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The Palladian Bridge

Stowe: Hawkwell Field



The Guide to the Gardens describes the Palladian Bridge as follows:

"The original is at Wilton [near Salisbury], put up in 1737 to the design of Lord Pembroke, the 'Architect Earl', and his assistant, Roger Morris. It was a jeu d'esprit in the Palladian manner, then fashionable, and fully original to the extent that it was quite different from any bridge by Palladio himself, and better. So great was the renown of this flawless minor masterpiece that two copies were made: at Stowe, very quickly; and at Prior Park [near Bath], somewhat later. This at Stowe was in existence by 1742. Adapted for carriages making the circuit of the grounds, it stands lower than its model, which is approached by steps, and thereby raised more beautifully above the water."


The Palladian Bridge at Stowe
A view of the Palladian Bridge at Stowe from the west

As the photographs below indicate, unlike the Bridge at Stowe, those at Wilton and Prior are part of a dam and cascade system. While all three structures function as eyecatchers in those parts of the gardens in which they are set, the two at Stowe and Prior are perhaps more picturesque: at Stowe the Bridge is nestled into the woods at the eastern end of the garden, and at Prior the Bridge is the focal point at the middle distance for the view from the state rooms of the house and from the portico as one looks across the valley toward Bath.

The Palladian Bridge at Wilton
The Palladian Bridge at Wilton House
The Palladian Bridge at Prior Park
The Palladian Bridge at Prior Park

The Guide to the Gardens continues:

"Placed at the extreme [eastern] corner of the gardens, as they then existed, it was at first given no Ionic columns on the upstream side, but a solid wall, presumably because the view on that side was considered unworthy or unsightly. . . . This wall had, in the centre part of the bridge, a sculptured relief by Scheemakers, showing the four quarters of the world bringing produce to Britannia. There were also two paintings by Francesco Sleter, the Venetian, presumably in the side compartments: one of Sir Walter Raleigh and one of Sir William Penn." Scheemakers' relief now adorns the pediment over the portico of the Temple of Concord and Victory.

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John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, jtatter@bsc.edu