The Archer Pavilion at Wrest Park

The pavilion was built to Thomas Archer’s design in 1709-11 at a cost of £1,809. Archer was educated at Trinity College, Oxford and travelled abroad for four years in the early 1690s, before returning to take up a position at Court. He was an amateur architect in the sense that he did not depend on architectural practice for his livelihood and received most of his commissions from the aristocracy. In the early C18 he assisted the 1st Duke of Devonshire with his works at Chatsworth, giving the house its curved north front and probably building the domed cascade-house; and at the same time he was engaged on Heythop in Oxfordshire for the Duke of Shrewsbury. These works demonstrate first-hand knowledge of the Roman Baroque buildings of Bernini and Borromini which Archer must have seen during his continental travels. The plan form of the pavilion at Wrest is inspired by Borromini’s S. Ivo della Sapienza (1642-60), the university church of Rome, which is based on two equilateral triangles interpenetrating so as to form a six-pointed star. Three of the points are rounded into convex semicircles and three are truncated to form concave curves. The resulting shape rises into a faceted dome which is resolved into a circle at the apex. Archer adapted this unique plan, making three of the points semicircular and three rectangular; and in place of the Corinthian pilasters and entablature that articulates the space in Borromini’s church, the architectural detail of the pavilion’s interior is achieved by trompe l’oeil, created by Louis Hauduroy in 1712. Hauduroy was a painter of French Huguenot descent who was also responsible for the decorative painting (now destroyed) on the staircase at Culverthorpe Hall in Lincolnshire, in 1704-5.

The pavilion at Wrest was intended for hunting parties, taking tea and ‘occasional suppers’, although the kitchen in the basement and the provision of bedchambers for both guests and servants also enabled more elaborate entertainments. The two rectangular closets on the ground floor were used as bedrooms, whilst the servants climbed the narrow winding stairs to the two bedchambers on the upper floor. The three semicircular alcoves were furnished with a table and two chairs, and the central Great Room was furnished with twelve chairs ‘cover’d with Scarlet Morocco Leather’. The painted decoration celebrates the rising status of the Grey family, incorporating the family coats of arms as well as busts which may be family portraits. An 1831 drawing by John Chessell Buckler shows that the decoration over each of the smaller doors, which included the emblem of the Order of the Garter, has since been lost. Hauduroy’s scheme has been restored on several occasions, and the closets and alcoves have also been redecorated many times. (ref: NHLE)
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