DiCamillo Companion
England

West Wycombe Park

  • Earlier Houses: An earlier manor house, on lower ground, was demolished when the core of the existing house was begun in the early 18th century.

    Built / Designed For: Sir Francis Dashwood, 1st Bt.; rebuilt by the 2nd Sir Francis.

    House & Family History: Built as an 18th century pleasure palace, West Wycombe, one of the most Italianate houses in England, is unusual for its eclectic assemblage of ancient and Renaissance Italian architecture, evidenced in the House and the many follies dotting the grounds. The House was inspired by the late Renaissance villas of the Veneto and encapsulates the entire progression of 18th century British architecture, from Palladian to Neoclassical. The West Wycombe Estate was acquired in 1698 by Sir Francis Dashwood, 1st Bt., and his brother, Samuel; they demolished the existing manor house and built the core of the current house on higher ground nearby. The 1st Sir Francis's house appears from early images to have been a typical, uninspired square Restoration style house. It was this house that the 2nd Sir Francis, at the age of 16, inherited from his father in 1724. With the help of executant architects and draftsmen, the 2nd Sir Francis took to remodeling the House and grounds with great gusto. His uncle and guardian was John Fane, 7th Earl of Westmorland, who was building one of Britain's most important Palladian houses – Mereworth Castle in Kent – during the time he was Dashwood's guardian. (Upon the death of the earl in 1762, Sir Francis inherited Mereworth.) It's not a far stretch to say that Dashwood was influenced by his uncle's house in the remodeling of his own, which he started when he returned from Greece and the Grand Tour in 1735. Dashwood was one of the founders of the Society of Dilettanti in 1736, and through it met Nicholas Revett, whom he commissioned to complete the remodeling he had begun. West Wycombe was reformed as a long rectangle with four columned and pedimented facades presented as classical temples. The Ionic West Portico is modeled on the 3rd century BC Temple of Dionysus designed by Hermogenes of Priene (its design was probably also influenced by the Temple of Bacchus at Teos, today in Turkey, which Revett measured 1764-66). David Watkin states that this is "the earliest and most convincing large-scale recreation of a Greek temple in Europe in the 18th century." Interestingly, even though it is part of the House, the West Portico was considered a garden temple with its own name – The Temple of Bacchus. It had an unveiling ceremony in 1771, when it was dedicated to Bacchus in a reconstruction of an ancient religious ceremony. The East Façade is a replica in miniature of Mereworth Castle, while the grand South Façade, with its famous double loggia (virtually unique on an English house), was inspired by a palace in Vicenza designed by Palladio. From the painted ceilings depicting classical scenes of Roman and Greek mythology, to the marble floors, West Wycombe is a non-stop celebration of Italy. Many of the public rooms have painted ceilings copied from Italian palazzi, most notably from the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. The Entrance Hall, which resembles a Roman atrium, features scagliola columns and a painted ceiling copied from Robert Wood's "Ruins of Palmyra." The Tapestry Room is hung with tapestries, woven circa 1710, that depict peasant scenes by Teniers. Given to the 1st Duke of Marlborough to celebrate his victories in the Low Countries, the tapestries were later cut down to fit the room (the duke was a distant relation of the Dashwoods). The ceiling fresco in the Music Room depicts "The Banquet of the Gods" and was copied from the Villa Farnesina. The Saloon features statues of the four seasons with a ceiling depicting "The Council of the Gods and the Admission of Psyche," also a copy from the Villa Farnesina. The Dining Room, with a painted ceiling from Wood's "Ruins of Palmyra," has faux jasper walls and features paintings of the 2nd Sir Francis and his fellow members of the Divan Club (a society for those who had visited the Ottoman Empire). The Blue Drawing Room is hung with Italian paintings of the 17th century and is dominated by the ornate painted ceiling depicting "The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne." The 2nd Sir Francis was the creator of the infamous Hell Fire Club, also called the Knights of St. Francis of Wycombe, the Monks of Medmenham, or Dashwood's Apostles. It appears that the club met twice a year, usually at Medmenham Abbey, though also sometimes in the famous West Wycombe Caves, where its members, who came from the top of society and included a regius professor at Oxford and the first lord of the Admiralty, devoted themselves exclusively to getting drunk and whoring. Benjamin Franklin was a good friend of Sir Francis and spent considerable time at West Wycombe. Franklin and Sir Francis together published a simplified version of "The Book of Common Prayer" in 1773. It has also been suggested that Franklin, no stranger to libertine ways, attended meetings of the Hell Fire Club. Franklin was devoted to Dashwood and obviously enjoyed staying at West Wycombe; he wrote to his son in 1773: "I am in this house as much at ease as if it was my own: and the gardens are a paradise. But a pleasanter thing is the kind countenance and the facetious and very intelligent conversation of mine host, who, having…seen all parts of Europe and kept the best company in the world is himself the best existing." During World War II the House saw service as art storage for the treasures of the Wallace Collection, while also serving as a convalescent home. A troop of gunners occupied the service wing, while the Park was used for the inflation of barrage balloons. The Dashwood family moved to the top floor of the House and took in lodgers to pay the bills (James Lees-Milne and Nancy Mitford, among them). In addition, the National Trust moved the majority of their offices to West Wycombe, where they remained for most of the war. The House, together with the immediate grounds and a small endowment, was given to The National Trust in 1943 by Sir John Dashwood, 10th Bt. (1896–1966). The Dashwoods retained ownership of the majority of the Estate and the contents of the House and continue to make West Wycombe their home today. The current baronet, Sir Edward Dashwood, is the president of the West Wycombe Polo Club, who have their grounds on the Estate.

