The Database of Houses
Pronunciation Guide
Burke's Peerage Search
British Money
Lord W
Privacy Policy
Contact Us
The Help Center


Home > New Search > Fonthill Splendens (Fonthill Gifford) (Fonthill House - Old)

Fonthill Splendens (Fonthill Gifford) (Fonthill House - Old)  England 
Fonthill Gifford, Wiltshire, England

Started Circa 1757
Completed Circa 1770

Status: Destroyed
Details: Demolished 1807 by William Beckford

Special Info / Location/ Date

Special Info
Phonetic Pronunciation of House Name

District Today
 Historic County
 City / Town / Village
Fonthill Gifford

Start Date
Circa 1757
Completion Date
Circa 1770
Circa Date

We're sorry, this house does not currently have any images available to illustrate it. Please check back often - we are always updating the Database. If you have an image of this or any other house, send it to us! Please make sure any images submitted are copyright cleared, and send them to us: Click Here to Email Us

Designed   Boathouse/Temple with cold bath and nymph's grotto
Attribution of this work is uncertain.

Designed   4 grottoes for Alderman Beckford

Designed   Advised the Alderman on landscaping. Probably responsible for flooding the Serpentine river and bridge.
Date   Circa 1760s
Attribution of this work is uncertain.

Designed   Ceilings of House and Fishing Lodge for Alderman Beckford
Date   Uncertain

Designed   Double-domed, Ionic-pilastered Picture Gallery on attic floor; designs for chimneypieces in Tapestry Room and Parlour.
Date   1786-87

Designed   May have designed House and probably acted as builder for Alderman William Beckford
Date   Circa 1757-70
Attribution of this work is uncertain.

Extant / Listed / References

Extant Type
Extant Details
Demolished 1807 by William Beckford

House Listed As 
Gardens Listed As  
Not Listed
Country House:  Yes

Vitruvius Britannicus
IV, 1767, pls. 82-87.
Vitruvius Scoticus
J.B. Burke (Burke's Visitation of Seats)
Country Life
John Harris in Nov 24, 1966.
J.P. Neale (Neale's Views of Seats)
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
Primary Current Ownership Use
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
A Past Seat(s) of
Francis Cottington, 18th century. Alderman William Beckford, 18th century. William Beckford (the Alderman's son).
Possible (Unsure) Seat of
History / Gardens & Park / Movies

Earlier House(s) / Building(s)
Alderman Beckford built Splendens on the site of an Elizabethan house, Fonthill House, that burned down in 1755.
House Replaced By
Built / Designed For
Alderman William Beckford
House & Family History
Fonthill Splendens, built by Alderman Beckford, was one of the largest Palladian houses in England. The Alderman purchased the estate of 3,000 acres on the Wiltshire-Dorset border, then called Fonthill House, in 1745 from Francis Cottington, a Jacobite and Roman Catholic. The Alderman had an enormous income, greater than most British dukes', and set about improving the park and adding land to the estate. In 1755 the original Fonthill House burned down. The new house, to be called Fonthill Splendens, was designed by a City builder name Hoare (little seems to be known about this architect-builder) and was sited to the south of the remains of the old Fonthill House. The new House was enclosed within an 8,000 acre estate shielded by 7 miles of walls. William Beckford, the Alderman's son, employed James Wyatt as an adviser in creating the seven-mile long, twelve-foot-high wall; it ultimately took three years to build. In 1786 William Beckford commissioned John Soane to convert a corridor on the second floor into a Picture Gallery. Christopher Woodward states that "The Splendens gallery would have been one of the earliest picture galleries in an English country house to be illuminated by top lighting". William Beckford moved into his incomplete Fonthill Abbey in 1807 and demolished Splendens. A watercolor and pencil sketch of Splendens by unknown British artist, circa 1800-10, is in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut.
Collections This field lists art objects that are currently or were previously in the collection of the house.

For information on the history of British currency, click here.  To use a chart that allows you to compare the purchasing power of money In Great Britain from 1264 to any other year, including the present, click here.  To use a currency conversion to see the current value of the British pound, click here.
Alderman Beckford built one of the greatest art collections in Britain. Among his most notable purchases were eight canvases of Hogarth's "A Rake's Progress" and six of the artist's "A Harlot's Progress"; these were hung in the older house that burned in 1755. The “Rake” was rescued, but the Harlot was left to the fire. William Beckford (the Alderman’s son) sold the paintings, along with much else, in 1802 at Christie's as being "unsuitable for a Gothic Abbey” (Mrs. Soane, wife of John Soane, paid £570 for the “Rake.”) The Soanes also purchased Canaletto's 1736 View of Venice for £150.10s at the Beckford sale of 1807. "Lady in a Red Corset and Satin Dress" by Jean-Honore Fragonard was one of the artist's last works and, atypically for Fragonard, is not flamboyant and sensuous, but reflects a new direction in his stylistic development: the style of 17th century Dutch genre paintings. The Fragonard was recorded at Fonthill Splendens in 1801, where it hung in the upstairs gallery and was also at Fonthill Abbey, where it was in the Dining Room. This painting followed Beckford to Lansdown Crescent, Bath, and thence passed to the Hamiltons, where it was sold from Hamilton Palace in the sale of 1882. In 1794 Beckford purchased, for £950, at auction the library of Edward Gibbon (1737-94), famous for his magesterial work "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

Gardens & Park
Garden, Park, Follies and Outbuildings
The Alderman built follies and temples on his estate, even including a Chinese pagoda. He dammed the local stream to create a serpentine river near the House, and built a five-arched stone bridge with balustrade to cross the new river. The Lanes, father and son, of Tisbury constructed no less than four grottoes for the Alderman. Timothy Mowl, in his book "William Beckford: Composing for Mozart", believes that John Vardy probably constructed one of the most evocative gardens buildings of the 18th century at Splendens: a Boathouse/Temple with a cold bath and nymph's grotto. There was also a Hermitage with a fireplace for Gothic picnics and an altar in the center with the reclining figure of a river god holding a scepter. The new House was enclosed within an 8,000 acre estate shielded by 7 miles of walls. William Beckford, the Alderman's son, employed James Wyatt as an adviser in creating the seven-mile long, twelve-foot-high wall; it ultimately took three years to build.
Chapel & Church

Location for Movies / TV

Author   Colvin, Howard
Year Published   1995

Author   NA
Year Published   NA
Reference   Feb 1998, pgs 31-40

Author   Mowl, Timothy
Year Published   1998

Author   NA
Year Published   1979

Author   Ostergard, Derek E. (Editor)
Year Published   2001
Reference   pgs. 326-327

Author   Knox, Tim
Year Published   2009
Reference   pg. 27

There are no documents associated with this house.

This website and all its content, except where specified otherwise, is
© Copyright 1999-2016 by The DiCamillo Companion, Ltd.
All Rights Reserved
~The DiCamillo Companion name, the double griffin logo, and the double griffin logo
set within the Neoclassical door surround are trademarks of The DiCamillo Companion, Ltd.
~The Curt's Curiosities name and the Medusa head logo are trademarks of The DiCamillo Companion, Ltd.
~The griffin with flaming torch logo is a trademark of The DiCamillo Companion, Ltd.