What is a Pleasure Ground?

Garden historians often blithely describe certain gardens as a 'pleasure garden' - but just what is this? Here, at Weston Park, we take a look at what really puts the pleasure into the pleasure ground

By Weston Park

Autumn colour at Temple Pool (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

A pleasure ground is, effectively, what the words themselves say - ground that gives human pleasure. There are plenty of places that give enjoyment, but true pleasure grounds, in the context of the English garden, are highly contrived gardens that seek to emulate nature. 

Pleasure grounds are, of course, highly artificial and they became an essential part of the surroundings of an English country house in the latter eighteenth century.

A Clump of Trees (ca. 1757) by Thomas GainsboroughThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of the greatest promoters of the pleasure ground was the great landscape gardener Lancelot Capability Brown. Brown worked at Weston Park from 1765 for the then owners, Sir Henry and Lady Bridgeman, and he produced an enormous plan to show his proposals.

Capability Brown's Map of Weston Park (1765/1765) by Lancelot BrownWeston Park

Capability Brown's Big Plan for Pleasure Grounds Weston Park

A pleasure ground, that stimulated the human senses, is to be found at most Georgian country estates. What makes Weston Park exceptional is that there is not one but two pleasure grounds and that BOTH are the work of Britain's greatest landscape gardener Capability Brown

West-left section of Capability Brown's map of Weston Park (1765/1765) by Lancelot BrownWeston Park

Pleasure to the West....

One of Weston Park's pleasure grounds is to the west of the house, intended for afternoon walks

An Afternoon Stroll

This is known as the Shrewsbury Walk, and it encompasses a serpentine walk which leads between trees - including Brown's favourite cedar of lebanons - at a high level to take advantage of views to the Shropshire Hills

Looking west along the Shrewsbury Walk ha-ha (2019/2019) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Looking from the Shrewsbury Walk to the deer park

It's easy to feel at one with nature on this walk, at any time of year, since the ha-ha - or sunk fence - that Capability Brown specified, allows unbroken views across the deer park

Continuing Brown's legacy

The Weston Park Foundation - the independent charity that now owns Weston Park - is committed to conserving the pleasure grounds and new trees are constantly being planted to maintain Capability Brown's original vision

East-right section of Capability Brown's map of Weston Park (1765/1765) by Lancelot BrownWeston Park

The Eastern Pleasure Grounds - Temple Wood

On the other side of the House, Capability Brown conceived a pleasure ground that enjoys the very best of morning light and which gives pleasure at all times of the day

A Stimulation of the Senses

Pleasure grounds were the original sensory gardens, providing interest for all of the five human senses. Temple Wood provides all of these stimulations, just as its eighteenth century designer intended

The Roman Bridge at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

A Place of Discovery

Whatever the season and whatever the time of day, a pleasure ground has things in it that can be enjoyed. The touch of bark and stone, the visual engagement caused by the play of light...

Bridging Human Pleasures

James Paine's Roman Bridge, crossing Temple Pool shows how in light or shade, the garden always offers variety, with the sparkle of water adding life

Coade stone Sundial in Temple Wood at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Interest at each turn of the path..

Wandering through Temple Wood there are not only flowering and scented shrubs to add interest, but also garden ornaments like this handsome sundial

A Sundial only Tells of Sunny Hours

Not only does the sundial serve a purpose, but it adds classically inspired ornament to contrast against the green of the shrubs

A special ceramic

This sundial is not made of stone, as visitors might expect, but - in fact - a twice-fired ceramic called Coade stone that was made by an eighteenth century female entrepreneur, Eleanor Coade

Weston Park's second Coade stone sundial plinth as it appeared when discovered (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

An amazing discovery - and a restoration project

Weston Park, remarkably, had two Coade stone sundial plinths. This one has been found in recent years and is currently being restored after a fundraising campaign

Weston Park Sundial Plinth Appeal Video (2021-01-20) by Weston ParkWeston Park

Mrs Coade had a hugely successful business

Her enterprise was in London, close to the River Thames. We were fascinated to learn more about her when we were raising the funds to restore the recent discovery

The west embanked edge of Temple Pool at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Paths Purposefully Lead Around a Pleasure Ground

Capability Brown planned every aspect of the pleasure grounds to maximise the engagement that it gave to visitors. Paths lead visitors to strategic points, passed certain deliciously scented or unusual plants or to fine views. Perhaps a wayside seat will make them pause

At the Turn of the Path

The form of the paths was also intended to heighten anticipation. A straight path would make the journey's end obvious, whilst a turn of the path adds mystery and interest...

