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The 3rd Earl of Carlisle declined initial proposals for a series of formal compartments and instead turned to Sir John Vanbrugh to provide designs for the area immediately in front of the house (Saumarez-Smith, 1997: 137).

The original parterre was laid out with plain grass and featured obelisks, urns, statues and a 50-foot column. The exact design and positioning of these ornamental elements proved continually problematic and work was not completed until around 1725 (Saumarez-Smith, 1997: 137-138).

During the 1850s work began on redesigning this area of the gardens as many of the ornamental features had been removed. William Andrews Nesfield was hired and he came up with a design of box, gravel and plants arranged in an elaborate geometrical pattern. At the centre he installed the Atlas Fountain which was turned on for the first time in October 1853.

The improvements were commissioned by the 7th Earl and proved to be very costly. Nesfield's original estimates of £2,000 had risen to £10,000 by the time accounts were settled in 1855, although this included other work on the site (Conran, 1997: 66).

By the 1890s the parterre had become too costly to maintain so the 9th Countess resdesigned the area for a third time. It was replaced with the current design of clipped yew hedges and grass terraces. The Atlas Fountain remained as the centrepiece.

Site timeline

1715 to 1725: The original parterre was first laid out.

1850 to 1859: The parterre was redesigned by Nesfield.

1853: The Atlas Fountain was turned on for the first time.

1890 to 1899: The parterre was redesigned by the 9th Countess.

1894: The 9th Countess oversees the removal of soil from the parterre and its transferral to the South Lake.

People associated with this site

Designer: William Andrews Nesfield (born 1793 died 02/03/1881)

Sculptor: John Thomas (born 1813 died 09/04/1862)

Designer: Sir John Vanbrugh (born 24/01/1664 died 1726)


ornamental fountain

Feature created: 1850 to 1859

Creator: John Thomas (born 1813 died 09/04/1862)

The Atlas Fountain was carved from Portland stone by John Thomas and forms the centrepiece of the parterre. Atlas is the central figure in the main pool and is surrounded by four mermen which spout water from conch shells towards Atlas.