Saturday, December 5, 2020

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Framed by trees 

Cirencester Park is one of the most remarkable ornamental landscapes in England. It’s one of the few surviving large-scale 18th-century parks laid out before the fashion for the less formal landscape garden developed with such success by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. At Cirencester, a large tract of countryside was transformed by Lord Bathurst. Essentially it is a wooded landscape into which a series of avenues has been cut. The longest of these avenues stretches some five miles, from the park gates in the town to a distant vanishing point. This broad grassy ride is one avenue of many, some of which are much narrower. They are arranged at different angles and intersect with others at clearings, and at strategic places Bathurst placed monuments and buildings, to provide visual focal points and in some cases to enable walkers to take shelter, or to pause and rest. 

My photograph shows one such building, the Hexagon, a six-sided stone shelter. Visual interest is provided by the way the design emphasises the stones that surround each of the six arches. Not only do these stones stand slightly proud of the rest of the structure, they’re also pitted and roughened in a treatment known as vermiculation, a word meant to suggest that the surface resembles something that has been eaten away by worms. The plain roof topped with a ball finial is effective enough, but Bathurst at one point intended to make the little building still more striking with a cupola. My use of the phrase ‘Bathurst intended’ was deliberate – the earl was the designer of this building, dabbling in architecture to some purpose, like numerous nobles ands gentlemen of the day.  

For many, the main joy of Cirencester Park is the opportunity it gives to walk through stretches of landscape, admiring the mature trees and enjoying the chutzpah of landowners like Bathurst who created what were in effect vast works of land art using the medium of woodland and greensward. The earl’s penchant for classical pavilions, statue-bearing columns, and faux-medieval fortifications is an added bonus. To which one can add gratitude to the current earl, who opens the park throughout the year, so that anyone can walk there, without charge, in return for the observance of a few sensible rules. It’s a gesture worthy of his extravagant 18th-century predecessor.


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I presume you will also have something to say about "Pope's Seat"?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: I have blogged about Pope's Seat previously. Please see my post on 10 March 2013.