West Wycombe Estate Follies

West Wycombe Estate Follies

  • Posted: Sep 16, 2015
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The West Wycombe Estate was originally purchased in 1698 by two brothers, Sir Francis Dashwood, 1st Baronet and Sir Samuel Dashwood (later Lord Mayor of London) from their brother-in-law Thomas Lewis an Alderman of London. After the business relationship between the two brothers ceased in 1704, Sir Francis Dashwood bought out his brother’s share in the property.The pre-existing buildings were demolished and a modest house in the late Carolean style was erected in its place. It is generally accepted that Sir Francis Dashwood was passionate about many subjects but several dominated both his aspirations and his activities. He was also deeply impressed by classical Greek, Roman and Middle Eastern ideas and architecture.

In 1939 he started remodelling the existing Georgian Manor house that had been built by his father into a Palladian style mansion. During the late 1740’s Sir Francis Dashwood used the West Wycombe Estate as a canvass on which to create numerous follies, many of which may have hidden meanings that are not fully understood to this day. Certainly these follies were used during his many parties and extravaganzas as convenient hideaways where couples or even groups could enjoy private entertainments.

The pre-existing buildings were demolished and a modest house in the late Carolean style was erected in its place. It is generally accepted that Sir Francis Dashwood was passionate about many subjects but several dominated both his aspirations and his activities. He was also deeply impressed by classical Greek, Roman and Middle Eastern ideas and architecture.

In 1939 he started remodelling the existing Georgian Manor house that had been built by his father into a Palladian style mansion. During the late 1740’s Sir Francis Dashwood used the West Wycombe Estate as a canvass on which to create numerous follies, many of which may have hidden meanings that are not fully understood to this day. Certainly these follies were used during his many parties and extravaganzas as convenient hideaways where couples or even groups could enjoy private entertainments.


Temple of the Four WindsTHE TEMPLE OF THE (FOUR) WINDS

This beautiful building is modelled on the Tower (Temple) of the Winds on the Roman agora in Athens which was dedicated to the concept of time and featured sundials, water clocks and a wind vane. Dashwood’s understanding of Greek and Roman mythology would have meant that he knew and associated himself with the stories of the four wind gods. Boreas: (the North Wind), Eurus: (the East Wind) Notus: (the South Wind) and Zephyrus: (the West Wind). The Temple of the Four Winds also served a very functional purpose by supplying water to the estate and concealing the ice house beneath it.


West Wycombe - The Temple of MusicTHE TEMPLE OF MUSIC

Designed to be viewed from the mansion it was clearly constructed for entertainment as it is laid out as a single large room with basements and service entrances concealed by a small clump of trees. A survey conducted in 1781 describes it as a theatre and the remains of a stage are still identifiable. It’s located on an ornamental island in the manmade lake and can only be accessed by boat. When not in use for parties and formal functions it was an ideal location for guaranteed privacy or specialist fêtes champêtres. It was built between 1778 and 1782 from drawings by Nicholas Revett based on the Temple of Vesta in Rome the original holy place of the Vestal Virgins.


West Wycombe Estate - The Temple of VenusTHE TEMPLE OF VENUS

As the Roman goddess of beauty, love and fertility Venus was most closely associated with Aphrodite the Greek goddess of beauty. Classically educated gentry would have got the joke and the significance. It is important to remember that the age of excessive Victorian morality had yet to arrive.

The temple itself is was probably designed by Donowell and constructed in 1748 on a small but suggestive hillock.


West Wycombe Estate - The Parlour of VenusTHE PARLOR OF VENUS

Beneath the Temple of Venus is a small grotto known as Venus’s Parlour . Even the official guide book which is fairly circumspect when describing the West Wycombe Estate admits that it is a symbolic opening.

This is the most notorious of the follies and is reported to have once had up to 25 smaller statues in front of it described by the guide book as being in “Various Attitudes”. This is of course a polite way of saying that some of the statues were quite rude by today’s standards. Needless to say, they have long since disappeared.


West Wycombe Estate - The Round TempleTHE ROUND TEMPLE

The Round Temple of West Wycombe park is a circular folly with a conical roof made of Welsh slate and topped with a ball-shaped finial. The section of the temple that faces the Palladian mansion is open, is fitted with a curved bench and supported by Doric columns. The temple provides a superb vantage point from which to view the estate and particularly the Temple of the Winds with which it is aligned. It was designed by Revett as a classical rotunda circa 1775 and was constructed to conceal the water cistern that fed the main house. It nestles into the hedge that now conceals the swimming pool and is currently used as a dovecote.


West Wycombe Estate - The Temple of ApolloTHE TEMPLE OF APOLLO

The Temple of Apollo is a triumphal arch made largely from flint stone and currently houses a statue of Apollo, son of Zeus patron of music and poetry. He is most often depicted as a hairless but handsome and well proportioned young man. It should be no surprise that Apollo also has a direct link with at least two of the other follies – Daphne’s Temple and the Temple of the Winds. The statue itself is a lead copy of “Apollo of the Belvedere” which was, at one time, recognised as the most perfect of the ancient sculptures. The original was discovered in Greece during the late 15th century. It is believed that the temple was originally a gateway to the stables and household quarters. It is sometimes referred to as the Cockpit Arch as the area beneath it is believed to have been used for cock fighting.


The West Wycombe CascadeTHE CASCADE (Partial)

The cascade that can be seen today is just the base of a much more elaborate structure that can be identified in the painting by William Hannan. It appears that it was comprised of a large rock arch over the main cascade under which a river god or possibly Neptune reclined in the water facing towards the Temple of the Winds. The main structure was flanked two smaller water features. On both the left and the right were smaller rock arches through which flowed miniature waterfalls. The superstructure of the cascade was dismantled in 1770 leaving only the two square pillars of the base. It seems that these were raised and a new cascade built that included a crossing (bridge) made of five low arches. The original flanking arches were formalised in flint stone and mortar. Currently the pillars feature statues of water nymphs.


The Temple of daphne at West WycombeTHE TEMPLE OF DAPHNE

The temple itself was designed by Donowell in about 1745 and may have also been used to overlook the original entrance to the estate. In later years it would have provided a secluded hideaway where people could meet and enjoy the magnificent views of the mansion and the lake. The concept hasn’t been lost on others and in the 2003 film, What a Girl Wants, the Apollo-Daphne story is revised for modern audiences and actually filmed at West Wycombe. The concept of a garden as a form of three dimensional literary expression is now well accepted if little understood. The images in the film, the use of the Follies, including the temple of Venus, and the references to the Laurel tree are all interwoven into the story but are only really recognisable to people who already understand their significance.


Rebuilt West Wycombe Boat HouseTHE BOAT HOUSE (Rebuilt)

The original Boathouse was constructed before 1781 although possibly not in the same location as the modern version added in 1988. It’s existence can be traced to a painting by William Daniell in which it can be seen as a vague structure in the background. The more recent version is Gothic in style said to be based on the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge. It was designed by Patrick Crawford and has been built on the edge one of the ornamental islands in the lake facing towards the cascade. According to Quinlan Terry the late Sir Francis Dashwood (1925 – 2000) had intended to further enhance the boathouse by creating an even more Gothic facade made from Flint. Clearly this project was never realised.


Other Follies and features of the West Wycombe Estate included: The Temple of Flora, The Temple of Bacchus, The Temple of Diana, Kitty’s Lodge and St. Crispin’s Chapel.