An Extraordinary Order: The Little Temple at Temple Newsam
- An Extraordinary Order: The Little Temple at Temple Newsam
- Commentary: Context
- Commentary: Precedents from Architectural History
- Commentary: Purity of Style
- Commentary: Non-Architectural Models
- Designer: Possible Designers
- Designer: Other Hypotheses
- Designer: The Model Used
- Appendix 1
- Appendix 2
- All Pages
The Model Used
By far the closest design match found is Batty Langley’s Fourth Order of the Gothic Architecture with (the capital from) the Second Entablature, as shown in Plates X and XII of his “Ancient Architecture Restored…” [37 and 38, compare with 8, 9 and 10]. Indeed the Little Temple’s Order appears to be a direct copy from those designs published in 1742/47, but with Langley by now safely dead. Brown (or Charles and Frances Ingram) has only varied it by simplifying the entablature, substituting a squared egg-and-dart abacus, and with a meaner base and no collars to the shafts. The main form of the eight vertical acanthus leaved capital over an eight colonnette shaft is exactly as in Langley’s engraved design.
Batty Langley (1696-1751) had followed his father’s profession as a gardener and nurseryman, then moved into landscape design with his “arti-natural” style.  He published many popular pattern books, which reflected his tastes for irregularity and mazes in gardens and for Gothic architecture. Despite his enthusiasm (he named four of his sons Vitruvius, Archimedes, Euclid, and Hiram – this last the architect of Solomon’s Temple, prominent in Masonic tradition), he had little success as a practising architect, so made a living chiefly by his architectural and gardening publications. Two most popular were “New Principles of Gardening” 1728, and “Ancient Architecture Restored and Improved by a Great Variety of Grand & Ufefull Designs, Entirely New in the Gothick Mode for the Ornamenting of Buildings and Gardens, Exceeding every Thing that’s Extant” 1742, which was republished in 1747 as “Gothic Architecture, improved by Rules and Proportions in many Grand Designs…Temples and Pavilions etc”. This tried to make Gothic Architecture (or native Saxon, as Langley preferred to call it) intelligible and respectable to an age brought up on the classical orders, and thereby improve both the status of British craftsmen and the country’s architecture. On Plate I of the 1742 volume Batty Langley announces “We shall first exhibit five new Orders of Columns, Plain and Enriched, and then shew their use in the Forming of Designs…in the Gothick manner”.
The historian John Summerson’s assessment was that “Batty Langley’s designs do not plagiarise Kent, and although the spirit of them is Kentian (especially as regards the reduction of Gothic columns to equivalents of the five orders) their detail shows first hand acquaintance with authentic examples including Westminster Abbey. Technically, the designs are quite able, in the sense that the distribution of enrichments and the moulded profiles show a mind not insensible to the grammar of classical design. The Gothic of Kent and Langley was, fundamentally, a free variation of classical forms constituting not an imitation but an equivalent of Gothic. The Gothic enjoyed a freedom in the middle 18th century somewhat akin to the Rococo which, from across the Channel, sent occasional eddies of influence across Palladian England.” But Summerson ultimately deems that “Langley’s claim to have recovered the lost rules of Gothic (was) fatuous”.
Batty Langley was also an active Freemason, and there do seem to be strongly patriotic British aspects to his promotion of these Gothic Orders – in effect attempting a form of National Order. The literature of Freemasonry has much to say on the esoteric significance of the classical orders but little on Gothic, unless one takes a diversion amongst those websites that argue it was a secret or suppressed. But, whilst patriotic, neither Charles Ingram nor Brown were known to be active Freemasons. Batty Langley had also published in 1728 “A Sure Method of improving Estates, by plantations of Oak, Elm, Ash etc”, with his warning to combat the threatened timber shortage that “our nation will be entirely exhausted of building timber before sixty years are ended”. So planting trees would be profitable for the estate owners and enhance their parks, as well as being a patriotic act (future supplies of oak for the Royal Navy) and expressing confidence in the future.
