Palladianism and landscape gardening

Mereworth Castle, Kent


Mereworth Castle, Kent
Architect: Colen Campbell (1720-1725)
Engraving: from 'Vitruvius Britannicus' (c. 1720)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Drawings & Archives Collection

English Palladian architects drew inspiration from the work of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-80). They particularly were attracted by his designs for country villas, illustrated in his book I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura (1570), the first full translation of which was published 1715-20. Palladio’s most distinctive villa is the so-called Villa Rotonda. Centrally planned and domed, this was much imitated, though adapted to suit English life.

The version closest to it that survives is Mereworth Castle (1720-25), built as an occasional summer residence for Colonel John Fane. Designed by Colen Campbell, the house’s plan is a square, with an identical portico on each side, and capped by a high dome. Slightly larger than the original, it contains a proper bedroom floor, which the Villa Rotonda lacked until the late seventeenth century.

Similar to when we open the front of a doll’s house and peer in, this section reveals the inside of Mereworth. For once, we can experience the combination of spaces from the domed hall, the squared bedrooms, to the basement service rooms. The decoration shown here was mostly of moulded plaster in the reception rooms, but simple painted panelling was used upstairs in the bedrooms, helping to keep the rooms warm and snug. Unusually, the interiors shown here were more or less as executed, and also give us some idea of the splendid original interiors at Stourhead.


About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

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