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The Beacon

Staunton's 'At Home' signal Take me here now

The Beacon's position on a dramatic hilltop is no accident...

Make sure your volume is on: "Sir George talks about the Beacon"

Show transcript

Ah, the Beacon – a perfect miniature little temple in the style of the ancient Greeks. It’s right up in the highest part of the pleasure garden. You can see it from quite a distance, especially if there is a flag flying – which there is when I’m staying here – you know, it lets the locals know that I’m ‘in residence’ so to speak.

Little round temples like this are VERY picturesque – and quite fashionable. Queen Marie Antoinette had a similar one near Versailles, called ‘The Temple of Love’ … very charming I’m told... the temple, I mean, not Marie Antoinette. Not that I’m saying she …Oh, never mind, you know what I mean.

I got a bit of a bargain with this folly, actually, because I was able to buy up a whole lot of architectural bits when they demolished Purbrook House, and sort of have them reassembled into the Beacon. Clearly that’s why the Temple is in the Ionic style but the pillars, strictly speaking, are in the Tuscan style. The steps are just in any old style, honestly.

You can go up, but be careful as there isn’t much space when you get up there, and it would be embarrassing to fall off.

If you like miniature Greek temples then this is the folly for you. From a distance it looks like a bandstand, but as you get closer you realise that it would be crowded with more than one musician there.  This is the secret of what a 'folly' is - a building designed to enhance the view of the landscape without really being of any practical use. 

The Beacon was built in 1830 on a design by Vulliamy, making use of materials which were left after Purbrook House was demolished. Eight doric style columns support a domed roof, with a flagpole sticking out of the top. The story was that George Staunton, like the monarch, had the flag flying when he was in residence (in the house, not in the Beacon, obviously).

Like the Temple, the Beacon was part of a school of thought about how to create landscaped gardens in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Wealthy and educated people who had done the 'Grand Tour' of classical sites around the Mediterranean came back with an enthusisasm for Greek and Roman architecture, and for romantic vistas that looked like Tuscan countryside.

A new profession of 'landscape gardeners' arose to make their dreams a reality, picking out just the right spot for a little temple, pre-ruined tower, artifial hermit's grotto or other feature to peep out from the trees or be reflected in the (artificial) lake. Ironically the aim of all this money spent changing the landscape was to make the landscape look more 'natural', proving that beauty always comes at a price even in geography. 


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