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Royal Estate, Windsor, Virginia Water


Virginia Water is an 18th-century landscaped lake. There are also ornamental buildings erected for George IV, dating from the 1820s.


The lake lies in a valley running west to east, enclosed by low hills, that to the south rising to a plateau at the northern edge of which stands Fort Belvedere overlooking the lake.

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

A landscaped lake, created for the first Duke of Cumberland in about 1750 by Henry Flitcroft as part of Windsor Great Park. It was the largest artificial lake of its day. The lake was enlarged and further landscaped, partly by Thomas Sandby, for George III, during the 1780s. The area was again embellished by George IV in the mid 1820s.


This site is part of the Royal Estate, Windsor, together with the following six related park or garden areas which are given separate entries within the Register: within Berkshire, Windsor Great Park (within which lies Virginia Water), Frogmore Gardens, Windsor Castle and Home Park, Cumberland Lodge, Royal Lodge; within Surrey, The Savill Garden and Valley Gardens.

Location, Area, Boundaries, Landform and Setting

Virginia Water lies 8km south of Windsor Castle and the town of Windsor, the area around the lake forming the southern boundary of Windsor Great Park. The c 55ha lake, together with its associated landscaping, including that around Fort Belvedere to the south, is bounded to the south and east by the A30 road, to the west by the park boundary beyond which lies woodland and agricultural land, and to the north by the agricultural and park land of the Great Park. The A329 separates Fort Belvedere and its immediate landscape from the lake to the north, although a bridge carries the road over a path connecting the two sections, ornamented on both sides of the bridge by the Leptis Magna ruins. The lake lies in a valley running west to east, enclosed by low hills, that to the south rising to a plateau at the northern edge of which stands Fort Belvedere overlooking the lake. The setting is largely wooded and rural, with the remainder of the Great Park adjacent to the north, and various landscaped parks scattered around the south boundary, including Titness Park, Coworth Park, Buckhurst Park and Ribblesdale Park.

Entrances and Approaches

The lake is approached on foot from several gates off the A329, B383 and A30. The two main vehicular approaches are from the Great Park to the north, via a drive south through the centre of the park crossing Breakheart Hill, and from the A329 to the south, this being the principal southern entrance to the Great Park. Here the south drive enters off the B383 at Blacknest Gate, passing a single-storey, stuccoed gothick lodge (Sir Jeffry Wyatville, dated 1834, listed grade II) standing 300m south-west of High Bridge. These two drives meet at the stone High Bridge (Sir Jeffry Wyatville 1826-7), a five-arched bridge over which the carriageway runs level with the ground either side. This bridge replaces two earlier structures erected since the 1750s when the lake was first created. Before this the main north/south road through the park had crossed the Virginia Brook via a small bridge to the east of Manor Lodge.

Gardens and Pleasure Grounds

The area is dominated by the enormous (c 45ha), informal sheet of water, embellished with C18 and early C19 ornamental features sited in the surrounding landscape.

The lake is surrounded by a perimeter drive which spurs east off the drive by Blacknest Gate, extending along the water's edge on the south side of the lake, backed to the south largely by woodland. Some 1.5km east of the gate the drive emerges into a grassy clearing overlooking the water, sloping gently up to the south to the ruins of the so-called Temple of Augustus (Roman in origin, brought from Leptis Magna in North Africa (now Libya) in 1818, re-set and erected by Sir Jeffry Wyatville 1824-6, listed grade II*). Half of the columns flank a grassy drive leading to the brick bridge (c 1827, listed grade II* with the Temple of Augustus) which carries the A329 Virginia Water to Ascot road, passing south beneath this bridge to emerge in the wooded grounds of Fort Belvedere where the other half of the columns stand in apsidal formation. To the north, by the lakeside, further remains have been reset to form a landing stage (c 1827, listed grade II). This remains the largest classical garden ruin ever to be erected in this country (Strong 1992).

From the bridge and ruins, Cedar Drive is still flanked in places by mid C18 cedars, although it is somewhat overgrown at the north-east end (1999). A second drive runs parallel to the south-east, following the line of the old public road closed in the late C18. Cedar Drive extends 900m south-west through the wooded hillside, opening out into an informal lawn running up the hillside to arrive at a terraced lawn supporting the curved Battery (Sir Jeffry Wyatville 1827-8, listed grade II) which itself encloses the Gothik-style Fort Belvedere (Henry Flitcroft c 1752, extended Jeffry Wyatville 1827(9, listed grade II*) standing 1km south-east of Blacknest Gate.

