A Baroque banquet
Country Life UK|September 15, 2021
The Archer Pavilion, Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, In the care of English Heritage One of the most spectacular garden buildings of the English Baroque–as well as the architect that designed it– is ripe for reappraisal, says Helen Lawrence-Beaton
Helen Lawrence-Beaton

AFTER centuries of relative obscurity, Thomas Archer (1668–1743) is now taking his rightful place in the pantheon of great British Baroque architects with Wren, Vanbrugh, Hawksmoor and Gibbs. His pavilion at the end of the canal at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, remains one of his most admired buildings and continues to delight modern visitors. Few realise, perhaps, how profoundly the surrounds of the pavilion have changed over time or that Archer contributed other buildings to the landscape here that have vanished.

The closest a modern viewer might come to experiencing the pavilion in its early-18thcentury context is via the atmospheric views by Peter Tillemans of about 1729. These show the gardens in their original character, with clipped topiary, statuary and neatly edged pathways. John Rocque’s 1735 estate plan of Wrest further shows the pavilion at the heart of the estate, the focus of a complex network of avenues and paths that led into the wider landscape. It was positioned to the south of the main house, since rebuilt (COUNTRY LIFE, March 30, 2011), at the end of the Long Water (Fig 2). To the east and west were two woodland groves intersected by a series of serpentine walks and compartments.

Archer and his patron at Wrest, Henry Grey, the 1st Duke of Kent (1671–1740), probably met at Court, where Archer was Groom Porter from 1705 until his death. In this curious post, he was responsible for overseeing gambling both at Court and throughout England. In return, he enjoyed a large salary, lodgings at Whitehall and, most importantly, excellent connections. Courtiers attended the Groom Porter’s rooms to gossip, drink and gamble extortionate amounts of money. Archer must have been affable, social and diplomatic in order to regulate the antics of his peers. His character and these circumstances presumably played an important role in helping him secure commissions for buildings; certainly, Grey is known to have been an enthusiastic gambler in his youth.

Grey had undertaken his Grand Tour at the same time as Archer and it is tempting to suggest that their paths first crossed as young gentlemen abroad. The Duke had a successful political career, amassing a swathe of prestigious posts, including Lord Chamberlain, but was mocked by his contemporaries for his personal cleanliness—his nickname was ‘The Bug’ and sometimes even ‘His Stinkingness’.

Despite these criticisms, few could find fault with his passion for gardening, combined with a skill for recognising and patronising architectural talent. The garden Grey created at Wrest was considered one of the greatest of its day and was praised by Stephen Switzer in Ichnographia Rustica (1718). The pavilion was designed to serve the garden as a banqueting house on the grandest scale, extending to three floors with a double-height, domed saloon at its heart (Fig 1).

Archer’s authorship is noted in the first volume of the architectural survey by Colen Campbell, Vitruvius Britannicus (1725), and its date of design recorded as 1709, although we know that work was still under way in 1712, when the interior was decorated for the enormous sum of £110.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

RELATED STORIES

CHANGE IS THE ULTIMATE CREATIVITY

UPAMA RAJASEKHAR is a Brighter Minds facilitator. Here, PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNAN meets with her and some of the children she facilitates in the program, to learn firsthand about their experiences.

6 mins read
Heartfulness eMagazine
September 2021

Hitting the Mark

4-H Shooting Clubs Help Keep Life Goals On Target

4 mins read
Central Florida Ag News
August 2021

How the SPAC Era Will End

A fever has swept Wall Street, and it’s stretching all the limits

8 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 15, 2021

911 DRONE DEPLOYMENT

Archer Unmanned Air Systems (Archer UAS), technology company with a 911-integrated drone deployment system, has announced a partnership with RapidDeploy as part of its Lightning Partner Program.

2 mins read
RotorDrone
February/ March 2021

Making The Switch From Rifle To Archery

“More time in the field.” That is something I read years ago over and over again in our local game and fish regulations.

7 mins read
Montana Hunting & Fishing News
December 2019

FAMILY GOING FOR GOLD

Have the Olympics inspired you to get active? Here’s how the whole family can embrace their inner athlete

2 mins read
National Geographic Traveller (UK)
October 2021

तोक्यो : भारतीयों का निराशानजक प्रदर्शन जारी

तीरंदाजी , टेबल टेनिस, हॉकी में मिली हार

1 min read
Samagya
July 27, 2021

दीपिका चमकीं, भारत को तीरंदाजी विश्व कप के तीसरे चरण में चार स्वर्ण पदक

फार्म में चल रही अनुभवी रिकर्व तीरंदाज दीपिका कुमारी के शानदार प्रदर्शन से भारत ने रविवार को यहां विश्व कप के तीसरे चरण में तीन स्वर्ण पदक अपनी झोली में डाले। इससे इस प्रतियोगिता में भारत के नाम चार स्वर्ण पदक रहे।

1 min read
Samagya
June 28, 2021

BE GENTLE WITH JOF!

‘England must manage workload’

2 mins read
The Sunday Mirror
May 16, 2021

CHIVALRY 2

Tempered steel and temper tantrums on medieval battlefields

7 mins read
PC Gamer
June 2021