Jemima Grey’s Chinoiserie Fabrique at Wrest Park. Part 4. The Chinese Bridges

There was also, it seems, a Chinese bridge that went with the ‘house’ or temple. I can’t seem to find any primary sources for this. This is long gone.

There is today a Chinese bridge nearby made of brick and stone, which was erected in the nineteenth century. There is a nice view of the Chinoiserie fabrique from the top, some distance away (Fig. 32). This bridge has on the inside of the parapet at the highest point a plaque with a coronet, an initial with a G in it, and the date 1876 (Fig. 33). Conner writes that it was built in 1870—an error?[1] Conner links the substantial nature of this bridge to an exhibition of things Chinese that followed the ending of a war with China in 1842.[2] This is: Wm. B. Langdon, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Chinese Collection, now exhibiting at St. George’s Place, Hyde Park Corner, London, with condensed Accounts of the Genius, Government, History, Literature, Agriculture, Arts, Trade, Manners, Customs And Social Life of the People of the Celestial Empire, London: Printed for the Proprietor, and to be obtained only at the Chinese Collection, 1842.[3]

Langdon gives an interesting attack on the opium trade and Christian missionaries:

If European and American traders may fairly blame the illiberality of the Chinese, these have certainly just ground of complaint against them in the illegal practices to which their cupidity tempts them. Fifteen to twenty millions worth of opium has been for years, in defiance of the laws and known wishes of the government annually emptied upon the shores of China by Christian merchants!

Alas for missionary effort, so long as the grasping avarice of the countries whence the missionaries come, sets at naught every Christian obligation before the very eyes of the people whom it is sought to convert. Most devoutly do we long for the auspicious day, when the pure religion of Jesus, shall shed its sacred influences on every human being; but we believe it will not come, till the principles of that religion shall take a firmer hold upon the affections of those who profess to enjoy it, and rear a mightier embankment around their sordid and stormy passions. When the missionary shall find an auxiliary in the stainless life of every compatriot who visits the scene of his labours for purposes of pleasure or of gain, when he can point not only to the pure maxims and sublime doctrines proclaimed by the Founder of his faith, but to the clustering graces that adorn its professors, then indeed will the day dawn, and the day-star of the millennium arise upon the world![4]

As Conner points out, this exhibition included architectural models, including bridges.[5] In contrast to earlier Chinoiserie bridges, Chinese bridges, according to Langdon, were substantial and made of stone, and in many respects were like European bridges. The stone slabs, are ‘frequently fourteen feet long by four or five in breadth’. He also stresses that they do not have keystones. The only one he illustrates is the ‘bridge at Honan, near Canton’ (Fig. 34), but this is taken from a painting, not a model. It is debateable whether this bridge lacks keystones. There are three arches, rendered as somewhat parabolic, with straight rising ramps and a solid parapet with relief ornament.

The bridge items are as follows:

[Case X. Lacquered ware and articles of vertù.] On p. 55, No. 140. Model of a bridge at Fo Shan, near Canton, built of granite, and of excellent workmanship. Bridges in the vicinity of the city, are constructed as footways, though horses are sometimes taken over. Fo Shan is a village situated a few [p. 56] miles to the S. W. of Canton, where most of the manufactories are carried on, and said to be as populous as Canton itself.’

[Case XI, Numerous miscellaneous articles] p. 57, no. 189, ‘Model of a bridge of one arch, near Canton.’

[Case XV. Models of Chinese Summer Houses] p. 67. No. 353. Bridge at Honan, near Canton, built of granite. [presumably a model]

[Case XVIII] p. 73. No. 361. Bridge of five arches, at Fa-Tee, built of granite. The solid and substantial manner in which the stone bridges are built, can hardly fail to interest the visitor to this collection; while the style, buttresses, breakwaters, &c., will remind him of the modern structures of London and of Europe generally. It is remarkable, that the Chinese construct arches without key-stones, as will be seen on reference to these models. The blocks of stone, or rather slabs, which form the level of their bridges, are frequently fourteen feet long by four or five in breadth; how they manage to place them in their proper positions seems extraordinary, as no machinery for the purpose has been found, and the Chinese assert it is accomplished merely by manual labour.

[Case XVIII] p. 73, No. 371. Specimens of stones of which the above bridge is built.

 ‘PAINTINGS. [The enumeration of pictures in the collection commences with No. 1000, which the visitor will find on the left hand of the screen fronting the entrance to the saloon. It may be proper here to remark, that all paintings and drawings in this collection are by Chinese artists exclusively.]’. This seems to go to no. 1119. All these on pages 111-124. No. 1260 is on p. 139.

p. 121, 1087. A river scene and bridge.

p. 122, No. 1092. Water view, with bridge.

p. 139, No. 1260. Bridge at Honan, near Canton (Fig. 34).

The Wrest bridge is likewise solid, being made of brick and stone, and has a lot of charming features, although one does not a first read it as being Chinese. By contrast, wooden bridges based on Palladio, such as the one at Wörlitz, are often interpreted as being Chinese when they are not. This bridge is a good example of how the choice of the Chinoiserie manner is primarily an opportunity to employ a varied repertory of forms in new ways that do not refer to classical models or to established traditions of, in this case, bridge-building.

Here the main arch is a compound arch that is neither Chinoiserie Chinese nor real Chinese and not dissimilar from many eighteenth-century bridges (Fig. 35). The novelty is the way the bricks project to form ribs (Fig. 36). There is the Western emphasis on the central keystone, but it is not the traditional downward tapering wedge-shaped stone but a rectangular block that expands into a wedge running the other way that supports a projection that runs up to a ball on the parapet, thus inverting the orientation and function of the wedge form. Meanwhile (Fig. 35) the brick stringcourse starts by following the main arc of the compound curve before curving upwards to run horizontally onto the bank. The parapet does the same thing before being cut away to make the parapet much lower on the back. This creates a nice wavy line terminated by another stone ball. The view of the approaches (Fig. 37) is also pleasingly sinuous in the way the low parapets on the bank splay outwards to echo the sinuosity of the main parapet. The main parapet sections are ornamented with recesses rectangles in the brickwork (Figs 33, 36), which might have been suggested by something like the Honan bridge but is emphatically devoid of Chinese reference.

It would be good to know more about this bridge.

Chinese Boat

Jemima also had a Chinese boat for the lake (Fig. 38). But that is another story.

[1] Conner, 1979, p. 163.

[2] Conner, 1979, pp. 162–63.

[3] A Descriptive Catalogue of the Chinese Collection, Now Exhibiting at St. George’s Place, Hyde Park Corner, London, with Condensed Accounts of the Genius, Government, History, Literature, Agriculture, Arts, Trade, Manners, Customs And Social Life of the People of the Celestial Empire. By Wm. B. Langdon, Curator of the Collection. Tenth English Edition, London; Printed for the Proprietor, and to be obtained only at the Chinese Collection. 1842.

[4] Langdon, 1840, p. 163.

[5] Conner: ‘solid, even cumbrous in design, and consisted of one, three  or five stone arches without keystones’.

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