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Chinese Bridge

An ornamental link Take me here now

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

Show transcript

I know, I know, I know – all the world and his wife have a Chinese Bridge somewhere in their garden these days. We have the current craze for everything oriental or ‘Chinoiserie’ as they call it to thank for that.

But you see most of those so-called ‘Chinese Bridges’ have been designed by people who have never seen the real thing, just the rather fanciful designs by impostors like that ghastly hack William Halfpenny and his son, who as far as I know have never even been outside England, certainly not to China.

What you need to understand is that for the Chinese gentleman, a bridge is not just a way of getting across water. The bridge is also part of the view from somewhere else, and the person planning the garden will want you to see that bridge from a particular angle, so that it looks perfect.

They will think about how its reflection will look in the water, what trees are in front of or behind it from that angle, and probably what fish you can see below it. And so even courtiers and mandarins of enormous wealth might want to have a very simple little rustic bridge, because that is the picture they want to show you.

My bridge is a proper Chinese bridge, and I’m particularly proud of the words on the posts at each end. The ones at this end say ‘Thicket water flower garden’ on the left and ‘Chinese Style Ornamented Bridge’ on the right, which tells you what’s here, and the other side of the bridge says ‘Please enter, be amused, ramble’ and ‘Health, peace and wishes accomplished’ - which says it all really.

This is one of the more practical follies that Sir George Stuanton put into the park, although it was only needed because he had created an artificial lake in the valley. He was inspired by the Chinese gardens he saw in his time travelling on diplomatic missions often had water features such as streams, lakes and islands with ornamental bridges crossing them. 

In the 18th century there was a great enthusiasm for Chinese-style gardens, fabrics and porcelain (collectively called Chinoiserie) but Staunton was one of the very few who had first-hand experience of how these things appeared in China. 

One of the concepts of Chinese gardens was that they should look as natural as possible, without the strict symmetry and straight lines that were typical of European formal gardens of the 17th century. Paths were wiggly and lines were curved, but this did not mean that anything was random. A great deal of thought went into exactly how a view appeared, or what the reflection of a bridge would look like in the water below. 

The Chinese characters carved on four posts of the bridge can be translated as:

Thicket water flower-garden; Chinese style ornamented bridge; Please enter, be amused, ramble; Heath, peace and wishes accomplished.

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