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A rustic idyll Take me here now

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

Show transcript

A lot of my visitors ask me why I have put this rather ordinary little cottage on the island…they say it looks a bit odd surrounded by a mixture of Greek, Roman, Turkish, Egyptian and Chinese designs. And I can see what they mean, in a way, although by the time you have put all those different nationalities and styles together in one place I can’t see how anything can really look out of place!

But, to answer, I would say this. Go and take a look at any painting of the countryside since the Renaissance – I'm talking European paintings, Chinese landscapes are totally different…take a really close look – and there is one thing you’ll almost always see…PEASANTS! You simply can’t have a landscape without peasants, or at least someone in it to give it a sense of scale and movement.

Now I haven’t got any peasants, but I do have rather a lot of gardeners, about sixteen of them I think. So I built this little cottage here and put an under gardener in it.

Part of his job is to look after the landscape, yes, but also to be IN the landscape, if you see what I mean. You know, wandering around doing landscape peasant tasks - like cutting firewood or moving sheep around and, well, you know, rustic things - to complete the view. And he gets a nice view too, and a nice place to sleep, so I think it’s a fair deal all round.

The follies that Sir George Staunton built were designed to make the landscape more picturesque, but a few of them served a practical purpose as well. Having created an artficial lake with three islands and five bridges, he built a small cottage on one of islands and put one of his undergardeners in it. 

The intention was that when looking down on the lake from the Lookout on the hill, the visitor should see an idyllic little house peeping out from the trees with smoke curling up from the chimney.

It was not unusual for Regency gardens and Romantic painters to put little cottages into the landscape, although they didn't give much thought to the practicalities of actually living in them.

Quite what the undergardener thought about being a feature in his master's grand design we don't know. When the estate was sold and the new mansion house built on the hill the cottage was pulled down. Presumably the new owner didn't find having a permanent view of his servant's domestic life quite so interesting. 

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