Summer House ( Hermitage) the Wilderness, Belton Park, Belton House

Record ID:  60419 / MNA112452
Record type:  Monument
Protected Status: Registered Park or Garden
NT Property:  Belton House; Midlands
Civil Parish:  Belton and Manthorpe; South Kesteven; Lincolnshire
Grid Reference:  SK 9266 3921
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Summary

This is the site of an early 19th century Summer House, situated on an island it was approached by an ornate footbridge. It stood on a stone base which remains and measures 4.07m * 3.17m and stand about 0.5m high. It would appear the floor was made from knuckle bones of Fallow deer. The site was excavated in 2013 and was identified as the "Hermitage" designed by Anthony Salvin in the early 19th C. The excavated remains match Salvin's design.

Identification Images (0)

Monument Types

  • HERMITAGE (GARDEN) (Early 19th C to Late 19th C - 1829 AD to 1900 AD)

Description

(1) The site of a summerhouse situated on an island between an old pond (now marshy) and the River Witham. It was approached by a footbridge across the river which is now derelict (NTSMR no 60413). The summer house was possibly wooden construction and had a thatched roof. It stood on a stone base which remains and measures 4.07m * 3.17m and stand about 0.5m high. There would appear to be a porch and steps to the north end, probably another door at the opposite end (the frame lies nearby). A pile of Tufa stands adjacent to the structural remains, these are from the decorative rock works which would have been apart of the wilderness garden lay out (Beamish, H. 1986: 124).

(2) The island was planted with yews which still survive. A rustic arch of Yew wood stands at the island end of the footbridge. It was a family tradition that the floor was of knucklebones from fallow deer. In 1829 one John Nicholls was paid for collecting "sheep's trotters to pave the floor of the new summer house" (park survey report). The summer house may be similar to that which survives in the garden at Killerton House in Devon (Rayner, H. 1986: 54, Vol 2).

(3-4) Excavations undertaken by the National Trust volunteers in 2013 identified this as the site of the "Hermitage" (see ENA7689). This seems to have been created when the second Baron Brownlow (first Earl Brownlow) inherited the estate in 1815 and embarked upon a programme of landscape reinvigoration. Brownlow undertook various works in the Wilderness, including tree planting and the repair of the cascade. Also at this time the Gothick Ruin was enhanced and elaborated, with the addition of a 14th-century window from Normanton Church. It is during this period that the building which had been known as the Summer House was added to the Wilderness.

The excavations revealed an elaborate floor plan and evidence for a structure more complex than a simple summer house. An archive search revealed a plan, drawn by Anthony Salvin, a young architect under the patronage of the First Earl Brownlow, entitled ‘A Design for the Hermitage on the Island’. When the dimensions shown on the plan were compared to the excavated ruins they provided an exact match proving that the building was in fact The Hermitage, and not the Summer House, as had been presumed over the years. The mistaken identity of the building was due to a long-held assumption that Salvin’s design for the Hermitage had been for a building on the island in Villa Pond. Alongside Salvin’s plan was a photograph that showed a slightly obscured view of the Hermitage and a watercolour which depicted the structure. These sources had mistakenly been believed to relate to the building that had been on the Villa Pond island. Salvin’s design and the accompanying images helped with the analysis of the results of the excavations.

The building was constructed in timber and sat upon brick foundations and a stone plinth. The portico pillars were tree trunks, perhaps yew because of its hard-wearing quality. A thatched roof indicated by numerous thatching pins was confirmed, and a lead sheet fragment found during the excavations may have formed part of the cupola that is shown on the plan, watercolour and photograph. A second phase of excavation took place during the early autumn of 2013. This revealed a small garden with a planting bed bounded by rough stones set on end. A rockery of specimen stones including quartz, agate and tufa was revealed, defined by large river-rounded cobbles. The box and yew would have provided the backdrop for the Hermitage. The excavation of the bridge abutment on the Island revealed that several of the yew tree trunks and branches were in fact part of a structure. Yew branches had been nailed together to create roughly-shaped uprights, and a door latch had been fitted into one of these. Further clearance of the area revealed two large postholes. From the material remains and the archaeological evidence it was clear that upon traversing the bridge, the visitor would have entered the Island by a rustic gateway. The gateway, along with the positioning of the building on the Island, would perhaps have helped to increase the sense that the Hermitage was a place for quiet contemplation.

References

  • SNA66123 - National Trust Report: National Trust. 2014. A Case of Mistaken Identity: The rediscovery and excavation of the Hermitage on the Island at Belton. Pages 7 to 8.

  • SNA66132 - National Trust Report: National Trust East Midlands. 1986. The National Trust Archaeological survey: Belton House, Lincolnshire East Midlands Region. One document folder/file. p.124.

  • SNA66138 - National Trust Report: Manpower Services Commission. 1985. Belton Park Volume II Park History. 2 of 3. Vol 2; p.54.

  • SNA66876 - Article in serial: Rachael Hall. 2012. 'Belton's Wilderness Hermitage Re-Found'. Issue 25. p.14.

Designations

Other Statuses and References

None Recorded

Associated Events

  • ENA6531 - Field Survey, Condition survey of the knucklebone floor in the Hermitage, The Wilderness, Belton Park
  • ENA7689 - Archaeological Intervention, Archaeological Excavations of the Hermitage its Garden and Access Bridge, Belton House
  • ENA7697 - Field Survey, Archaeological Survey of Belton House & Park, 1986

Associated Finds

None Recorded

Related Records

None Recorded