Lost and hidden villas

Fonthill Splendens

Fonthill House (“Fonthill Splendens”), Wiltshire

William Angus, 'The seats of the nobility and gentry, in Great Britain and Wales in a collection of select views', (London, 1787-1815), plate 50
Copyright: RIBA LIbrary Photographs Collection

The name Fonthill is usually associated with William Beckford's extravagant Gothic Revival House. However, it was built on the site of a grand Neo-Palladian mansion, Fonthill House, or Fonthill Splendens as it was also known.

Fonthill Splendens was too large to be considered a villa; nevertheless it owed much to Palladian villa design.

Begun around 1757, Fonthill Splendens was not completed until 1770. It was clearly considered a building of significance since six plates are dedicated to it in Woolfe and Gandon's fourth volume of 'Vitruvius Britannicus' of 1767, supporting its description as "a magnificent edifice." 

The name of the architect is given in an eighteenth-century list of country houses as "Mr Hoore" although later correspondence states the name as "Hoare."

The use of a near square central building linked to two service pavilions via curved colonnades is derived from several of Palladio's villa designs, including the Villa Mocenigo on the Brenta, which was never built.

Four columned porticos are used on both of the main fronts, which were reached via external steps, rising above a rusticated basement.

Both fronts also adopted Venetian windows. On the south, banded rustication is included around the window. This feature may have been copied from Colen Campbell's Houghton Hall in Norfolk, on which the overall design and plan of the house was partly based.

The house was lost when it was demolished by William Beckford to make space for an extravagant Gothic Revival house - which also disappeared when it collapsed in 1825.