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Conference: ‘Rustic Retreats. Grottos and Hermitages in the 18th Century Garden’

13th July 2017.

10:00am – 5:00pm

Wrest Park, Bedfordshire

 A day conference exploring the fascinating world of grottos, hermitages and root houses. These intriguing buildings, though often overlooked, offer insights into the interface between literature, antiquarianism, mysticism and garden design in the 18th century. Papers will be exploring their origins, popularisation and decline; the cultural, horticultural and aesthetic context in which they were created, and recent efforts to survey and restore them.

The conference is being held at Wrest Park with an opportunity to visit the fabulous gardens, including the picturesque Bath House and Mithraic Glade, with its altar and the site of a root house.

Confirmed speakers include Brian Dix (garden archaeologist), Prof. Gordon Campbell (author ofThe Hermit in the Garden), Katherine Myers, Dr Judy Preston, Hazelle Jackson, Diana Reynell and Daniëlle Westerhof.

Tickets: £20 (including lunch and refreshments)

To book tickets please call our dedicated sales team on 0370 333 1183 (Mon-Fri 8.30am – 5.30pm, Sat 9am – 5pm)

For more information and a full programme contact: or


Conference Programme

9:30- 10:00    Registration (Tea and coffee available)

10:00-10:10   General introduction and welcome (John Watkins)


10:10-11:15   Introducing grottos and hermitages

Shabby-chic: the root house and the hermitage in Georgian Britain (Gordon Campbell)

Fear and Desire – the English Grotto in the 18th Century. (Hazelle Jackson)


11.15-12:15   Designers and their influences

“The pensive Grot”: literary contexts for mid-18th-century grottos and hermitages (Katherine Myers)

‘The Business of Building and Planting’: the USP of Thomas Wright of Durham (1711 – 1786) (Judy Preston)


12:15-13:00   Lunch


13:00-14:00   Marble Hill and Wrest Park

The Grotto and the Rustic Grot: disentangling terminology and the search for a lost ‘grotto’ at Marble Hill (Emily Parker)

‘Peaceful hermitage’ or ‘Tartar’s den’: making sense of the Root House at Wrest (Andrew Hann)


14:00-15:15   Excavation and reconstruction

Genius of the Place? Alexander Pope, his grotto and its influence (Brian Dix)

Listening for the echo, an approach to eighteenth-century grotto restoration: Hampton Court House and Painshill Park (Diana Reynell)

Room for Gloom: Restoring Kedleston’s Hermitage (Danielle Westerhof)


15:15-15:45   Discussion session

Recreating the grotto at Marble Hill and root house at Wrest: problems and possibilities


15:45-16:00   Coffee break


16:00-17:00 Garden Tour

Short tour of the garden at Wrest, focusing on the 18th-century areas including the Mithraic glade and bath house grounds (Andrew Hann and Emily Parker)