Brown’s unabashed and unamended copying of resolved architectural designs by others, both here for the Little Temple’s Order and also for the Sphinx Gates, suggests that by the 1760s he was more interested in the grander scale art of composition of ground, contours, trees, water and views, and much less in the architectural programme or detail of buildings such as temples within the whole than his mentors William Kent and James Gibbs would have been in the 1730s and 40s. Brown’s schemes demonstrate broad and gentle effects with some Associationism, but show less concern with complex historical references and their erudite meanings. Indeed, his Temple Newsam parkland design is remarkable for its lack of iconographic statuary, by comparison with antique Roman, or Italian, French, Dutch and English grand gardens up to the 1740s. The presiding Roman deities have now gone: no Jupiter, Hercules, Pan, Vulcan, Venus or Diana. Very possibly one reason for Brown’s success was that his garden designs were seen as cheaper to construct and to maintain, and perhaps also the classical resonances no longer mattered so much to educated society with the advance of Enlightenment Science. Yet, if the Little Temple was still intended to be an element of Man’s Art as a counterpoint to the (albeit created) Natural Landscape, it has been executed very modestly, almost half-heartedly. An essential difference between Kent and Brown is that the former used architectural, sculptural and garden precedents to ignite even better design ideas, while the latter seemed more often content just to make an accurate copy of a suitable borrowed detail. Imaginatively, if Kent was Air and Fire, Brown was Earth and Water. Little written evidence seems to have survived to explain the theoretical, aesthetic or philosophical underpinnings of Brown’s designs in detail; but it is doubtful that in using the Gothic Order here that Brown really shared Langley’s apparent ambition to rebalance the esteem and authority of mediaeval architecture and culture that had been deemed inferior by the Renaissance to the grandeur and sophistication of recovered Greek and Roman texts and artefacts. Indeed, in contrast to the more artistic and learned Kent, Brown’s priority seems to have been to maximise his profit from all his undoubtedly arduous long distance travels, and to be an efficient man of business – with some success as his net annual income in the 1760s was about £15,000, and in 1767 he was able to buy the Manor of Fen Stanton from Lord Northampton for £13,000, a huge sum for that time. One also wonders whether Batty Langley, himself a great plagiarist of others’ ideas and designs, would have felt aggrieved, or pleased that his design was being realised in stone?
Brown’s career over 50 years shows him adapting flexibly to his clients’ different stylistic wishes and financial resources, proposing but not imposing ideas. His work in the 1760s at Temple Newsam for Frances Ingram could be as that described by a later client Elizabeth Montagu of Sandleford in 1781, “Mr Brown has not neglected any of (its) capabilities. He is forming it into a lovely pastoral – a sweet Arcadian scene. In not attempting more, he adapts his scheme to the character of the place and my purse. We shall not erect temples to the gods, build proud bridges over humble rivulets, or do any of the marvellous things suggested by the caprice, and indulged by the wantonness of wealth.”
Considering all the above, my belief is that Capability Brown did design the curious Little Temple (see (a), Possible Designers), not uninfluenced by Kent’s or Gibb’s flights of fancy, and directly incorporating Batty Langley’s Fourth Gothic Order and Second Entablature capital within the classical pedimented form of a modest tetrastyle temple. The classical temple form would declare England’s recreation of the finest antique traditions, while Gothic detail would remind visitors of native English values, and his knowledgeable clients must have been party to this game, however seriously it was now being played.
Clearly, the owners and designers of the great houses and estates from the 16th century onwards often felt they had greater licence in the architecture and ornament of such smaller garden embellishments than that for the main Villa or Mansion. As a corrective to seeking overly recondite origins for this unusual design, one should perhaps bear in mind Barbara Jones’ warning, in discussing the emergence of the Romantic movement in poetry and painting and then in architecture - “Most follies were built during the 18th and early 19th centuries and were, with their landscapes, the subject of much theorizing by those interested in the Picturesque. Influence is a sufficiently difficult word to use of professionals, who, one can be reasonably certain, do see another’s work. But with follies, everything is so unsure; Vanbrugh, Hawksmoor and Kent built some of the very earliest follies, and then the amateurs (including here not only Pope and Walpole, but also perhaps the Ingrams themselves) largely took over, and who knows what they saw and worked for, with whose aid and how; it is easy to oversimplify, and follies are by no means simple but the result of many fuddled “influences”. … such uncharitable things as “a nice change” must be responsible for a lot of follies. A gothic nonsense in the park is a change from a large Palladian house; everyone is logical, everyone is sentimental, there is no need to tie a folly to a poem – it is much better to enjoy them both as they are.”