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The Lake Pavilions

Stowe: The South Front

A view of the Lake and Lake Pavilions from the South Front of the House

The view above is from the portico of the South Front of the House. The Grand Avenue toward Buckingham can be seen through the Corinthian Arch in the distance, and the axis it forms was once completed by a long, narrow avenue of trees that led from the lake to the house. At that time, the lake was shaped in a regular octagon that had at its center a guglio, and the Lake Pavilions were situated much closer together on a raised platform of earth.

As the photograph below suggests, each Pavilion is essentially a porch without a house -- in architectural terms, a pedimented tetrastyle portico in the Doric order. They were designed by Sir John Vanbrugh and built in the early 1720s. Though they seem identical, there are slight differences. The eastern Pavilion is approached by five steps, for example, while the western one is approached by seven. The eastern Pavilion also, as Bevington points out, has a small lodge attached to it in the rear. Close by, just to the east, is the Bell Gate -- the entrance used by visitors to the garden (as opposed to guests of the Family), and the lodge was presumably used by the gate keeper.

A view of the East Lake Pavilion from the path leading from the Pebble Alcove
A view of the East Lake Pavilion from the path leading from the Pebble Alcove

The Seeley Guidebooks beginning in 1756 describe the interiors of the Pavilions as follows:

The Inside of each is adorned with Paintings by Mr. Nollikins. The Stories are taken from Pastor Fido. The disconsolate Nymph there, poor Dorinda, had long been in love with Sylvio, a wild Hunter of barbarous Manners, in whose Breast she had no Reason to believe she had raised an answering Passion. As she was roving in the Woods, she accidentally met his Dog, and saw her beloved Hunter himself at a Distance hallooing, and running after it. She immediately calls the Hound to her, and hides it amongst the Bushes. Sylvio comes up to her, and enquires very eagerly after his Dog: The poor Nymph put him off, and tries all her Art to inspire him with Love, but to no Purpose; the cold Youth was quite insensible, and his Thoughts could admit no other Object but his Dog. Almost despairing, she at length hopes to bribe his Affections, and lets him know that she has his Dog, which she will return, if he will promise to love her, and give her a Kiss: Sylvio is overjoyed at the Proposal, and promises to give her ten thousand Kisses. Dorinda upon this brings the Dog, but alas! see there the success of all her pains. The Youth transported at the Sight of his Dog, throws his Arms around its Neck, and lavishes upon it those Kisses and Endearments, in the very Sight of the poor afflicted Lady, which she had been flattering herself would have fallen to her Share.

On the other Wall, Disdain and Love have taken different Sides; the Youth is warm, and the Nymph is coy: Poor Myrtillo had long loved Amaryllis; the Lady was engaged to another, and rejected his Passion. Gladly would he only have spoke his Grief, but the cruel fair One absolutely forbid him her Presence. At length a Scheme was laid by Corisca, the young Lover's Confidant, which was to gain him Admission into his dear Amaryllis's Company. The Lady is enticed into the Fields with some of Corisca's Companions, (who were let into the Plot) to play at Blindman's-Buff, where Myrtillo was to surprize her; where he stands hesitating what Use to make of so favourable and Opportunity which Love has put into his Hands.
Pastor Fido, Act II. Scene 2. and Act III. Scene 2.

A view of the West Lake Pavilion from beyond the Octagon Lake Cascade
A view of the West Lake Pavilion from just beyond the Octagon Lake Cascade

The photograph above illustrates the contrast between the more formal Pavilions -- their columns are fluted and the plasterwork on their ceilings is quite detailed -- and the rustic cascade between the Octagon and Eleven-Acre Lakes. Following the Seely Guidebooks, Bevington refers to the rockwork arches over the cascade as the Artificial Ruins.

Below is a 180-degree panorama view from the steps of the West Lake Pavilion. It will automatically spin clockwise and then reverse. Notice the view of the Queen Caroline Monument through the trees and over the Eleven-Acre Lake as well as the line of sight over the Chatham Urn toward the Gothic Temple. Notice also the growth of the evergreens on and around the Cascade in this 2000 view as compared to the view above from 1991. You may control the movement of the panorama with your mouse by placing your cursor on the image and depressing the left mouse button to drag the image in the direction you choose.

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John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College,