  • Garden & Outbuildings: Unusual in its use of classical architecture from both Italy and Greece, the gardens at West Wycombe are among the finest and most eccentric 18th century gardens surviving in England. The original layout of the gardens was in the shape of a female body, with appropriately placed shrubs, streams, and thickets. Humphry Repton, during his naturalizing of the gardens, removed most of the earlier "female" design. The Cockpit Arch, or Temple of Apollo, is a large arch built of flint. It was probably designed by John Donowell in 1761 and contains a painted lead copy of the Apollo Belvedere, probably by John Cheere. Over the arch is a panel with the motto of the Hell Fire Club. The famous Music Temple of 1778-80 was designed by Nicholas Revett and sits grandly on an island (one of three) in the middle of the lake (the lake originally had a Spanish galleon for the amusement of Sir Francis's guests, complete with a resident captain onboard). Revett also designed the Temple of Flora (1778-80; demolished), and the Round Temple (circa 1775), a circular dovecote with a pyramid roof. The Temple of the Winds is a loose recreation of the Tower of the Winds in Athens. It was probably completed by 1759, which places it three years before the publication of James "Athenian" Stuart's and Nicholas Revett's famous book "Antiquities of Athens." Stuart's Doric Temple of Theseus at Hagley Hall in Worcestershire (erected 1758) is the only similar structure that pre-dates the Temple of the Winds as the earliest attempt in England to reproduce a monument of Greek antiquity. The famous Cascade was installed in the 1740s, probably designed by a Frenchman named Jolivet. The Sawmill, faced in flint and three stories tall, once held a giant statue of William Penn on its roof; the statue was removed by Repton in 1800. Almost 100 years later, in 1894, the City of Philadelphia installed a 37-foot-tall bronze statue of William Penn by Alexander Milne Calder atop City Hall Tower. One can only speculate as to whether this famous statue was inspired by the more modest one at West Wycombe. The Primitive Hut was designed by Quinlan Terry in 1974. In 1982 Terry's Ionic Temple of Venus (reconstruction of a 1745-48 building by Donowell) was erected, followed in 1985 by the architect's Edward's Bridge, and finally, the Cricket Pavilion, designed as a Vitruvian primitive hut. The enormous 18th century, roofless, hexagonal Mausoleum (really a columbaria) was built on a hill outside the Park near St. Lawrence's Church for the second Sir Francis and was modeled on the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome and the Tomb of the Household of Augustus on the Via Appia. This would have been perfectly in keeping with the taste of Sir Francis, who was a devoted Romanophile and very well informed on ancient architecture and art. The great Howard Colvin called the Mausoleum "probably the largest built in Europe since antiquity."

