Fonthill 1351

Salisbury, England

Brief Description

Fonthill is a landscape park developed from around 1740 onwards by Alderman William Beckford and later by his son William Beckford. There are occasional open days under the National Gardens Scheme.

History

There was further development of the estate around 1850. The estate is now in divided ownership and in varied use (mainly parkland, woodland, and agricultural), and with several separate residences. The present Fonthill House is not within the area covered by the erstwhile Beckford estate, nor has it any connection with that estate.

Detailed Description

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list

A landscape park developed from about 1740 by Alderman William Beckford and from about 1793 by his son William Beckford, with further development around 1850. At most extensive it covered roughly 2,000 hectares. Now in divided ownership and in varied use - mainly parkland, woodland, and agricultural, and with several separate residences. The present Fonthill House is not within the area covered by the erstwhile Beckford estate, nor has it any connection with that estate.

REFERENCES Used by English Heritage

Country Life, 28 Dec 1901, 840-46; 24 Jan 1957, 157; 24 Nov 1966, 1370-74

Gardener's Magazine, 11, Sep 1835, 441-449.

William Beckford Exhibition 1976, 1976.HISTOR

Fothergill D, Beckford of Fonthill, 1979.

Grigson G, 'Caves of Verdure', in Gardenage, 1952.

Pevsner N, Wiltshire, 1975.

Rutter J, Delineations of Fonthill, 1823.

Thacker C, Masters of the Grotto: Joseph and Josiah Lane, 1976.

Features
  • Mansion House (featured building)
  • Description: In 1797, work began on a mock convent ruin on Hinckley Hill. It was designed by James Wyatt for William Beckford. This became the nucleus of Fonthill Abbey, elaborated, enlarged and repaired by Wyatt with Beckford's participation until about 1817. The main tower of Fonthill Abbey collapsed 1825, and much of the vast structure was rapidly demolished, leaving only the western end of the Abbey inact, including the Oratory, Sanctuary and Lancaster Tower.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
Authorities

Civil Parish

  • Fonthill Gifford
History

Detailed History

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT

The main buildings at Fonthill have a complex relationship. On a site 1km south of Fonthill Bishop church, and some 200 metres west of Fonthill Lake (NGR ST9331), successive houses were built, enlarged or modified first for Sir John Mervyn, who bought the nucleus of the estate 1553, second for Sir Francis Cottington, who bought it in 1631 and added a stable block, and third for Alderman William Beckford (1709-70), who bought the estate in about 1736 and enlarged and altered the Cottington mansion. This was burnt 1755, and rapidly replaced by a new mansion (the fourth), Fonthill splendens, designed by 'Mr Hoare' and more or less complete by 1770. The main building and east service wing were demolished between 1801 adn 1807. The west service wing was incorporated into a further building by Wyatt and Brandon 1848-49 for James Morrison. This last has now been demolished. William Beckford (1760-1844), born in Fonthill splendens, considered building a Gothic 'chapel' or tower on Stop's Beacon in the early 1790s, and a mock convent ruin on Hinckley Hill 1km south-west of Fonthill splendens. In 1796, work on the latter (designed by James Wyatt) began, and this project rapidly evolved as the nucleus of Fonthill Abbey, elaborated, enlarged and repaired by Wyatt with Beckford's participation until about 1817, and using much of the material from Fonthill splendens in its construction. Beckford sold Fonthill Abbey in 1822, and moved to Bath, where he built, and gardened, again (see Register entry for Beckford's Ride, Avon). The main tower of Fonthill Abbey collapsed 1825, and much of the vast structure was rapidly demolished, leaving only the western end of the Abbey inact, including the Oratory, Sanctuary and Lancaster Tower.

Another mansion (also named Fonthill Abbey) 300 metres south-east of Beckford's Fonthill Abbey, was built for the Marquess of Westminster 1846-52 by William Burn, and demolished 1955. The adjacent stables, also by Burn, were converted to a private residence around 1978, and mid-19th-century terraces with two sculptural groups remain to the south-west of the site of the Burn mansion. A 19th-century walled kitchen garden is situated 400 metres further south-east.

Extensive garden and landscape development in the Fonthill estate was undertaken for Alderman Beckford in the mid-C18. Fonthill Lake was enlarged from earlier fishponds to a length of 1km, by means of a weir at the southern end. Near the head of the lake are a Boathouse (or possibly 'Water Temple'), and adjacent bridge reached via causeway with 2 large stone vases. 100m west of the Boathouse and spanning the public road from Fonthill Bishop, the Entrance Gateway with twin flanking pavilions probably c.1750, and late C19 approach walls on northern side. Alderman Beckford also built Holy Trinity Church at Fonthill Gifford, 1748, which formed part of the landscape scheme. This replaced in 1866 by another church by T H Wyatt.

On both sides of Fonthill Lake, c.1km south of the Boathouse, are cave or grotto works, probably made for the 2nd William Beckford. Those on the west side include the Hermit's Cave and the Hermit's Cell, with the Hermitage ('a rude erection in imitation of a Cromlech') on higher ground above the caves. Tunnel under roadway nearby. Opposite - i.e. on east side of lake - the Landing Stage, with 4 large stone vases, probably c.1750 - and 100m south, using a quarry site, the main grottoes extending on 3 levels with several entrances and chambers. These described in William Beckford's Modern Novel Writing, 1796, II, vi, and probably created by Josiah Lane 1794. An 'Alpine Garden' was made above ground in this area, now mainly beech wood.

Apart from these grottoes, William Beckford's park and garden activity was mainly west of Fonthill splendens, ranging widely round the Abbey. Beginning in 1793, he surrounded a large area of the estate with a wall (he did not wish his neighbours to hunt through his grounds), and by c.1797 some 800ha were enclosed. Both this area and outer parts of the estate were crossed by over 40km of paths, some of which can no longer be traced. The wall now mainly demolished. Sections are visible on east side of Newtown/Hindon road, north of Stone Lodge. In the 1790s, his tree plantation was extensive - 'above a million of Trees' in 1796. He made Bitham or Bittern Lake km south of the Abbey, erecting a dam across a steeply falling valley. Uphill from and north of Bitham Lake, a winding rockwork channel, now grown over by rhododendron from the 'American Plantation' to north-east of the Lake where Beckford established trees and shrubs recently introduced to England. Mature deodar, Wellingtonia, swamp cypress, araucaria remain, with undergrowth of rhododendron. Some of this planting may date only from mid- or late C19. Most of Beckford's smaller garden features have gone - glasshouses, rosarium, thornery, herb garden - with the destruction of the Abbey. On Stop or Stop's Beacon, 1km south-west of the Abbey, foundations of a tower remain, which may date either from c.1760, or from 1794-95, when Wyatt made plans for a 'chapel' to be built there.

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