Thomas Wright of Durham (1711-1786) at Halswell

Part Three:  The Rockwork Screen, or Grotto

Halswell: The Grotto (or Rockwork Screen) of c. 1754.

Halswell: The Grotto (or Rockwork Screen) of c. 1754.

The history, purpose, later uses and relative obscurity of this fascinating feature makes it one of the most interesting of the eighteenth-century architectural additions to Halswell by Sir Charles Kemeys-Tynte.

William Kent (1685-1748) was England’s first great landscape designer and his influence throughout the eighteenth-century was immense. In many ways he was a man before his time but his insights into the Arcadian Landscape were taken up by other great designers who came after him, such as Capability Brown (1716-1783). His work on such grottos as those at Burlington House and Rousham had a direct influence upon Halswell’s Grotto which served as a dam, grotto and, originally, a water cascade.

William Kent’s 1738 cascade for Lord Burlington at Chiswick House, London.

William Kent’s 1738 cascade for Lord Burlington at Chiswick House, London.

Continue reading

Thomas Wright of Durham (1711-1786) at Halswell

Part Two: The Bath Stone Bridge

“One of the most curious and obscure garden buildings in the country – the 1750’s rockwork and shell encrusted Bridge at Halswell. It formed part of Sir Charles Kemeys-Tynte’s freemasonic-inspired circuit of garden buildings in Mill Wood” 

So wrote Timothy Mowl and Marion Mako in their book The Historic Gardens of England: Somerset, 2010 about the Bath Stone Bridge of c. 1755 at Halswell’s Mill Wood.

Charles Kemeys-Tynte chose to have himself depicted with books on gardening and his prised Bath Stone Bridge being built behind him.

Charles Kemeys-Tynte chose to have himself depicted with books on gardening and his prised Bath Stone Bridge being built behind him.

William Hogarth, detail of the construction of the bridge from his portrait of Sir Charles, c. 1753.

William Hogarth, detail of the construction of the bridge from his portrait of Sir Charles, c. 1753.

Arthur Young, 1771

Arthur Young, 1771

Continue reading

Thomas Wright of Durham (1711-1786) at Halswell

Part One: Kemeys-Tynte, Wright and The Druid’s Hut

Was Wright responsible for designing Mill Wood and its buildings?

In this regard the comparison with Wright’s documented work at Stoke Park in Bristol is enlightening, the similarities are so close as to make a full attribution to Wright’s guiding hand at Halswell’s gardens tantalisingly close, as many people now believe.

Historic England’s listing for Stoke Park:

“Barn Wood contains the Beaufort Memorial (Wright 1756, listed grade II), the cold bath (Wright c 1750, listed grade II), a stone tunnel (Wright c 1750, listed grade II), and the surviving footings of the Rotunda (Wright 1755-6). In Hermitage Wood, yew trees mark the site of Bladud’s Cell (Wright 1750), a root house which has disap fpeared. Hermitage Wood is linked to Long Wood via a partially derelict stone tunnel with rusticated entrance arches (Wright c 1750, listed grade II) which runs beneath a track.”

The individual buildings here by Wright, and their interrelationship within a sculpted landscape, bear close comparison to those at Halswell, though many have been lost at both sites. The Rotundas at both estates were nearly identical; Bladud’s Cell, a ‘root house’ similar to Halswell’s Druid’s Hut; Stoke’s Beaufort Memorial shared a similar ethos to Halswell’s Horse Monument, etc. Wright’s work for Norborne Berkeley, 4th Baron Botetourt (1717-1770) at Stoke Park is well enough documented that there is no question of his involvement in that estate. However documentary evidence of his work at Halswell has not been found and therefore establishing connections between Wright and Halswell in other ways must be sought.

Continue reading