    Chapel & Church: The Grade I-listed 18th century St. Lawrence's Church (Church of England) sits on top of West Wycombe Hill, its golden ball glowing in the sun for miles around. There has been a church of some sort on the site since the 7th century; the current, luscious, Neoclassical church was built between 1761 and 1763 for Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Bt. The golden ball, eight feet in diameter, that sits atop the squat, square tower has a wood frame superstructure covered in gold leaf and contains seating for six people. Local legend has it that the infamous Hellfire Club (founded by Sir Francis) met inside the golden ball, but there is no evidence to support this. It has also been suggested that Sir Francis used a heliograph to signal through a porthole in the golden ball to his friend John Norris, who had erected a tower, now called the Camberley Obelisk, near his home at Hawley, Hampshire, 21 miles to the south.

  • Architect: John Quinlan Terry

    Date: 1974-85
    Designed: Primitive Hut (1974), the Temple of Venus (1982), and Edward’s Bridge (1985).

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    Architect: Humphry Repton

    Date: Circa 1800
    Designed: Naturalized the landscape

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    Architect: Thomas Cook

    Date: 18th century
    Designed: Landscaping

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    Architect: Giovanni Niccolo Servandoni

    Date: 18th century
    Designed: May have done unspecified work for Sir Francis Dashwood
    (Attribution of this work is uncertain)
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    Architect: John Donowell

    Date: 1761-63
    Designed: Probably acted as draftsman and clerk of works for Sir Francis Dashwood. Probably designed Cockpit Arch or Temple of Apollo.
    (Attribution of this work is uncertain)
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    Architect: Francis Dashwood

    Date: Circa 1750-70
    Designed: Had a hand in designing House and grounds for himself

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    Architect: Nicholas Revett

    Date: 1771-80
    Designed: Ionic West Portico (1771), Temple of Flora (1778-80, demolished), Music Temple (1778-80), and Round Temple (circa 1775).

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    Architect: Nicholas Revett

    Date: 1761-63
    Designed: St. Lawrence's Church for Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Bt.
    (Attribution of this work is uncertain)
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    Architect: John Donowell

    Date: 1764-65
    Designed: Mausoleum for Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Bt.
    (Attribution of this work is uncertain)
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  • Vitruvius Britannicus: C. V, pls. 47-79, 1771.

    J.P. Neal: Vol. I, 1818.

    Country Life: XXXIX, 16 plan, 48, 1916. LXXIII, 466, 494, 1933. CLV, 1618, 1682, 1974.

  • Title: Country House Garden: A Grand Tour, The
    Author: Jackson-Stops, Gervase; Pipkin, James (Photographer)
    Year Published: 1987
    Reference: pg. 139
    Publisher: New York: New York Graphic Society (Boston: Little, Brown and Company)
    ISBN: 0821216686
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Landmarks of Britain: The Five Hundred Places that Made Our History
    Author: Aslet, Clive
    Year Published: 2005
    Reference: pg. 247
    Publisher: London: Hodder & Stoughton
    ISBN: 0340735104
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire, The
    Author: Pevsner, Nikolaus; Williamson, Elizabeth
    Year Published: 1994
    Reference: pgs. 727, 728, 733, 735, 736, 737, 738
    Publisher: London: Penguin Books
    ISBN: 0140710620
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: West Wycombe Park Guidebook
    Author: NA
    Year Published: 1996
    Reference: pgs. 34-35
    Publisher: London: The National Trust
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Light Softback

