Restoration of Painshill's iconic Temple of Bacchus nears completion

The resurrection of Painshill's Temple of Bacchus, a garden folly built by Charles Hamilton and visited by American founding fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, is nearing completion.

Hamilton's original Temple of Bacchus. Image: Painshill Park Trust
Hamilton's original Temple of Bacchus. Image: Painshill Park Trust

The garden in Surrey expects to unveil the exterior of the new building next month, the first time visitors will be able to see it for decades, following a year’s research and building work by specialist contractor Cliveden Conservation and 15 years of fundraising by garden owners, the Painshill Park Trust.

Cliveden will then work on interior ornate plaster work based on original designs by Neoclassical architect Robert Adam, before a grand opening in the spring. The temple had to be rebuilt from the foundations following archaeological work in 2004. Cliveden also restored the Crystal Grotto at Painshill.

Once the temple is complete it will be the final major piece in what has been a 36–year restoration of the gardens, designed by Charles Hamilton between 1738 and 1773. Fundraising will continue for a mausoleum roof and glasshouses to grow exotics.

The Trust has committed to restoring the garden to Hamilton’s design which means that head gardener Andy Mills has a limited palate of plants to use in the garden and there are no plans to plant around the temple because it originally sat in a grassy sward. His work to restore the original Grade I listed design is also well-underway.

"We work within a time frame of 35 years. We use any plant available to Hamilton before his time and to the end of his time here, such as cistus creticus and ladanifer. We don’t have rhododendons, camellias, azaleas and so on because they are far too late for us. We’re quite strict, which makes it quite exciting. We’re quite unique. The only other landscape garden in the country that is as strict at us is Rousham."

Mills and his team has cleared most of the hay meadows and in mid-to-late September will be topsoiling, grading in and crown-lifting to show the temple off as it should be. Most of the work has been opening out the landscape to reveal its 18th century grandeur.

"We’re constantly striving forward and refreshing our planting. Things that were planted 35 years ago that are outgrowing their space so now were in the process of cutting and clearing which a lot of people won’t like. I spent 15 years at the National Trust and a lot of it Stourhead. Cutting back and clearance has to be done over a period of years so as not to shock people too much. Here we try and get it done, in and out."

Painshill chief executive Michael Gove said: "The completion of the Temple will be an outstanding achievement in the 36-year programme of restoration for Painshill. Once admired by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, we’re thrilled it will again be a magnificent addition to the restored landscape."

The Temple was originally home to a collection of antiques collected by Hamilton during his Grand Tours across Europe, including seven foot marble centrepiece statue of Bacchus. The contents of The Temple of Bacchus were sold in 1797 but a casting from the original Bacchus statue was gifted to the Trust, ready to be returned home on completion of the restoration.

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