Existing Georgian Era Hermitages: Part 2

Existing Georgian Era Hermitages: Part 2

On Tuesday I posted a blog giving 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.

Yesterday I highlighted four of the remaining hermitages (one remained until 1962). Today is the completion of the list, but before delving in, be sure to read my blog on the history and the blog covering the other four hermitages.

The Hermitage: Oddest of the English Garden Follies

Existing Georgian Era Hermitages: Part 1


The Witch House at Hestercombe House in Somerset

The original Georgian Landscape Garden was created 1750-1786 by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde, the owner of Hestercombe House. The precise date of construction for The Witch House is unclear, however, the first recording of it was in 1761 as an already popular and admired addition to the grounds for visitors.

In 1785 Henry Hawkins Tremayne, squire of Heligan in Cornwall wrote: “The dead branches of Trees are twisted in the most fantastic shapes two statues whose heads are just at the entrance and other such grotesque forms not copied but merely done by pieces of wood of proper shapes rudely nailed together.”

It was/is located northeast from the main house with a view of the Great Cascade. The precise purpose of the house, whether as a hermitage, general oddity, or resting house, is also unknown. Over time, The Witch House was destroyed, but whether purposefully or simply the natural decay of time, is also unknown. Restoration of the incredible Hestercombe landscape gardens began in 1992 by the Hestercombe Gardens Trust. Re-creation of the entire gardens, including The Witch House, were based on early 20th century photos, and period drawings and descriptions. 


The Hermitage at Sneaton Forest in North Yorkshire

Very little is known about this Hermitage. The hollowed shelter was carved into a huge boulder —an undertaking requiring immense fortitude— is believed to be the work of an out-of-work, unnamed seaman on the instructions of a local schoolmaster named George Chubb. The initials “GC” and the date “1790” are carved over the doorway. Who paid for the project and why it was done are a mystery. It is located in Sneaton Forest on the footpath between Littlebeck and Falling Foss.

Inside the Hermitage is a stone bench along the inner walls, and two stone “wishing chairs” are carved into the top (roof) of the boulder. Local legend contends the chairs grant wishes to come true. Also rumored is that the Hermitage was once the secluded home of a real hermit.


The Hermitage at Warkworth Castle in Northumberland

Probably the first, or one of the first, true hermitages still surviving, and which was used for the traditional purpose of a hermitage. That being, a retreat for a holy man to seek solitude and a life of spiritual contemplation.

This Hermitage is located on the bank of the River Coquet, downstream from Warkworth Castle. It is only accessible by boat. It is carved out of a solid sandstone cliff wall and dates to the latter decades of the 14th century. Most likely ordered by Henry Percy (1341?1408), the 1st Duke of Northumberland, as a private chapel, the interior chamber is laid out with three vaulted bays at one end of which is an altar. There is a porch and living quarters (including a fireplace and kitchen), all of it carved from the rock. In the window bay to the right of the altar are a series of life-size sculptures eroded from time but believed to depict the Nativity.

The first hermit, or priest, recorded was Thomas Barker, who was appointed “chaplain of the chantry in Sunderland park” for life in 1497 by the 4th Earl of Northumberland. This is thought to be the only altar in Northumberland not to be defaced during the religious turmoil of the Reformation in the 16th century. However, it is during this period that the Warkworth Hermitage fell into disuse with no record of a hermit or religious person living there, or of services being held, after 1567.


The Hermitage at Painshill Park in Surrey

The original hermitage was built by the Honorable Charles Hamilton of Painshill Park in the mid-1700s as part of a major garden redesign. Tragically, it was demolished in the 1940s, but in  2007 it was recreated, using timber from the grounds, based on drawings and descriptions.

“On the side of the hill is couched a low hermitage, encompassed with thicket, and overhung with shade … composed of logs and of roots; the design is as simple as the materials; and the furniture within is old and uncouth; all the circumstances which belong to the character, are retained in the utmost purity, both in the approach and the entrance; in the second room they are suddenly changed for a view of the gardens and the country, which is rich with every appearance of inhabitants and cultivation.”

Hamilton advertised for a hermit and engaged one man to live in the hermitage. The agreed term was for seven years, but it did not work out so well. As Hamilton wrote: “The hermit, sad to relate, was a failure. He was offered £700 to live a Nebuchadnezzar-like existence in his cell, sleeping on a mat, never speaking a word, and abandoning all the conveniences of a toilet. He would gladly have taken the £700, but threw up his post after three weeks.”

Entrance view of Painshill hermitage

I hope y’all have enjoyed this dip into the past exploring hermitages.
Comments are always welcome!

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Nancy Gaspic

I have recently begun research into the Georgian, Regency, Victorian and other
eras in British history and I love the information that is provided on this website. People are fascinating!

cindie snyder

Great pics! Very interesting!

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