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Home > New Search > West Wycombe Park

West Wycombe Park  England 
west WICK-um
West Wycombe, near High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England

Circa Date: 1720s; rebuilt and remodeled 1750s-70s

Status: Fully Extant

Special Info / Location/ Date

Special Info
Phonetic Pronunciation of House Name
west WICK-um

District Today
 Historic County
 City / Town / Village
West Wycombe, near High Wycombe

Start Date
Completion Date
Circa Date
1720s; rebuilt and remodeled 1750s-70s

A 1793 engraving by Harrison's of London of the House from the Lake

Click on thumbnail for a larger view

A 1793 engraving by Harrison's of London of the House from the Lake
The West Portico
The Temple of Apollo
The South Façade
The Cascade and Music Temple
A circa 1810 Spode bat print porcelain coffee can based on the 1793 engraving by Harrison's of London showing the North Façade of the House
The Mausoleum from a 1916 postcard
A view of the Estate engraved in the 18th century by William Wollett after a painting by William Hannan. The House is to the left, with the Church on the hill on the right and the pleasure grounds in the middle.
The South Façade from a circa 1880 color woodblock print from Morris's County Seats

Designed   Mausoleum for Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Bt.
Date   1764-65
Attribution of this work is uncertain.

Designed   St. Lawrence's Church for Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Bt.
Date   1761-63
Attribution of this work is uncertain.

Designed   Modest changes to landscape
Date   1794-95

Designed   Primitive Hut (1974), the Temple of Venus (1982), Edward’s Bridge (1985), and the Cricket Pavilion, all for Sir Francis Dashwood, 11th Bt.
Date   1974-90

Designed   Landscaping
Date   1770-81

Designed   Unspecified work for Sir Francis Dashwood
Date   18th century
Attribution of this work is uncertain.

Designed   Probably acted as draftsman and clerk of works for Sir Francis Dashwood. Probably designed Cockpit Arch or Temple of Apollo.
Date   1761-63
Attribution of this work is uncertain.

Designed   Ionic West Portico (1771), Temple of Flora (1778-80, demolished), Music Temple (1778-80), and Round Temple (circa 1775).
Date   1771-80

Designed   Had a hand in designing House and grounds for himself
Date   Circa 1750-70

Extant / Listed / References

Extant Type
Fully Extant
Extant Details

House Listed As 
Grade I
Gardens Listed As  
Grade I
Country House:  Yes

Vitruvius Britannicus
C. V, pls. 47-79, 1771.
Vitruvius Scoticus
J.B. Burke (Burke's Visitation of Seats)
Country Life
XXXIX, 16 plan, 48, 1916. LXXIII, 466, 494, 1933. CLV, 1618, 1682, 1974.
J.P. Neale (Neale's Views of Seats)
Vol. I, 1818.
Access / Ownership / Seat

Open to Public Please note: Houses listed as being open "By Appointment" are usually country house hotels, B&Bs, or schools.
Historic Houses Association Member
Phone Number If calling from the U.S., delete the first "0" in British numbers.
Fax Number

Current Ownership
Current Ownership Type
The National Trust
Primary Current Ownership Use
Visitor Attraction
Current Ownership Use / Details

Seat ("Seat" is loosely defined as any family that occupied the house for a period of 2 years or more)
Today Seat of
Sir Edward Dashwood, 12th Bt. The Dashwoods have been here for 300 years and continue to live in a wing of house now owned by the National Trust.
A Past Seat(s) of
Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Bt., later 15th Lord Le Despenser, 18th century.
Possible (Unsure) Seat of
History / Gardens & Park / Movies

Earlier House(s) / Building(s)
An earlier manor house, on lower ground, was demolished when the core of the existing house was begun in the early 18th century.
House Replaced By
Built / Designed For
Sir Francis Dashwood, 1st Baronet; rebuilt by the 2nd Sir Francis.
House & Family History
Built as an 18th century pleasure palace, West Wycombe, one of the most Italianate houses in England, is unusual for its eclectic assemblage of ancient and Renaissance Italian architecture, evidenced in the House and the many follies dotting the grounds. The House was inspired by the late Renaissance villas of the Veneto and encapsulates the entire progression of 18th century British architecture, from Palladian to Neoclassical. The West Wycombe Estate was acquired in 1698 by Sir Francis Dashwood, 1st Bt., and his brother, Samuel; they demolished the existing manor house and built the core of the current house on higher ground nearby. The 1st Sir Francis’s house appears from early images to have been a typical and uninspired square Restoration style house. It was this house that the 2nd Sir Francis, at the age of 16, inherited from his father in 1724. With the help of executant architects and draftsmen, the 2nd Sir Francis took to remodeling the House and grounds with great gusto. His uncle and guardian was John Fane, Earl of Westmorland, who was building one of Britain’s most important Palladian houses – Mereworth Castle in Kent – during the time he was Dashwood’s guardian. (Upon the death of the Earl of Westmorland in 1762 Sir Francis inherited Mereworth.) It’s not a far stretch to say that Dashwood was influenced by his uncle’s house in the remodeling of his own, which he started when he returned from Greece and the Grand Tour in 1735. Dashwood was one of the founders of the Society of Dilettanti in 1736, and through it met Nicholas Revett, whom he commissioned to complete the remodeling he had begun. The House was reformed as a long rectangle with four columned and pedimented facades presented as classical temples. The Ionic West Portico is modeled on the 3rd century BC Temple of Dionysus designed by Hermogenes of Priene (its design was probably also influenced by the Temple of Bacchus at Teos, today in Turkey, which Revett measured 1764-66). David Watkin states that this is “the earliest and most convincing large-scale recreation of a Greek temple in Europe in the 18th century.” Interestingly, even though it is part of the House, the West Portico was considered a garden temple with its own name – The Temple of Bacchus. It had an unveiling ceremony in 1771, when it was dedicated to Bacchus in a reconstruction of an ancient religious ceremony. The East Façade is a replica in miniature of Mereworth Castle, while the grand South Front, with its famous double loggia (virtually unique on an English house), was inspired by a palace in Vicenza designed by Palladio. From the painted ceilings depicting classical scenes of Roman and Greek mythology, to the marble floors, West Wycombe is a non-stop celebration of Italy. Many of the public rooms have painted ceilings copied from Italian palazzi, most notably from the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. The Entrance Hall, which resembles a Roman atrium, features scagliola columns and a painted ceiling copied from Robert Wood's "Ruins of Palmyra." The Tapestry Room is hung with tapestries, woven circa 1710, that depict peasant scenes by Teniers. Given to the 1st Duke of Marlborough to celebrate his victories in the Low Countries, the tapestries were later cut down to fit the room (the Duke was a distant relation of the Dashwoods). The ceiling fresco in the Music Room depicts "The Banquet of the Gods" and was copied from the Villa Farnesina. The Saloon features statues of the four seasons with a ceiling depicting "The Council of the Gods and the Admission of Psyche," also a copy from the Villa Farnesina. The Dining Room, with a painted ceiling from Wood’s "Ruins of Palmyra," has faux jasper walls and features paintings of the 2nd Sir Francis and his fellow members of the Divan Club (a society for those who had visited the Ottoman Empire). The Blue Drawing Room is hung with Italian paintings of the 17th century and is dominated by the ornate painted ceiling depicting "The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne." The 2nd Sir Francis was the creator of the infamous Hell Fire Club, also called the Knights of St. Francis of Wycombe, the Monks of Medmenham, or Dashwood’s Apostles. It appears that the Club met twice a year, usually at Medmenham Abbey, though also sometimes in the famous West Wycombe Caves, where its members, who came from the top of society and included a Regius Professor at Oxford and the First Lord of the Admiralty, devoted themselves exclusively to getting drunk and whoring. Benjamin Franklin was a good friend of Sir Francis and spent considerable time at West Wycombe. Franklin and Sir Francis together published a simplified version of "The Book of Common Prayer" in 1773. It has also been suggested that Franklin, no stranger to libertine ways, attended meetings of the Hell Fire Club. Franklin was devoted to Dashwood and obviously enjoyed staying at West Wycombe; he wrote to his son in 1773: "I am in this house as much at ease as if it was my own: and the gardens are a paradise. But a pleasanter thing is the kind countenance and the facetious and very intelligent conversation of mine host, who, having…seen all parts of Europe and kept the best company in the world is himself the best existing." During World War II the House saw service as art storage for the treasures of the Wallace Collection, while also serving as a convalescent home. A troop of gunners occupied the service wing, while the Park was used for the inflation of barrage balloons. The Dashwood family moved to the top floor of the House and took in lodgers to pay the bills (James Lees-Milne and Nancy Mitford, among them). In addition, The National Trust moved the majority of their offices to West Wycombe, where they remained for most of the War. The House, together with the immediate grounds and a small endowment, was given to The National Trust in 1943 by Sir John Dashwood, 10th Bt. (1896–1966). The Dashwoods retained ownership of the majority of the Estate and the contents of the House and continue to make West Wycombe their home. The current baronet, Sir Edward Dashwood, is the president of the West Wycombe Polo Club, who have their grounds on the Estate.
Collections This field lists art objects that are currently or were previously in the collection of the house.

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Gardens & Park
Garden, Park, Follies and Outbuildings
Unusual in its use of classical architecture from both Italy and Greece, the gardens at West Wycombe are among the finest and most eccentric 18th century gardens surviving in England. The original layout of the gardens was in the shape of a female body, with appropriately placed shrubs, streams, and thickets. Humphry Repton, during his naturalizing of the gardens, removed most of the earlier "female" design. The Cockpit Arch, or Temple of Apollo, is a large arch built of flint. It was probably designed by John Donowell in 1761 and contains a painted lead copy of the Apollo Belvedere, probably by John Cheere. Over the arch is a panel with the motto of the Hell Fire Club. The famous Music Temple of 1778-80 was designed by Nicholas Revett and sits grandly on an island (one of three) in the middle of the lake (the lake originally had a Spanish galleon for the amusement of Sir Francis’s guests, complete with a resident captain onboard). Revett also designed the Temple of Flora (1778-80; demolished), and the Round Temple (circa 1775), a circular dovecote with a pyramid roof. The Temple of the Winds is a loose recreation of the Tower of the Winds in Athens. It was probably completed by 1759, which places it three years before the publication of James “Athenian” Stuart’s and Nicholas Revett’s famous book "Antiquities of Athens." Stuart’s Doric Temple of Theseus at Hagley Hall in Worcestershire (erected 1758) is the only similar structure that pre-dates the Temple of the Winds as the earliest attempt in England to reproduce a monument of Greek antiquity. The famous Cascade was installed in the 1740s, probably designed by a Frenchman named Jolivet. The Sawmill, faced in flint and three stories tall, once held a giant statue of William Penn on its roof; the statue was removed by Repton in 1800. The Primitive Hut was designed by Quinlan Terry in 1974. In 1982 Terry’s Ionic Temple of Venus (reconstruction of a 1745-48 building by Donowell) was erected, followed in 1985 by the architect’s Edward’s Bridge, and finally, the Cricket Pavilion, designed as a Vitruvian primitive hut. The enormous 18th century, roofless, hexagonal Mausoleum (really a columbaria) was built on a hill outside the Park near St. Lawrence's Church for the second Sir Francis and was modeled on the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome and the Tomb of the Household of Augustus on the Via Appia. This would have been perfectly in keeping with the taste of Sir Francis, who was a devoted Romanophile and very well informed on ancient architecture and art. The great Howard Colvin called the Mausoleum “probably the largest built in Europe since antiquity.”
Chapel & Church
The Grade I-listed 18th century St. Lawrence's Church (Church of England) sits on top of West Wycombe Hill, its golden ball glowing in the sun for miles around. There has been a church of some sort on the site since the 7th century; the current, luscious, Neoclassical church was built between 1761 and 1763 for Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Bt. The golden ball, eight feet in diameter, that sits atop the squat, square tower has a wood frame superstructure covered in gold leaf and contains seating for six people. Local legend has it that the infamous Hellfire Club (founded by Sir Francis) met inside the golden ball, but there is no evidence to support this rumor. It has also been suggested that Sir Francis used a heliograph to signal through a porthole in the golden ball to his friend John Norris, who had erected a tower, now called the Camberley Obelisk, near his home at Hawley, Hampshire, 21 miles to the south.

Location for Movies / TV
"To the Devil a Daughter" (1976). "Another Country" (1984). "Dead Man's Folly (1986 - TV movie). "White Hunter Black Heart" (1990). "Agatha Christie's Poirot" (1993 - TV series, in the episode "The Case of the Missing Will" the Temple of the Winds was used as the folly). "Carrington" (1995 - as the exterior where Mark Gertler seduces Carrington). “An Ideal Husband” (1999). "History of Britain" (2000 - TV documentary series, shown from an aerial shot). "Just Visiting" (2001). "The Importance of Being Earnest" (2002 - as Jack Worthing's country estate in Hertfordshire; the church scenes were filmed inside St. Lawrence's Church, West Wycombe). "Daniel Deronda" (2002 - TV mini series). "The Lost Prince" (2003 - TV movie). "I Capture the Castle" (2003 - as Scoatney). "What a Girl Wants" (2003). "He Knew He Was Right" (2004 - BBC TV mini series). "Cranford" (2007 - TV series, as Hanbury Court, Lady Ludlow's house). "Inspector Lewis" (2007 - TV series, season 1, episode 1, in the episode "Whom the Gods Would Destroy," the Music Temple was used as the Temple on Platt's estate). "Foyle's War" (2007 - as the interiors of De Perez's house in the episode "Casualties of War"). "The Duchess" (2008). "Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye" (2008 - TV series, as Pinewood Sanatorium). "Little Dorrit" (2008 - TV mini series, using the Hellfire Caves as Marseilles dungeons). "Foyle's War" (2010 – TV series, season 7, episode 3: "The Hide," as Whitefriars, the Devereaux family seat). "W.E." (2011). "Downton Abbey" (2011-15 - TV series, as the interiors of Lady Rosamund Painswick's Belgrave Square London home). "Austenland" (2013 - as Pembroke Park). "Marple" (2013 - TV series, in the episode "Endless Night," season 6, episode 3, West Wycombe was the hotel in Rome). "Belle" (2013 - as exterior and interiors of Kenwood House). "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" (2015). "Doctor Thorne" (2016 - Amazon TV series, as Greshamsbury Park interiors). "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" (2016). "The Crown" (2016 - TV series).

Author   Jackson-Stops, Gervase; Pipkin, James
Year Published   1998
Reference   pg. 149

Author   NA
Year Published   NA
Reference   Autumn 2002, pg. 10

Author   Worsley, Giles
Year Published   1995
Reference   pg. 143

Author   Colvin, Howard
Year Published   1995
Reference   pgs. 316, 807, 858

Author   Hussey, Christopher
Year Published   1955
Reference   pg. 234

Author   Esher, Lionel
Year Published   1997
Reference   pg. 99

Author   Pevsner, Nikolaus; Williamson, Elizabeth
Year Published   1994
Reference   pgs. 727, 728, 733, 735, 736, 737, 738

Author   NA
Year Published   1996
Reference   pgs. 34-35

Author   Aslet, Clive
Year Published   2005
Reference   pg. 247

Author   Jackson-Stops, Gervase; Pipkin, James (Photographer)
Year Published   1987
Reference   pg. 139

Author   Watkin, David
Year Published   2010
Reference   pg. 66

There are no documents associated with this house.

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