This week my exploration of follies has led me to Old Wardour Castle; to the medieval.

Old Wardour Castle near Salisbury was built in the 14th Century, but I am not writing about its medieval beginnings, or its development into a fabulous Tudor residence; I am exploring it as an example of the Georgian fashion for blending romantic ruins into a landscape garden. After all not everyone has a real ruin in their garden and the fashion for follies meant others were building mock equivalents, aspiring to a former stately ‘keep’. It was the 8th Lord Arundell who asked ‘Capability Brown’ to incorporate the ruins into his new garden design.

The Arundell family were forced to leave Old Wardour Castle when it was damaged during a siege in the Civil War in 1644. They built a smaller house beside it in the 1680’s, outside the wall, and began developing the grounds. The early garden was established in 1730. It was formal and terraced, with a bowling green. It was not until the later 18th Century that the garden reached its romantic peak after the 8th Lord Arundell married an heiress in 1763 and set about building both a new house and a new garden.

The new house was quite deliberately perched upon the slope of a facing hill, so that it looked down on the romantic ruins, painting a picturesque view as the family would have seen sunlight shining back from the fallen walls of their ancestral home, framed by woodland.

The mock gothic Banqueting House which nestles beyond the castle’s curtain wall, was built in 1973-4, while New Wardour was still under construction. It is a place where guests may stop and dine after a visit to the ruins.

To add entertainment to the developing pleasure garden of course it had to have a Grotto, which was placed facing the ruins on the far side from the Banqueting House, on top of the old terrace which was still lined by a yew avenue. It was built in 1792 by Josiah Lane of near by Tisbury, a well known local builder of garden ornaments. And you can see like Pope’s Grotto, and that at Prior Park, it is eclectic, containing ammonites and stalagmites. It has twisting, turning tunnels, and numerous little niches in which the explorer might perch and a frightening aura about it, to inspire the fashionable gothic imagination.

Staying in the gothic style is what survives of Lord Arundell’s stone ring. To add even more authenticity and age to his pleasure garden he transported a 4,000 year old prehistoric ring of stones from Tisbury, and added two seats to it for his guests to idle away their afternoons upon, reading poetry, or painting. In these stone alcoves he incorporated decorated stone from the fallen ruins.

I can easily imagine a house party riding out from New Wardour to the ruins for an afternoon of adventure and exploration, for their entertainment. Running through the grotto tunnels, and climbing up through the ruined tower’s rooms to reach the highest point and there carving their names to remember the visit. They would have dined lavishly in the banqueting hall, enjoying their host’s hospitality and then perhaps sat in the alcoves of the stone ring or the grotto, flirting, resting, talking, painting or reading.

And yes there is Graffiti, some from the days of these house parties, and some from later days in the 1800’s when in 1830 the ruins were opened to the public and the banqueting hall became a place for visitors to obtain refreshment, including one private dining room for the more influential. Though in some places it is hard to tell the old graffiti from the new, where it has been worn away by rain and carved over again.

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

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Prior Park’s Grotto and Graffiti

The best folly in  Prior Park has not survived the passage of time well. It is the Grotto. See these links to get a glimpse of the Prior Park Grotto. Prior Park Grotto 1, Picture 2,

As I said last week, Ralph Allen owned and designed Prior Park with his friend, the poet, Alexander Pope, and undoubtedly the grotto was developed with Alexander’s influence due to its similarity to the one in Alexander’s property in Twickenham.

The development of Alexander’s own grotto took a lifetime. He gained permission to tunnel beneath the road in Twickenham, having built a Palladian Villa facing the river so that he might develop a garden on the far side. And here he built his best grotto, which was out of sheer fortune blessed by a spring which he describes in a letter in 1725,

‘I have put the last hand to my works…happily finishing the subterraneous Way and Grotto: I then found a spring of the clearest water, which falls in a perpetual Rill, that echoes thru’ the Cavern day and night. …When you shut the Doors of this Grotto, it becomes on the instant, from a luminous Room, a Camera Obscura, on the walls of which all the objects of the River, Hills, Woods, and Boats, are forming a moving Picture…And when you have a mind to light it up, it affords you a very different Scene: it is finished with Shells interspersed with Pieces of Looking-glass in angular Forms…at which when a Lamp…is hung in the Middle, a thousand pointed Rays glitter and are reflected over the place.’

It was never finished, because of the eclectic nature of the grotto – he was constantly adding things to it.

It became a mixture of two 18th century gentlemanly pursuits, one to build and design and one to collect precious things.

So much so that Alexander changed the description of his grotto to a museum of mineralogy and mining as he filled it with precious stones from Cornwall, fossils, a stalagmite from Wookey Hole and stone from across the globe, including a section of basalt from the Giant’s Causeway,Ireland.

And as you can see from the links to the pictures of Prior Park’s Grotto above, Ralph Allen’s Grotto mimicked this, with its intact eclectic floor of ammonites, crushed bone and pebbles.

The Grotto at Prior Park was built about 1740 and was Lady Elizabeth Allen’s retreat.

Her beloved dog, a Great Dane named ‘Miss Bounce’, given to her by Alexander Pope in 1739, and named after Alexander’s own Great Dane, is buried beneath the floor. Her epitaph survives;

 ‘Weep not, Tread lightly my grave, Call me Pet.’

Prior Park’s grotto was described in 1836 by a student of the Seminary Prior Park had become;

 ‘the roof and sides of this sweet retreat presented to the eye such a dazzling assemblage shells, fossils, minerals etc as perfectly astonished us,… The floor was almost as beautiful as the roof, being composed of a curious kind of stone perforated and inlaid with pie cones, fragments of bone etc, arranged in tasteful forms and the whole place exhibiting such a profusion of ornament and such a combination of taste and skill as I had never before witnessed.’

 And so to another of my secret fascinations – historic graffiti.

The best graffiti I have seen is in the Tower of London, and dates from the Tudor times of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, when men were locked away for months to years and had numerous hours to carve elaborate graffiti in the tower’s walls.

It inspires my imagination to picture the person seated or standing there carving it, and makes me wonder what their story was – what their history was.

I am sure that Prior Park’s transformation from a family home to a Seminary, and later a Roman Catholic public school, following Ralph Allen’s death in 1764, explains the graffiti at Prior Park, as it crudely defaces the Palladian Bridge.

Yet, despite the fact that it despoils the soft Bath stone façade it is still fascinating to think of the 19th century students, gossiping, laughing and misbehaving as they carved their marks.

Or perhaps they were alone, silent and contemplative as they carved their name to memory, as previously Pope must have once sat in the garden and silently crafted poetry. Images of the graffiti, spanning centuries.

For more information on Alexander Pope’s grotto see;

For information on the restoration of the grotto at Prior Park go to;

Graffiti 8


Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark