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The Shell Bridge

Stowe: The Elysian Fields


The Shell Bridge was, according to Bevington, designed and executed by William Kent in 1738. It is not actually a bridge but, instead, a façade for the dam dividing the upper and lower parts of the river--the upper part dominated by the Grotto and Temple of Contemplation, and the lower part by the Temples of Ancient Virtue and British Worthies juxtaposed across the water. In its design, the façade resembles both the Pebble Alcove (built about the same time in the lower Elysian Fields) and the Hermitage on the south shore of the Eleven-Acre Lake. The Shell Bridge seen from the east bank of the River Styx
The Shell Bridge seen from the east side The Survey quotes the following anonymous account from 1738 describing the area:

"A little further on is a Bridge of rough stone designd in a Ruinous manner. From under it runs a Serpentine River of a good Breadth; the Ground on each side gradually ascending and well laid down, with the Forest Work that crowns the Banks a Top, make this as agreable to my Eye as any part of the Gardens."


Both Bevington and the Guide to the Gardens suggest that the Shell Bridge recalls structures at Rousham Park in Oxfordshire also designed by Kent. Below are photographs of the lower cascade below the octagonal pond in Venus's Vale (left) and the arcade below the Praeneste Terrace (right).

The Cascade in Venus's Vale The Praeneste Terrace

Like the cascade at Rousham, the three central bays of the Shell Bridge provide a cascade from the upper to the lower section of the river.

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