The Chinese Bridge at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Over the Chinese Bridge

This bridge is a recent restoration at Weston Park, following a generous bequest, and its balustrading - based upon an Oriental pattern - has lead to it being known as the Chinese bridge. Its elliptical arched form is based on a Georgian design

Bluebells in Capability Brown's Shrewsbury Walk at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Things look different at different times of the day

Light moves around a garden during the day and so the placing of trees and shrubs in a pleasure garden is vital. Seasonality is also important and so in May the pleasure grounds are filled with the scent and colour of bluebells 

Massed flowers of bluebells, and other plants at other times of the year, changes the perspective of the garden for visitors

The Cascade between Temple Pool and White Pits Pool at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The calming sound of running water

The cascade at the end of Temple Pool adds not only animation, from the movement of the water, but also sound. The gentle noise that the fall of the water makes, coupled with bird song, adds to the joy of the pleasure garden

The water in the garden is also a microcosm of life, providing not only a habitat for fish and waterfowl but also important invertebrates

James Paine's intended south elevation of the Temple of Diana (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The perfect pavilion - the Temple of Diana

The most important element in Weston Park's Temple Wood pleasure ground is the Temple itself. This is dedicated to Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting, and offers space for all of the sensory pleasures 

Stebbing Shaw: View of Weston Park (1770/1790) by Stebbing ShawWeston Park

A Miniature Architectural Masterpiece

The Temple of Diana has the highest UK heritage status and is listed Grade I by Historic England. It enjoys superb views back to the mansion and is, itself, an eye-catcher from the main house as this 1790s print shows

Small but Perfectly Formed

The Temple was designed for Sir Henry and Lady Bridgeman in the 1760s by the architect James Paine. Sir Henry was so proud of the building that he had a watercolour of it hanging in his dressing room whilst diaries show that it was much used by the family and their guests

A preliminary study for the Temple of Diana at Weston Park (1760/1770) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Preliminary Idea

This small drawing survives and is thought to be an initial design for the Temple. It shows the building with a much taller drum upon which the dome of the tea-room is positioned. The architect James Paine was highly inventive and enjoyed using geometry in the design of buildings

Gibside Chapel and Mausoleum, Whickham, Gateshead (1955/1980) by Ursula ClarkHistoric England

An Architectural Relation - Gibside Chapel, County Durham

At the same time that he was building the Temple, James Paine was also designing this Chapel at Gibside in County Durham. It has a number of similarities with the designs for the Temple

At Gibside, Paine did use the tall drum to support the dome and the building also employs decorative details such as urns that he had also intended for the Temple of Diana at Weston Park

James Paine's ground plan of the Temple of Diana at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Gorgeous Georgian Geometry

Here we see the ground plan of the Temple of Diana and James Paine's playful love of geometry is to be seen in every detail

James Paine's sectional design for the Temple of Diana (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Looking into the Temple of Diana

James Paine planned the building in meticulous detail as this sectional drawing shows. The orangery is on the left and circular tea room - with bedroom above - on the right

Soaring Ceilings!

The Temple of Diana's interior is extremely rich. Here James Paine shows the detail of the plasterwork that he wanted in the orangery. Remember, this is just a garden building - not the mansion!

Weston Park's Temple of Diana orangery (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The orangery remains exactly as James Paine intended

Recently redecorated by Janie Money from Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, the Temple is now a holiday let at the heart of Weston Park

The ceiling of the Orangery at the Temple of Diana, Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Plentiful Plasterwork

James Paine's plasterwork designs came to fruition and they can still be seen today. The orangery looks like an ancient Roman bathhouse come to life!

Temple of Diana (2021-01-01) by Weston ParkWeston Park

A Tour of the Temple

Take a look around the interior of the Temple to see the splendid rooms that James Paine created for the family's pleasure and which, today, are available for all guests who stay in this important garden building to enjoy

Still Life: Tea Set (Main View)The J. Paul Getty Museum

A time for Tea

Sir Henry and Lady Bridgeman would have used the Temple and other follies as places of refreshment, so that they and their guests could partake in the fashionable drink of tea. It would have been served in Chinese porcelain - or even local Shropshire or Staffordshire tea wares

Tea DrinkLIFE Photo Collection

The Sense of Taste Satisfied

Having the opportunity to pause for refreshment would have enabled the visitors to converse....