The Battery terrace, overlooking the lower terraced lawn and laid largely to lawn, extends around the Belvedere to the west, north and east, with thirty-one mid C18 brass cannon ranged around the perimeter. Built of stone and intended for arcmanial salutes for George IV, the parapet is crenellated for forty-seven guns set in a wide arc, with two bastions intended to overlook the lake below to the north (views now (1999) obscured by woodland to the north). The building was placed on a plateau as a triangular eyecatcher to be seen from the lake, particularly the moated island on which stood the former Manor Lodge and latterly George IV's Fishing Temple (mid 1820s, rebuilt 1860s, demolished C20).

A southern drive enters the woodland enclosing the Belvedere 0.5km to the south, off the A30, curving north to a turning circle on the west front. Here the south drive joins a further, north drive (presently the main approach to the Belvedere) which enters 0.5km to the north at World's End Gate, off the A329, curving south up the wooded hillside to the Belvedere. The remains of a perimeter drive extend along the south and east boundaries of the woodland, parallel with the A30, turning west to arrive at the north end of Cedar Drive. Fort Belvedere, as it became known in the mid C19, became Edward, Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII's favourite home during the 1930s, until in 1936 he signed the Instrument of Abdication there.

From the north side of the ruins of Leptis Magna the perimeter drive around the lake continues east for 300m to the cascade lying at the south-east corner of the lake. This is the outlet for the lake, situated at the south end of the great dam running along its eastern end. The cascade (late C18, remodelled early C19 and mid C20) is composed of rocks in a naturalistic arrangement, standing above the brook as it is channelled away to the east beneath the A30 carried by Virginia Bridge. The perimeter drive is carried across the brook by a small bridge (Wyatville 1820s) standing below the cascade, the drive continuing north from here along the top of the dam and then along the east side of a spur of the lake which extends north.

The Clockcase tower, a further belvedere, stands within woodland east of the A30, c 800m north-east of the cascade, not presently visible from the environs of the lake. The Clockcase was built probably in the 1750s and was associated with the landscaping carried out by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. It is situated on a hilltop now (1999) within woodland, masking it from view from the lake. The main feature is a three-storey, Gothick-style, brick-built tower, the 1750s structure, to which is attached on the east side a later keeper's lodge in similar style. C18 illustrations (Thomas Sandby, c 1765 and c 1782) show the tower standing prominently on a bare hillside overlooking the lake to the west, with a plantation towards the bottom of the hill (see Roberts 1997, pls 470, 510). George III appears to have fitted the structure out as an observatory in 1779, and proposals (unexecuted) were made for a tunnel (1780s) and bridge (1820s) spanning the present A30, allowing access from the lakeside and Great Park to the hillside and belvedere. Queen Victoria occasionally took tea there (Roberts 1997).

A bridge carries the drive across the dam at the south end of Wick Pond, at the north-east tip of the main lake, from where the drive continues south, set back from the lake. The drive continues west along the north bank, backed to the north by C18 and earlier woodland in which is set the Valley Gardens (described with The Savill Garden, qv). The perimeter drive crosses the southern end of Johnson's Pond, at the north end of a spur north from the main lake, where it meets the main drive south through the Great Park, continuing as one straight drive south-west to High Bridge. Some 0.5km east of High Bridge lies a moated island (Moat Island), with a small C19 lodge and boathouse standing upon it. This is the site of the former C13 royal Manor Lodge which was removed in the late C18 to be replaced in 1825-9 by the Chinoiserie Fishing Temple for George IV, a keen angler. This was rebuilt in 1867-8 and demolished by Edward VIII who apparently considered that it spoiled the view from Fort Belvedere. A path extends from High Bridge around the western section of the lake, in which lies China Island, again backed by woodland.

When the lake was first constructed in the early 1750s it extended eastward only as far as Botany Bay Point. A grotto was included in the rockwork of the 1754 dam, which was one of several structures with a Chinoiserie theme, including a Chinese tea house on China Island at the western tip of the lake, linked to the mainland by a Chinese Bridge, the water being ornamented by an old hulk fitted out as a Chinese junk. Views extended south up the hillside to Flitcroft's triangular Belvedere, which stood exposed on a largely unplanted hillside, surrounded by a perimeter belt and drive. Flitcroft also built a Palladian wooden bridge, which was replaced first by one designed by Thomas Sandby (Lambert and Longstaffe-Gowan 1996) and then by the present High Bridge, designed by Sir Jeffry Wyatville, 1826-7.

