Reconstruction of an 18th-century Turkish-style tent

Reconstruction of an 18th-century Turkish-style tent

Photograph of the re-created Turkish Tent, Painshill, December 2004. Copyright Painshill Park Trust.Photograph of the re-created Turkish Tent, Painshill, December 2004. Copyright Painshill Park Trust.

Feature

The Turkish Tent

Site

Painshill Park, Surrey

Issues

There were no extant standing remains of the 18th century Turkish Tent, and half the site of the feature belonged to a neighbouring landowner.

Background

The Turkish Tent was in place by 1760, appearing on an engraving by William Woollett. Contemporary accounts suggested that it was made of brick and plaster, draped with white-painted, blue-fringed canvas. It had a lead-covered roof, plumes of copper wire and a papier maché cornice.
In 1986 archaeologists uncovered the remains of the floor, of bricks laid on edge in herringbone pattern. The remains in an oval trench surrounding the floor showed that the structure would almost certainly have been of brick. A large number of nails found on the site suggested that the roof had been made of timber.

Unfortunately, the sale of parts of the land after the Second World War meant that half of the original floor was now on private land, with a boundary fence running across it. As well as this, the view from this position across to the Gothic Temple, which had been an important part of Charles Hamilton's design, was interrupted by a dense swathe of trees, also now on private land. Eventually it was decided to site the new Tent 50 yards to the south.

The team reconstructing the tent had two contemporary illustrations to work from: an untitled, coloured drawing by Henry Keene (1726-76) of the 1750s and a black-and-white sketch of 1779 by the Swedish architect Frederick Magnus Piper. The Keene drawing is not labelled, but is so similar to the Piper sketch, that it may have been the design on which Hamilton based his tent.Photograph of the brick shell of the Turkish Tent during restoration, by Susan Gordon. Copyright Susan Gordon.Photograph of the brick shell of the Turkish Tent during restoration, by Susan Gordon. Copyright Susan Gordon.

Solution

Both the Keene and Piper drawings matched each other almost exactly in depicting the tent as twice as high as it was wide. Knowing the dimensions of the ground plan, the team was able to calculate the likely height of the tent.

The walls of the tent were reconstructed in red brick and lime mortar, the same materials as used in the 18th century for the original structure, but - in line with 20th-century building practice - were set on a concrete raft foundation.

Details of the cornice differed between the two drawings. Rather than decide between the two, the team chose to follow the work of craftsmen known to have been associated with Henry Keene, such as Thomas Roberts of Oxford. The twisting motif used by Keene and Roberts for the ceiling of the drawing room at Greys Court in Oxfordshire was chosen for the cornice, which was recreated in fibreglass rather than papier maché.

The domed, ogee-shaped timber roof was reconstructed in softwood, and covered in heavy-grade lead sheeting, following construction methods used in the 18th century, although screws were used in preference to nails, and modern bolts rather than coach bolts. The roof was finished with a finial and crescent of turned limewood, and blue plumes of copper wire.

Blue-and-white painted canvas was used for the outer walls, as had been used in the 18th century for the original Turkish Tent. Unfortunately, this proved too vulnerable to wear and tear caused by visitors, and after 18 months it was replaced by a fibreglass canopy which recreates the appearance of the painted canvas.