Jemima Grey’s Chinoiserie Fabrique at Wrest Park, Part 2. Form and Style

The Status of the Current Version

The relationship between the Chinese fabrique she built and Wrest Park and the 20th century structures is not completely clear to me. Apparently the stone base is original,[1] but Conner writes that ‘the pavilion survived (although as a ruin in its last years) until the 1950s. According to the 2011 guidebook it was rebuilt in the 1940s and restored again.[2]

Was it rebuilt again in the 1970s? Conner notes that at the time of writing (his book was published in 1979) the Department of the Environment was replacing it ‘with an identical pavilion, albeit with fibreglass roofs’. This is presumably the structure that I saw, but I could not see any fibreglass. The implication is that nothing apart from the base of that version was original. The 2016 version will be explored below.

The only contemporary view, reproduced by Conner (Fig. 38, p. 68) (Fig. 3a), is a watercolour which his caption says comes from the sketchbook of Jemima’s great-nephew, the 1st  Earl de Grey. Who was he exactly? It can only be the 2nd Earl de Grey, who was Thomas Philip de Grey, 2nd  Earl de Grey, 3rd  Baron Grantham and 6th  Baron Lucas, KG, PC, FRS (1781–1859). He was the eldest son of Jemima’s younger daughter, Mary. The Marquesate Grey expired with Jemima’s death in 1797, and was revived as the earldom of de Grey (not Grey) for her eldest daughter Amabel Hume-Campbell, who was in 1816 created 1st Countess de Grey, with the earldom passing to her male line. This meant that, since she was childless, it passed to the eldest son of her sister Mary Jemima, who had married Thomas Robinson, 2nd Baron Grantham. It would be good to have more information about this sketchbook.

Apart from being a politician the 2nd Earl de Grey was an amateur architect and designed the new Wrest Park house (1833-39) when he inherited in 1833; he was first president of the Institute of British architects in 1834. The literature on Earl de Grey includes: The Earl de Grey’s account of the building of Wrest House, History of Wrest House, introduction by A. F. Cirket, The Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, Volume 59, pp. 65–87, Bedford 1980; and Charles Read, Earl de Grey, London 2007. Susan Jenkins, ‘Cherubs and Chintz: among the triumphs of the 1830s restoration of Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, was the sitting room of the Countess de Grey. Today, her remarkable interior scheme can be pieced together through scraps of evidence, revealing the tastes of the house’s former owners’, Apollo, vol. 173 June 2011, pp. 70–76. This is mainly about the redecoration of the Countess’s bedroom, especially chintzes, but has something about the cherubs in the ceiling roundels.

The watercolour has slightly more vertical proportions, and looks less like a shed. Fig. 3b shows the view in 2013 from a similar angle, corrected somewhat for parallax using the distant view from the 19th century bridge (see below). This shows that the draftsman has slightly exaggerated its verticality. The base has not changed. In its details the drawing corresponds well with the 1979 version, which would have made use of this drawing. Differences include:

(a) The orientation of the dragon finial (Fig. 4) is reversed.

(b) The lower rectangular panel, like the rest of the trim, is painted Indian red, but it is not clear whether the draftsman shows this.

(c) The most interesting difference is the treatment of the roof sheeting. In 2013 the roof, judging from my photos, consists of single pieces of sheet metal, presumably galvanised steel. There is talk somewhere of fibreglass, but from the way the edges are folded I find it is difficulty to believe that this refers to the roof. But perhaps it is, with metal flashing at the eaves? The watercolour shows vertical seams, which is how the 2016 restoration does it, using long strips of copper. However, unlike the 2016 restoration in the watercolour shows the seams at the upper edge of each roof section splitting into v-shapes, with a band of diamonds across the middle of the upper sections. I imagine this could be done using pieces of copper with ridges and foldovers, but it is interesting that the 2016 restoration does not attempt this. Possibly in the original this pattern was created more decoratively, but I doubt it.

Photographs taken before the 1950s would be useful here to show the original structure but there do not seem to be any.