Following the collapse of the dam in 1768, repairs were not undertaken until the 1780s, by George III, who acquired further land to the north, east and south of the old pond-head, increasing the size of the lake substantially. The northern spur was created at the eastern end, and the topography of the area to the north was probably remodeled. Thomas Sandby designed the new cascade, inaugurated in 1797. The Chinese Fishing Temple was designed by Wyatville and Frederick Crace c 1825, and at around the same time a small encampment of Turkish tents was erected opposite the Temple on the lake shore. George IV also enlarged the Belvedere, now called Fort Belvedere, building the bastion in front of it on which stood the Duke of Cumberland's cannon from Cumberland Lodge (qv), and rebuilt Sandby's rockwork dam in the present form. He also erected the fragments of Leptis Magna to flank the drive which was constructed to allow him to travel in privacy all the way from Royal Lodge (qv) to the north, to the remodelled Fort Belvedere to the south.

In 1842 Virginia Water was described in Murray's Handbook as 'a place full of artificial prettinesses in that boasted taste which, for want of a better name, we may denominate the Grand Cockney. Here are Chinese tea houses painted all the colours of the rainbow, fishing temples of most preposterous architecture and absurd decoration, belvideres, ruins, puppet frigates floating on the lake, and the like' (quoted in Lambert and Longstaffe-Gowan 1996). By the 1870s (OS) much of the open lawns running down to the lake edge had become thickly wooded, although the open, heathy nature of the hillside below the Belvedere survived until the early C20, when it too was planted up. The northern slopes of the lake were further enclosed by ornamental tree and shrub planting from the 1950s, with the development of the Valley Gardens.


Country Life, 142 (20 July 1967), pp 130-1

N Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Berkshire (1966), pp 297-8

R Strong, Royal Gardens (1992), pp 88-92

D Lambert and T Longstaffe-Gowan, Report on Windsor Home and Great Parks (1996)

J Roberts, Royal Landscape, The Gardens and Parks of Windsor (1997), pp 391-501


J Norden, A description of the honour of Windesor, 1607 (British Library and Royal Collection)

H Wise, An Accurate Plan of Windsor Parks and Part of the Forrest, around 1710 (Royal Collection)

J Vardy, Plan of Windsor Great Park, 1750 (Public Record Office)

J Rocque, Map of Berkshire, 1761

W Faden, Plan of Windsor Great Park, 1789-91 (Public Record Office)

W J Smith, Plan of Windsor Great Park, c 1830 (Royal Collection)

OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1881

OS 25" to 1 mile: 2nd edition published 1912

Description written: May 1999

Amended: September 1999

Edited: April 2000

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

The site is open daily from dawn until dusk. Please see:


The site is close to junction 13 of the M25, from where it is signposted.


The Crown

The Crown Estate Office, The Great Park, Windsor, Berkshire,, SL4 2HT

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):


The Virginia Brook lay towards the southern boundary of the medieval Windsor Great Park, the valley's main feature being the Manor Lodge, a moated royal hunting lodge lying north of the Virginia Brook, built in the 1240s for Henry III. William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (son of George II) employed Henry Flitcroft from 1749 to dam the Virginia Brook which ran parallel to the southern boundary of Windsor Great Park, creating the great lake Virginia Water. Flitcroft built a triangular belvedere at the top of Shrubs Hill to the south as an eyecatcher, a lookout over the lake and for entertaining, together with a Palladian wooden bridge on the site of the present High Bridge. The nurseryman Thomas Greening and others of his family, who acted as gardeners to the Duke, probably laid out - if not designed - the new plantations and walks around the lake (Roberts 1997, 396). The dam was swept away in floods in 1768, and rebuilt about 250 metres further east in the 1780s when George III increased the area of the lake to its present size, employing Thomas Sandby who designed and constructed the rockwork cascade at the southern end of the dam, inaugurated in 1797 (Lambert and Longstaffe-Gowan 1996).

In the mid 1820s George IV added several structures to the lakeside, including architectural fragments from the Roman city of Leptis Magna in North Africa. He also had Sandby's cascade rebuilt to form the present cascade. By the late 19th century (OS 1883) the marginal lawns had been planted with woodland and shrubs down to the lakeside, and from 1951 the Valley Gardens ornamental tree and shrub planting further filled in the formerly open areas of the heights of the northern bank of the lake. The site remains part of Windsor Great Park, in the ownership of the Crown, and is managed by the Crown Estate.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • The National Heritage List for England: Register of Parks and Gardens

  • Reference: GD2182
  • Grade: I

Plant Environment

  • Environment
  • Water Garden




  • Grove
  • Lake
  • Cascade
  • Temple
  • Sculpture
  • Description: A totem pole from British Columbia
Key Information





Plant Environment


Principal Building




Open to the public


Civil Parish

Old Windsor