The Painshill Park Tour

Visitors entered by the garden gate where they were shown the flower garden; at this point only the Gothic Tower at the westernmost tip of the site, and the Gothic Temple, were visible, along with views east across the River Mole to Cobham and south to Wood Hill and the Surrey downs. The tour then proceeded up the gentle slope of Wood Hill where there were views of the lake and vineyard. The Hon Charles Hamilton extended the lake south-east into the meadows below the vineyard in 1772 to flood the area previously excavated to supply his brick and tile works.

Painshill Park, View across lake to the bridge. Image courtesy of Di Stiff

Painshill Park, View across lake to the bridge. Image courtesy of Di Stiff

In the plantation at the top of the hill is a clearing known as the Amphitheatre, with a statue of the Rape of a Sabine Woman. The original of c 1750 was by van Nost after Giambologna. An avenue leads west to where the restored Gothic Temple (listed grade II*) frames views to the lake and the woods to the west. Paths lead down the hill to the Ruined Abbey (listed grade II), the site of Hamilton’s brick and tile works, and the replanted vineyard. The Abbey was a later addition by Hamilton to the landscape (1772) and is not mentioned in earlier descriptions of the site. The vineyard was quite successful and Hamilton laid out a second north of the river.

The path then leads over the wooden Chinese Bridge (restored, listed grade II) to an island in the lake with a large tufa arch. On the north of the island, c.450m south-west of the House, is the Grotto and an adjoining rockwork bridge (both listed grade II). It is a brick-built structure with timber beams and a slate roof, faced with oolitic limestone and rock. Inside it is decorated with fibrous gypsum, mauve fluorite, orange calcite, and other minerals; the main chamber had large stalactites and several cascades and pools. The Grotto was probably built by the Lanes, the most notable grotto-makers of the time who were also responsible for the grotto at nearby Oatlands. A small Palladian bridge led south-west back to the mainland.

The path then leads west to the Roman Mausoleum (listed grade II), which was contrived as a ruin standing in a loop in the river, before turning north towards the site of the Fivearch Bridge and then west to the Cascade situated c 780m south-west of the House at the west end of the lake. A brick duct runs c 200m south-west to the Water Wheel (listed grade II) which raises the water for the lake from the River Mole several metres below. The present iron wheel is 36 feet (c Ilm) in diameter and was built by Bramahs in the 1830s to replace Hamilton’s original wheel.

The western end of the site was known as the ‘Alpine Wood’, with steep slopes planted with a wide variety of trees. At the southern edge lay the Hermitage, a primitive wooden structure but with excellent views to the south over Surrey. At the furthest point of the site is the restored four-storey Gothic Tower (listed grade II*), c 1.3km west of the House; its setting is now spoilt by pylons and overhead power lines.

Turning east the tour visited the now-destroyed Temple of Bacchus, built to house a 7′ (c 2m) statue of Bacchus which Hamilton had smuggled out of Italy, and then the ornate Turkish Tent. This final folly, now reconstructed some 50m from its original site (for current site restraint reasons), is situated on a knoll with fine views of the lake and across the so-called Elysian Field towards the House some 750m to the north-east, although this is now concealed by woodland outside the current park boundary. To the north, an area of c 11 ha which was formerly within the park is now occupied by a farm and a Girl Guide Association campsite.

The path returns down the hill to the east, past the remains of the Roman Bath House, situated by a spring-fed pool near a group of cedars planted by Hamilton. This circular building of brick and plaster with a large thatched roof was added by Bond Hopkins in the 1780s and this building was extant until at least 1937, although its tiled pool remains, together with the adjacent, restored water-raising horse pump. There is also a fine, recently restored ice house of c 1830 set in the hillside near the Gothic Temple.

Read more about the 18th century sketches of Charles Hamilton’s gardens at Painshill in the Surrey History Centre Marvel: William Gilpin’s Painshill sketchbook.

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