...and for dogs to receive tit-bits....

A Pelican and Other Birds near a Pool, known as 'The Floating Feather' (Around 1680) by Melchior d'HondecoeterRijksmuseum

A Grand View of the Menagerie

In the case of the Temple's Circular Tea Room, a cup of tea there would also have enabled the visitor to admire Lady Bridgeman's menagerie of exotic birds that were kept in netted enclosures at the north of the Temple... 

Keeping a beady eye on you!

....or for the birds to admire the visitors

The Roman Bridge at Weston Park seen from the west bank of Temple Pool (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Continuing through Temple Wood at Weston Park, visitors would cross the Roman Bridge and then head into a separately fenced part of the Wood - Cottage Wood. 

The Pink Cottage, set in woodland adjacent to Temple Wood at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Here lay an ornamental cottage that is sometimes referred to as simply 'The Cottage' or even as the 'Swiss Cottage'. It is today known as the Pink Cottage and has been restored as a holiday let. In the eighteenth century it was Lady Bridgeman's own private rural retreat. 


She used it to draw, paint, write and as a place for more tea drinking

The Pink Cottage, set in woodland adjacent to Temple Wood at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Pretty in Pink

The Pink Cottage is in its own secluded garden - a perfectly private spot - and visitors to it would have sensed its remoteness in comparison to the Temple which is visible from the main House. The rustic veranda gives the building shade

Large clumps of ferns grow in the garden and there is also an extensive rockery - quite a contrast from the other methods of planting elsewhere in the pleasure grounds

Under the trellis verandah of the Pink Cottage at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

A Shady Retreat

The Pink Cottage's veranda is a perfect spot on hot sunny summer days, whilst outside the ferns add great visual interest

John Beresford Fowler- Design Showing the Tented Interior of the Pink Cottage (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

A Tented Dream

Inside the Pink Cottage, the Royal cabinet makers Morel & Hughes provided a tented room - festooned with reefed fabric - in 1806. This scheme was proposed to be restored in 1939 by the famous decorator John Fowler of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler. This is his drawing

The Great Forest (1655/1660) by Jacob van RuisdaelKunsthistorisches Museum Wien

The Romantic Wood

The deeper woodland setting of the Pink Cottage was intended to evoke different emotions than the more open areas of the pleasure grounds. It was also a garden reference to art works such as this painting by Jacob van Ruisdael - a painter much admired by English Georgian society

The effects of light, shade and texture in Ruisdael's work are evoked by the feel of the Weston Park pleasure ground near the Pink Cottage

Knoll Tower at Weston Park, seen from the west (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

A Walk with a View

By way of contrast, at the edges of the pleasure ground, the sunk fence allows uninterrupted views across the park to the Knoll Tower. This viewing tower - although built in the Victorian age - is much in the manner of Georgian follies intended to be seen from pleasure grounds

Seeing the Tower might inspire a walk across the thousand acres of Capability Brown's parkland to see the view from the top of the Tower. The Tower is now a holiday let with lucky guests able to enjoy the fabulous views from the upper levels across Shropshire and Staffordshire

The Knoll Tower (2021-01-20) by Weston ParkWeston Park

Portrait of Catherine II the Legislatress in the Temple of the Goddess of Justice (1783) by Dmitry LevitskyThe State Russian Museum

Pleasure grounds were a remarkably English concept as, indeed, were the gardens that Capability Brown and his followers laid out. They came to be appreciated in many other European countries and even the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia was an admirer. 

 She undertook her own landscaping in the English style at Peterhof. 'I now love to distraction gardens in the English style,' she wrote in 1772 to the philosopher Voltaire - who was also a keen gardener - 'Anglomania rules my plantmania.'

Weston Park Flyover (2021-01-20) by Weston ParkWeston Park

The Mansion at the Heart of the Pleasure Grounds

At the very heart of the pleasure grounds stands the House at Weston Park. The pleasure grounds, in addition to providing remarkable sensory gardens, also envelope the House to provide it with a memorable setting at the heart of this very English country estate

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