Shugborough’s heterogeneous landscape

Copy of the Arch of Hadrian at Athens, 1761-1764, at Shugborough, based on an illustration in James ‘Athenian’ Stuart’s ‘The Antiquities of Athens (1762). ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

These recent images of Shugborough illustrate the surprising diversity in a mid-eighteenth-century British landscape garden. The Chinese style coexisted with the Greek and finished buildings were juxtaposed with deliberately contrived ruins.

The Chinese House at Shugborough, 1747. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Cattle roamed among the monuments to balance culture and learning with some refreshing rusticity.

The Tower of the Winds at Shugborough, completed about 1765, a copy of the Horlogium of Andronikos Cyrrhestes illustrated in Stuart’s ‘Antiquities of Athens’. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Thomas Anson developed the garden and park at Shugborough between the 1740s and the early 1770s.

The Ruins at Shugborough, with the remains of a statue of a Druid. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

He based many of the garden structures on designs by Thomas Wright and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart. The Chinese House, Chinese boathouse and the Pagoda (the last two no longer extant) may have been influenced by his brother Admiral Lord Anson’s visits to China in 1742 and 1743.

The Shepherd’s Monument at Shugborough, partly after a design by Thomas Wright and with a relief based on an engraving after Nicolas Poussin’s painting ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Shugborough represents the ‘rococo’ moment in the English landscape garden, when cows roamed among Classical allusions and a Pagoda could tower over a Druidic ruin.

Cattle on the Shugborough estate. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The historian Dr Stephen McDowall is currently doing research into the development and meaning of the Chinese elements in the house and the garden at Shugborough, which will eventually be published as part of the East India Company at Home project.

11 Responses to “Shugborough’s heterogeneous landscape”

  1. columnist Says:

    The last photo is gorgeous, and could almost have been taken by the late (photographer) earl.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Indeed, and it also reminds me of the bucolic eighteenth century views of Shugborough by Nicholas Dall.

  3. CherryPie Says:

    I was there last weekend, taking advantage of a rare sunny moment. I have only posted a few of my photos so far, here are a couple of links to my view of the estate:

    I also enjoyed the Cat’s monument, it reminded me very much of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in wonderland.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Cherie, thanks for that link to those excellent photos of the Shepherd’s Monument. Those mysterious letters inscribed on it have inspired all sorts of ‘Da Vinci Code’ theories, but they were probably just a little private joke. I am glad you enjoyed your visit.

  5. Ana Says:

    The 1st and the 3rd photo look positively unreal!

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes those landscapes can be very theatrical 🙂

  7. Geoffrey Morgan Says:

    Has anyone examined the geometric layout of the monuments in the Park and perhaps wondered why the Chinese House is situated on the west side when theoretically it should be where the Doric Temple is located.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Geoffrey, apologies for the delay in replying. That is a very interesting question: whether ‘oriental’ garden pavilions were deliberately situated in the eastern part of gardens.

    At Stowe in 1738 the Chinese House was on the eastern edge of the garden, but the garden was subsequently extended further east.

    At Wroxton Abbey, Oxfordshire, a Chinese House was built in a remote spot at the eastern end of the park in the 1740s, so there could have been a deliberate geographical reference there.

    At Kew gardens the pagoda stands towards the southern end of the garden, but that was on the opposite side to where the house/palace stood, so perhaps there was some deliberate intention to make it seem ‘far away’. The smaller House of Confucius was on the eastern perimeter.

    We really need to find some explicit reference to chinoiserie pavilions being deliberately sited in eastern or remote parts of a park, and at the moment I am not aware of any such surviving reference. But it is an interesting question to keep in mind when analysing chinoiserie in gardens.

  9. Andrew Says:

    Emile – I wonder if you can argue this the other way: are there many Chinese / Oriental pavilions which are *not* at the east end of the garden?

    Are you familiar with the Japanese Garden at the Irish National Stud? A rather bizarre Edwardian creation, with a symbolic journey through the life of man –

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, yes indeed that is the test we need to apply to such a theory: to try to disprove it.

    In a way Kew immediately contradicts it, as the Chinese pagoda there was flanked by a vaguely Middle Eastern ‘mosque’ and a vaguely Moorish ‘Alhambra’ – so Moorish Spain and the Arab world and China were intermingling in the same area of the garden, regardless of their actual geographical locations.

    And that is one of the interesting things about mid-18th-century English ‘rococo’ gardens: that the different cultures and styles were allowed to mix, as at Sughborough Hall, where the Chinese House was very close to a classical colonnade, a Palladian orangery and a pseudo-English-Medieval ruin. And that mixture of curiosity, inexactitude and flexibility tells us something about the mindset of the period, I think.

  11. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks very much, too, for the link to the Japanese garden at Tully, County Kildare. I had heard of it but I hadn’t seen their website. It is a really interesting example of the Edwardian taste for Japanese gardens in the British Isles. The National Trust looks after two other surviving examples, at Kingston Lacy, Dorset, and at Tatton Park, Cheshire.

    The ‘journey of life’ theme does indeed seem unusual. There is quite a lot of symbolism in traditional Japanese gardens in Japan itself, of course, but it tends to be less explicit. Perhaps the Japanese garden designer who was brought over to Tully, Tassa Eida, was ramping up the symbolism a bit in order to satisfy the late Victorian tastes of his client, William Hall Walker, later Lord Wavertree?

    There is a nice Spy cartoon of Lord Wavertree here: He and his father were also benefactors of the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

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