    Title: Glory of the English House, The
    Author: Esher, Lionel
    Year Published: 1997
    Reference: pg. 99
    Publisher: London: Barrie & Jenkins
    ISBN: 0752904434
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: English Country Houses: Early Georgian, 1715-1760
    Author: Hussey, Christopher
    Year Published: 1955
    Reference: pg. 234
    Publisher: London: Country Life Limited
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - SOFTBACK
    Author: Colvin, Howard
    Year Published: 1995
    Reference: pgs. 316, 807, 858
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 0300072074
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Classical Architecture in Britain: The Heroic Age
    Author: Worsley, Giles
    Year Published: 1995
    Reference: pg. 143
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press (The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
    ISBN: 0300058969
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: National Trust Magazine, The
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: Autumn 2002, pg. 10
    Publisher: London: The National Trust
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Magazine

    Title: English Country House: A Grand Tour, The
    Author: Jackson-Stops, Gervase; Pipkin, James
    Year Published: 1998
    Reference: pg. 149
    Publisher: London: Phoenix Illustrated
    ISBN: 0753804395
    Book Type: Softback

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade I

  • "To the Devil a Daughter" (1976). "Another Country" (1984). "Dead Man's Folly (1986 - TV movie, as Nasse House). "White Hunter Black Heart" (1990). "Agatha Christie's Poirot" (1993 - TV series, in the episode "The Case of the Missing Will" the Temple of the Winds was used as the folly). "Carrington" (1995 - as the exterior where Mark Gertler seduces Carrington). "The Portrait of a Lady" (1996 - as the interiors of Pratt's Club, London). "An Ideal Husband" (1999). "History of Britain" (2000 - TV documentary series, shown from an aerial shot). "Just Visiting" (2001). "The Importance of Being Earnest" (2002 - as Jack Worthing's country estate in Hertfordshire; the church scenes were filmed inside St. Lawrence's Church, West Wycombe). "Daniel Deronda" (2002 - TV mini series). "The Lost Prince" (2003 - TV movie). "I Capture the Castle" (2003 - as Scoatney). "What a Girl Wants" (2003). "He Knew He Was Right" (2004 - BBC TV mini series). "Cranford" (2007 - TV series, as Hanbury Court, Lady Ludlow's house). "Inspector Lewis" (2007 - TV series, season 1, episode 1, in the episode "Whom the Gods Would Destroy," the Music Temple was used as the Temple on Platt's estate). "Foyle's War" (2007 - as the interiors of De Perez's house in the episode "Casualties of War"). "The Duchess" (2008). "Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye" (2008 - TV series, as Pinewood Sanatorium). "Little Dorrit" (2008 - TV mini series, using the Hellfire Caves as Marseilles dungeons). "Foyle's War" (2010 – TV series, season 7, episode 3: "The Hide," as Whitefriars, the Devereaux family seat). "W.E." (2011). "Hysteria" (2011). "Downton Abbey" (2011-15 - TV series, as the interiors of Lady Rosamund Painswick's Belgrave Square London home). "Austenland" (2013 - as Pembroke Park). "Marple" (2013 - TV series, in the episode "Endless Night," season 6, episode 3, West Wycombe was the hotel in Rome). "Belle" (2013 - as exterior and interiors of Kenwood House). "Effie Gray" (2014). "Queen of the Desert" (2015). "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" (2016). "Doctor Thorne" (2016 - Amazon TV series, as Greshamsbury Park interiors). "The Crown" (2016 - TV series, as interiors of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's Paris house). "Howards End" (2017 - TV mini series, as Oniton House). "Man in an Orange Shirt" (2017 - TV mini series). "Crooked House" (2017). "Taboo" (2017 - TV series).
  • Seat of: Sir Edward Dashwood, 12th Bt.; Dashwood family here since the 1690s.

    Past Seat of: Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Bt., later 15th Baron Le Despenser, 18th century.

    Current Ownership Type: The National Trust

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Visitor Attraction

    Ownership Details: The Dashwood family lives in a wing of the House.

  • House Open to Public: Yes

    Phone: 01494-513-569

    Email: westwycombe@nationaltrust.org.uk

    Website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk

    Historic Houses Member: No