The Fabrique in 2013

The Wrest Park fabrique in 2013 was not in good condition. The structure is basically made of sticks: that is, what look to be 4 inch (90-100 mm) square posts (they could be larger as I did not measure them) (Fig. 5). The colouring was cream, with a burnt sienna red trim and some pale blue. The roof (Fig. 6) was a curved sheet of some kind, which might be the fibreglass referred to above, but where it is folded over at the edge it must surely be metal. Is this flashing, or was the roof actually metal and the business about fibreglass a hum? There was no visible internal roof structure (Fig. 7). There was a band of fretwork that acted as the vertical ‘wall’ below the top roof which was open to the inside. Above this is a flat ceiling with what looks like sheets of plywood with cover strips. The plane of the fretwork continues downwards to box in the lower roof. My initial reaction to this was that it was rather dull and routine, suggesting that the designer had lost interest in the Chinoiserie theme and was just finishing it off as best they could (assuming that it follows the original design). However, while working through another design I realised that these double roofs are not so easy to construct. It is difficult to fit a set of continuous rafters into such a shape, and it is much easier to run horizontal rafters at the lower roof level, and then built up the upper section with vertical walls corresponding to the plan of the upper roof, which is what has been done here. Nevertheless, in the 2013 version not attempt has been made to enliven this structure so that it has any interior interest. (The 2016 renovation follows the same structure, but I have no images to show the finishes of the ceilings.)

There are five bays across the front, the four outer bays having are the same narrow width, the outermost ones filled (Fig. 8). The next thin bays are open, as is this the central bay, which is about 2.5 times the width of the outer bays, totalling 6.5 bays. The back walls is again sticks 4 inches square with panelling between, a total of 6 bays which as a result makes each bay slightly wider than the front bays.

The 2016 Restoration

The temple was restored again, most thoroughly, in 2016 (Figs 9-12). This is illustrated with very informative photos on the website of the company that did the work, T. Butler and Co., although the text is mainly about their virtues in the OHS department. This tells us that the cost of the restoration was £65,000.[3] The photos show that there was a fair amount of rot at the corners, and that the pre-2016 rafters were shaped from a red-coloured wood, but one seems to be of plywood (Fig. 9). Another photo (Fig. 10) shows a similar red wood, probably the same timbers, but the one at the corner has been built up with what looks like treated pine. Then (Fig. 11) they added shaped eaves from what looks like treated pine, with plywood (6 mm?) butted up to this and screwed to the rafters. For the metal cladding they went the whole hog and used sheet copper with ridge seams (Fig. 12). This provides no opportunity for the patterning seen in the watercolour (see above). The use of this material is almost certainly unhistorical.

[1] Conner, 1979, p. 69.

[2] From website ‘In the early 18th century Anthony’s son, Henry, Duke of Kent (1671–1740), laid out what is now Wrest’s most exceptional feature, its massive formal woodland garden, enclosed on three sides by canals. He employed leading architects and garden designers – including Nicholas Hawksmoor, Thomas Archer, Batty Langley and William Kent – to create an ordered landscape of woodland avenues ornamented with statuary and garden buildings. These included Thomas Archer’s baroque pavilion, with its trompe l’œil paintings by Louis Hauduroy.

On the duke’s death his granddaughter Jemima, Marchioness Grey (1723–97), inherited the estate. She showed a keen interest in the gardens. In 1758 she brought in ‘Capability’ Brown, a leader of the new English landscape style of the time, to soften the edges of the garden and remodel the park, while preserving the heart of the formal layout. Brown himself realised that to do more ‘might unravel the Mystery of the Gardens’. His work is commemorated by the ‘Capability’ Brown column, built for Jemima by Edward Stevens. Jemima also added a Chinese temple and bridge, the Mithraic altar and a bath house.’

[3] T. Butler and Co. website: ‘This project was to refurbish the Chinese Temple at English Heritage’s Wrest Park Site. Whilst a relatively small job, it had several challenging elements, in the detailed bespoke carpentry aspect of the work and the logistics of working on the Wrest Park Site.

Located within the large grounds of Wrest Park, which is open to the public for most of the year, one of the key challenges was ensuring the safety of the public and EH Staff. We achieved this by ensuring that the work area was at all times fenced and segregated, all site staff understood that even though the site seemed remote, gates were to be kept shut and protection in place at all times. All site deliveries were planned and programmed, delivery vehicles were met offsite by a banks-man and escorted through the grounds.

We were able to ensure that all vehicles driven to the work area followed site rules (speed and weight restrictions). Detailed planning of deliveries ensured that vehicle traffic through the publicly accessed grounds was kept to bare minimum.

Whilst carry out this contract, other Contractors were undertaking a major project to relay access paths, including the access to our site. We were required to minimise the impact our works had on this project by planning, coordination and cooperation. We ensured that both contractors could safely work around each other – both projects finished successfully.’

This entry was posted in All Posts, Architecture, Baroque architecture, Baroque Gardens, Country Houses, English Gardens, Fabriques, Garden History, Menu, Restoration and Conservation, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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