Of Druids, the Gothic, and the Origins of Architecture: The Garden Designs of William Stukeley (1687-1765)

Article excerpt

William Stukeley's central place in the historiography of eighteenth-century England is hardly insecure. (1) His published interpretations of the megalithic monuments at Avebury (1743) and Stonehenge (1740) earned him a prominent position in the history of archaeology, and his Vetusta Monumenta ensured his reputation as a draughtsman and antiquarian. Recent research has shown that Stukeley was a polymath, whose related interests in astrology, Newtonian natural history and theology formed part of a broader Enlightenment world view. (2) Yet, in the lengthy scholarship on Stukeley, insufficient attention has been paid to his interest in another intellectual and aesthetic pursuit of eighteenth-century cognoscenti: garden design. (3)

Stukeley's voluminous manuscripts attest to his role as an avid designer of gardens, landscapes and garden buildings. His own homes were the subjects of his most interesting achievements, including his hermitages at Kentish Town (1760), Stamford (Barnhill, 1744 and Austin Street 1737), and Grantham (1727). (4) In this, Stukeley can be located among a number of 'gentleman gardeners' in the first half of the eighteenth century from the middling classes and the aristocracy. (5) He toured gardens regularly, and recorded many of them in his books, journals and correspondence. His 1724 Itinerarium Curiosum recounts his impressions of gardens, including the recent work at Blenheim Palace and the 'ha-ha' in particular, and his unpublished notebooks contain a number of sketches such as the gardens at Grimsthorpe, Lincs., where he was a regular visitor. (6) Stukeley also designed a handful of garden buildings, apparently as gifts for friends and acquaintances. He prepared two versions of a bridge for the Duke of Montagu's park at Boughton, one in the reigning Palladian style and the other Gothic, although neither design was ever realized. (7) Unsurprisingly, Stukeley's best-known portrait, attributed to Richard Collins c1726-29 and now at the Society of Antiquaries, features him in a garden setting which has been loosely connected with his gardens at Grantham (Pl. 1). (8)

It is the purpose of this paper to bring to light some previously unpublished material relating to Stukeley's gardens and garden buildings designed for his homes in Grantham and Stamford, Lincolnshire. Little survives of these gardens, but their original appearance, construction and meanings can be substantially reconstructed from Stukeley's unpublished drawings and notes. (9) In doing so, this paper argues that gardens and garden architecture had an important and hitherto misunderstood place in Stukeley's thought. Aside from their intrinsic value as largely unknown garden designs and garden buildings, examination of them contributes to an understanding of Stukeley's theological interests and of his perceptions of architecture and its theoretical contexts.

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The Temple of the Druids at Grantham

The early 1720s saw Stukeley living in London and actively touring England and Wales with his friend and correspondent, Samuel Gale. During these years he conducted his research on Avebury and Stonehenge and published his Itinerarium Curiosum. But in 1725, an 'irresistible impulse seiz'd' him to retire from London to his native Lincolnshire countryside, where he acquired a house and property. (10) The house has recently been described and some of Stukeley's drawings of its interiors have been published. (11) Gardening appears to have begun almost immediately. By 1727 he had built a 'Hermitage Vinyard', which he recorded in a drawing, and he planned an Orangerie with Palladian temples and seats, which was apparently never executed. (12) By October 1728 his plans for the garden had solidified. Stukeley states his intentions in a letter to Samuel Gale dated 14 October:

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   If you enquire what I am now about: I am making a Temple of the
   Druids, as I call it, tis thus. …