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Orangery, Steps and Four Cherub Statues on Pedestals

A Grade II* Listed Building in Silsoe, Central Bedfordshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.006 / 52°0'21"N

Longitude: -0.4139 / 0°24'49"W

OS Eastings: 508969

OS Northings: 235360

OS Grid: TL089353

Mapcode National: GBR G3S.B5J

Mapcode Global: VHFQV.SV12

Entry Name: Orangery, Steps and Four Cherub Statues on Pedestals

Listing Date: 10 January 1985

Last Amended: 18 May 2012

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1158549

English Heritage Legacy ID: 37720

Location: Silsoe, Central Bedfordshire, MK45

County: Central Bedfordshire

Civil Parish: Silsoe

Traditional County: Bedfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bedfordshire

Church of England Parish: Silsoe

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans

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Summary

Orangery situated in Wrest Park, built c. 1835 to the design of Thomas Philip, 2nd Earl de Grey, with James Clephan as the clerk of works.

Description

MATERIALS: yellow brick with the front and side elevations and decorative details in cement render. The main roof is a glazed, cast-iron frame with a shallow pitch, and the projecting end pavilions have domes with decorative tiles.

EXTERIOR: the Orangery has a long, rectangular plan. A single-storey building with a vaulted undercroft divided into thirteen bays with tall, round-arched windows 1:4:1:4:1, those to the end pavilions and centre containing French windows, the others with casement windows, all with glazing bars. The side elevations have three bays: one is blind, one has a casement window, and the end pavilion has a French window. The window in the north elevation has double doors of render over timber, disguised to look like part of the wall and large enough to allow orange trees to be moved through. The openings have decorative keystones, those to the central and outer bays are more ornate, containing the de Grey family crest of the staff and coronet. The pilasters between each aperture have capitals consisting of corbeilles with roses, beneath which tapering panels with carved tassels hang down. The central doorway is flanked by a caryatid and atlas, the parapet above each surmounted by an urn with festoons. The main block has a balustraded parapet with small urns placed above the pilasters, and the pavilion parapets have an ornamental crest forming the pediment. In contrast, the rear elevation is utilitarian in character. It has exposed brickwork and contains five arched doorways giving access to the undercroft, and thirteen semi-circular windows above.

INTERIOR: the floor is covered with modern ceramic tiles in a black and white diamond pattern with red tiles forming a border. A cast-iron pump is located near the north wall, and an elaborate, classical, c.1600 stone fireplace with the de Grey coat of arms is positioned in the west wall.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: located at each corner of the steps leading up to the Orangery are four early-C18, stone statues of cherubs on pedestals made by an unknown Flemish sculptor, possibly from a fossil marble of continental origin. The statue at the top of the steps on the south side holds an open book in front of him; that on the north side holds a puppy to her chest; the statue on the base of the steps on the south side holds a bird's nest in both his hands; and that on the north side clutches a torch to his right side.

History

Wrest Park belonged to the Grey family from the Middle Ages until the early C20. In the late C16 the original manor house was described as a rambling building which had evolved piecemeal from the medieval period. A classical north front was added in 1671 to disguise its irregularities, and in the 1830s it was completely rebuilt by Thomas Philip, 2nd Earl de Grey with the assistance of James Clephan. The park also evolved in distinct phases of development, each of which respected the work carried out by former members of the de Grey family. In the 1670s the long canal became the main feature of the garden, and parterres in the Great Garden to the south of the house were complemented by symmetrical wildernesses at the southern end. In 1706 Henry, Duke of Kent began to create the formal woodland garden, continuing to enlarge it and adding numerous garden buildings until his death in 1740. His granddaughter Jemima, Marchioness Grey employed Lancelot 'Capability' Brown in 1758 to make the formal boundary canals curve more naturalistically and to soften the edges of the woodland garden. When Thomas, Earl de Grey rebuilt the house in the 1830s he laid out the upper gardens. During the First World War, Wrest Park was used as a military hospital before being sold in 1917. After the Second World War it was purchased by the Government by which time the gardens were in a poor condition. The house was acquired by English Heritage in 2006.

The Orangery is situated on a terrace to the west of the house on the site of an C18 greenhouse by Batty Langley. It was built c. 1835 to the design of Thomas Philip, 2nd Earl de Grey, with James Clephan as the clerk of works. The Earl was inspired by a design in Blondel's Maisons de Plaisance (the source for Wrest Park House) which he embellished with classical ornamentation and the addition of tall French domes at either end. Evidence suggests that the fourteen urns on the parapet may have been supplied by the cement-based artificial stone manufacturer established by Felix Austin, later known as Austin and Seeley. A photograph of the Orangery in a Country Life article from 1904 also shows decorative child sculptures in the manner of Austin and Seeley surmounting each side of the domes but these are now missing. In the Earl's day the Orangery was stocked with orange trees bought from King Louis Phillippe. In the summer months they were set out on the terraced parterre below, and by the turn of the century they were amongst the largest orange trees in England. The doors on the front of the building were not tall enough to allow the mature trees to be wheeled through but the designers had had the foresight to insert a concealed wooden door into the right (north) side which was the full height of the Orangery. The pump formerly used for pumping water up from the tanks in the undercroft survives but the floor of the Orangery which contained heating grilles has been replaced with ceramic tiles since 1948. An elaborate c.1600 stone fireplace preserved from old Wrest House has been re-erected in the west wall. The four early C18 stone statues of cherubs positioned on the steps leading up to the Orangery have been in place since at least 1908 in which year they were illustrated in 'The Orangery at Wrest Park' in The Gardeners' Magazine.

Reasons for Listing

The Orangery at Wrest Park is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: for its confident and imaginative recreation of a French design, unique for an Orangery in England at the time;
* Artistic interest: for its unusual and unconventional use of classical ornamentation and the quality of the four early-C18 statues positioned on the steps;
* Historic interest: for its association with Wrest Park and its architect/ owner Thomas Philip, 2nd Earl de Grey;
* Group Value: for its contribution to the structural and aesthetic composition of a Grade I Registered Park and Garden and its association with many other listed buildings.

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