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An Extraordinary Order: The Little Temple at Temple Newsam

Article Index

  1. An Extraordinary Order: The Little Temple at Temple Newsam
  2. Background
  3. Description
  4. Commentary: Context
  5. Commentary: Precedents from Architectural History
  6. Commentary: Purity of Style
  7. Commentary: Non-Architectural Models
  8. Designer: Possible Designers
  9. Designer: Other Hypotheses
  10. Designer: The Model Used
  11. Condition
  12. Conclusions
  13. Appendix 1
  14. Appendix 2
  15. References
  16. Illustrations
  17. All Pages

Commentary: Context

While it may have been executed on a tight budget and would have been seen mostly from a distance, the detail of the Little Temple mixes elements evoking radically different architectural precedents, and much of the work has been executed with considerable skill. Compared to other classical garden temples it is very odd indeed but, assuming it to be deliberate, what could be the architectural intention? What was the context in which the Ingrams and Brown made this incongruous combination of Gothic and Classical elements and forms, and why might they have chosen them? Given its date in the mid-18th century and its nature and location in an aristocratic English country park, there were many possibilities to be considered.

Ideas that developed through the 18th century in Britain on the design and uses of gardens, including moving away from the tight formality and symmetries of 17th century layouts, and the revival of interest in Gothic forms, are both relevant here. Alongside the “professional” architects and garden designers, many of the wealthy amateurs now brought a new spirit to the game, new sentiments, new emotions – poetical, literary and nostalgic.

Less formal and more natural gardens were advocated by such as Joseph Addison and Stephen Switzer (in the 1710s), Alexander Pope and Batty Langley (in the 1710s and 20s), and William Gilpin (in the 1740s). Nearby at Studley Royal, John Aislabie was adapting the landscape with cascades and Classical temples in the 1720s and 30s, and his son would incorporate the spectacular Gothic ruins of Fountains Abbey into that parkland in 1768.

Robert Morris proposed, in his “Lectures on Architecture” (1734), that “little Fabricks (be) erected in the Gardens of some Noble Patron of Arts (which would promote) a chain of Thought (and thus) open to the Mind a vast Field to entertain the Tongue or Pen of a Philosopher, to plunge into the deep Recesses of Nature.” He suggested “a Summer-house a little remote from some noble Villa (where) it is Here in the cooler Hours of Reflection, a Man might retire, to contemplate the important Themes of Human Life (as), in the Silent recesses of Life, are more noble and felicitous ideas”. Pope captured this more poetically, in placing an inscription from Horace over the entrance to the Grotto in his Twickenham Villa’s garden: “Secretum iter, et fallentis semita vitae” (or, roughly, “A hid Recess, where Life’s revolving Day, In sweet Delusion gently steals away”.)

It can be argued that the Gothic Revival began in the early 18th century, a result of growing interest in romantic ruins, antiquities and irrationalism, as opposed to the Apollonian clarity of the Enlightenment. Even by the 1760s it already had also an element of nostalgia for an imagined pre-industrial England, one before the effects of the Enclosure Acts (1750 to 1780s) and before the success of the Yorkshire woollen cloth trade had transformed nearby Leeds from a country market town into a congested city. Batty Langley in his “New Principles of Gardening” of 1728 and “Ancient Architecture Restored & Improved” of 1742 had played a little stiffly with Gothic elements. Fashionable “Gothick” began with Sanderson Miller’s works in 1743-59, and the amateur and writer Horace Walpole – for whom taste was more important than accuracy - had famously been Gothicizing his house at Strawberry Hill for 20 years from 1749, although this owed less to period precedent and was more Rococo than Gothic in spirit. Gothic would come to be associated with the Picturesque, and one of the early key texts was Batty Langley’s “Gothic Architecture, improved by Rules and Proportions… ” as reissued in 1747 which was a pattern book of “Gothick”, including arranging a selection of  Gothic columns as an equivalent of the five Classical Orders. Although the book owed little to real Gothic, it fed a fashion for “Georgian Gothick” that looked anything but truly mediaeval. Gothick was frivolous, and was essentially pretty (as Rococo or Chinoiserie) and was used then mostly still for interior decoration, for garden follies and sham ruins.

Thomas Wright published “Six Original Designs for Arbours” in 1755 and “Six (more) for Grottos” in 1758, which were to be built deliberately roughly from “rustic” materials. William and John Halfpenny’s “Rural Design in the Gothic Taste” of 1752 was also popular, but the designs they proferred were even less convincing than Langley’s, as were those in William Wright’s “Grotesque Architecture or Rural Amusement” of 1767, a folly pattern book of whimsical designs such as the Augustine Hermitage. [14]  

The possible sources of models for the Little Temple’s strange Order may be grouped under two broad headings: firstly, precedents from architectural history known at that time and, secondly, exemplars from contemporary garden design or from the minor arts.