Existing Georgian Era Hermitages: Part 1

Existing Georgian Era Hermitages: Part 1

Two days ago I gave a brief history on the HERMITAGE, a Georgian Era type of garden folly. As I noted, few known hermitages from the 18th century still exist. Of those, most have been reconstructed or renovated to some degree. Drawings and documentation of hermitages long reclaimed by nature or purposefully destroyed provide a broad knowledge base on these unique follies. For today and tomorrow, I will highlight eight of the remaining hermitages (one remained until 1962). Be sure to come back tomorrow for the completion, and be sure to read my blog on the history:

The Hermitage: Oddest of the English Garden Follies


The Hermitage at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire

Robert Adam laid out the Long Walk in 1760 and planned temples, alcoves, and seats as “incidents” along the 3-mile walking path. Only the ruin of the rustic temple known as the Hermitage remained, and it was restored in 2016 using the original materials.

The Hermitage is constructed of red brick, coursed rubble sandstone and a crystalline white stone. It is circular, roughly seven feet diameter and with ten feet tall walls. The roof was thatched. The round arched stone doorway faces north. A large London plane tree is directly adjacent to the Hermitage.

There’s no evidence that a hermit was ever employed to inhabit the folly, and as it was furnished with a tea table it is more likely that it was used as a tranquil spot to take tea.

Hermit’s Cell, or Root House, at Badminton House in Gloucestershire

The Hermit’s Cell, also known as The Root House, is in the Deer Park of Badminton House. It was designed by Thomas Wright of Durham for the Duke of Beaufort in about 1750. Amazingly, it has survived largely intact.

It is constructed of oddly shaped wood, the four corners large knotty tree trunks, and the walls are filled with branches, roots, and sawn timber. The roof is thatched and has overhanging eaves. The single storey, small square building has bowed sides and two pointed Gothic windows. The interior is lined with bark and moss. At the east end is the entrance, the rustic plank door framed by an irregular inverted fork of a tree. At the rear a similar inverted fork shelters a rustic seat which has an inscription of nailheads that reads:


It stands alone, out of sight of Badminton House or any other structure or trail. It was an embellishment to the landscape, but also served a “practical” purpose as a true home inhabited by Badminton’s resident hermit Urganda for around seven years.

Burley Hermitage at Burley Park in Rutland

The two-room Hermitage in Burley Wood was designed by the 9th Earl of Winchilsea, the owner of the Burley Estate, and constructed in 1807 from tree trunks and thatched with weeds. Apparently it was never inhabited by a hermit, intended as a summerhouse. Sadly, it burned down in 1962, but there are existing photographs and descriptions.

A description of the  Hermitage from the Rutland Magazine (IV, 124-5):

‘The building, which has a rustic appearance, is constructed almost entirely of wood. The crevices are filled with furze, and the roof is thatched with reeds. The front of the structure is open lattice work. The interior consists of two rooms, one evidently having been used as a sleeping apartment, as it contains a straw bed covered with fibre matting. There is, also, in this room a fire place composed of rough stones, and the smoke is conducted to the outside by means of a chimney, built of similar material, which rises several feet above the roof of the building.

‘The front room is furnished with chairs, benches and tables, having a home-made rustic appearance. They are disfigured with the names and initials of visitors, a propensity too much indulged in by English people, whether at home or abroad. It must be an annoyance, and it is certainly an eyesore, not only to the owner, but to all lovers of such relics of the past, to see sprawling letters, large and deep, cut into the trees and on every available place both inside and outside the building. After seeing so many examples of this reprehensible practice, one is forced to the conclusion that there are a large number of people afflicted with a peculiar disposition to revert, in another form, to the claw sharpening propensity of a far distant ancestor. The floor of the interior is tastefully paved with pebbles, and the knuckle bones of sheep. They are laid in a mosaic pattern and enclose the letter W., supposed to be the initial of the Earl of Winchelsea, a former owner of the property. The figures 1807 also appear on the floor, indicating, it may be presumed, the date of the erection. There are no authentic records to show how or for what purpose the building was erected, but in all probability it was built for and used as a summer house or picnic lodge.’

The Hermitage at Brocklesby Park in Lincolnshire

The Hermitage at Brocklesby Park was constructed as part of a scheme of improvements proposed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, who last visited Brocklesby in 1780 shortly before work on the shelter started.

The approach to the hermitage is through a grotto tunnel which was once decorated with fossils and curious minerals. It is constructed of tufa, tree trunks, gnarled branches, and rough stone, around a brick core. Shaped as a little octagon with a slate roof, the hermitage is entered by an arch beautifully formed of two curving branches. The interior was decorated with rustic latticework made of entwined branches and furnished with a table made out of a lump of elm, a rustic seat, and four chairs each hewn out of a single piece of wood. It is unknown if a hermit lived in this particular hermitage, although references hint to at least an occasional occupant.




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