rather than from the main road. That was mainly because there were lots of cars parked on the other side. Anyway, the sweep of the drive helps the image a bit, and distracts from the fact that it was a deadly dull day.

My other favourite lodge is that one at Badminton not far from the village of Didmarton in Gloucestershire. I've driven past it dozens of times but not got round round to taking a photograph of it yet.

Vinogirl said...

Oh. And I love the handful of lodges around Birkenhead Park, each a different style; Italian, Gothic, Norman etc., built in the mid 1800s.