At Fonthill Gifford in Wiltshire, England, the place now stands a small four-story tower with an hooked up two-story wing, there as soon as stood one of the extraordinary homes ever constructed. The Fonthill Abbey was a home constructed at a unbelievable scale. The central tower rose to a dizzying top of 280 toes, the tallest ever placed on a personal home. The entrance doorways had been 30 toes excessive and home windows had been taller nonetheless at 50 toes. The curtains that hung from the 4 arches within the central room had been 80 toes lengthy. Staircases had been as huge as they had been lengthy, and the view down the central hall stretched for over 300 toes.
Fonthill Abbey. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons
Equally fascinating had been the lads who had been behind this creation—proprietor William Beckford and architect James Wyatt.
William Beckford was fabulously wealthy, because of his rich father who owned plantations all throughout Jamaica and whose household dominated the West Indian sugar commerce for 100 years. On the age of ten, he inherited £1 million that afforded him an revenue of £100,000 every year, a colossal sum on the time. His doting mom made certain the younger Beckford loved each benefit wealth might present. She organized for Wolfgang Mozart, then solely eight years outdated, to provide him piano classes. Sir William Chambers, the king’s architect, taught him to attract. Lord Byron known as him ‘England’s wealthiest son’.
In 1784, on the age of twenty-four, Beckford grew to become concerned in two scandalous affairs—one with Louisa Beckford, the spouse of his first cousin, and one other with a good-looking youth named William Courtenay, the long run ninth Earl of Devon, who was eight years youthful. Beckford’s affair with William went again by a number of years, a minimum of, and William might have been as younger as ten when he fell prey to Beckford’s sordid methods. Apparently, Beckford carried each relationships concurrently, usually below the identical roof, till the autumn of 1784, when Beckford found that William had a lover of his personal. Brewing with rage, Beckford stormed into William’s room, and in line with the testimony of a houseguest, “horsewhipped him, which created a noise, and the door being opened, Courtenay was found in his shirt, and Beckford in some posture or different”.
The scandal ruined Beckford’s fame, and he fled the nation. He travelled extensively, and shortly after wrote his best-known work, a French gothic novel known as Vathek, which he boasted took solely three days and two nights to jot down. Beckford wrote a number of different books throughout his profession as a novelist—Desires, Waking Ideas and Incidents (1783), Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters (1780), and Letters from Italy with Sketches of Spain and Portugal (1834). Nevertheless, Beckford’s fame rested not upon his literary efforts however moderately upon his eccentric extravagances as a builder and collector.
In 1796, Beckford returned to England and engaged architect James Wyatt to design for him a sensational home, the disproportionately massive mansion Fonthill Abbey.
James Wyatt was an architect of appreciable reputation. The son of a farmer, Wyatt was drawn to structure as a younger man and spent six years in Italy learning architectural drawing. Whereas working as an architectural draughtsman and painter below the Italian painter Antonio Visentini, Wyatt as soon as made measured drawings of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica whereas mendacity on his again on a ladder slung horizontally, with out cradle or side-rail, 300 toes up within the air. In 1770, on the age of twenty-four, he designed the ‘Pantheon’, an exhibition corridor and meeting room in London loosely modelled on the traditional constructing of the identical identify in Rome. When the Pantheon was opened in 1772, author and historian Horace Walpole pronounced it to be “essentially the most lovely edifice in England.”
James Wyatt, nevertheless, was a multitude of a human being. He was disorganized, forgetful and alcoholic. One 12 months he missed fifty straight weekly conferences on the Workplace of Works because the Surveyor Basic. His supervision of the workplace was so poor that one man was found to have been on vacation for 3 years.
Regardless of his shortcomings, James Wyatt was a very fashionable and sought-after architect who seldom stated no to a consumer. Because of this, he at all times had extra commissions than he might handle, which left him with little time to provide correct consideration to the person wants of his shoppers. William Beckford would be taught that the onerous approach.
Development of the Fonthill abbey started in earnest in 1796 on Beckford’s property of Fonthill Gifford. However as a result of Wyatt’s fixed absences from the positioning, Beckford usually discovered himself taking the roles of development website supervisor, normal organizer, and patron.
Beckford employed 500 laborers to work day and night time. Later, he introduced 450 extra from the constructing of the brand new royal residences at Windsor Citadel wooing them with elevated ration of ale. He additionally commandeered all of the native wagons for transportation of constructing supplies. To compensate, Beckford delivered free coal and blankets to the poor in chilly climate.
The corridor of Fonthill Abbey. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons
On Beckford’s request, Wyatt designed the mansion within the scale of superlatives. The home was greater than 300 toes lengthy, occupied by a north to south operating hall, the whole size of which is seen from one finish to the opposite. On the heart stood an octagonal tower 280 toes tall. The tower was so tall that it collapsed throughout development, twice. As soon as he advised his staff to rush in order that meals could possibly be ready within the new kitchen. The kitchen collapsed as quickly because the meal was over.
Regardless of its grandness, the inside was surprisingly darkish and gloomy. The central hall was unheated for many of its size and was illuminated by only a few candles at night time. Many of the bedrooms had been as naked as monastic cells, and 13 of them had no home windows. Beckford’s personal bedchamber contained a single slender mattress.
Beckford lived alone on this colossal mansion, and he dined alone in a 50-feet-long desk. But, his kitchens ready meals for 12 day by day. The excess meals was despatched away afterwards. Solely as soon as, in 1800, did he entertain visitors, when Horatio Nelson and Emma Hamilton visited the abbey for Christmas. To protect his lonely existence, Beckford constructed a formidable wall, often called The Barrier, across the property. It was twelve toes excessive, twelve miles lengthy, and surmounted by iron spikes.
Photograph: Architectural Association Collection
Beckford lived in Fonthill Abbey till 1822 when he misplaced two of his Jamaican sugar plantations which put him in debit, forcing him to promote the Abbey and its contents for £330,000. Three years later, in 1825, the Abbey’s tower collapsed for one remaining time. The home was by no means repaired.
Beckford retired to Bathtub, the place he commissioned native architect H E Goodridge to construct him a brand new 154-feet tower overlooking town. In contrast to Fonthill Abbey, this tower, known as Lansdown Tower (or Beckford’s Tower), nonetheless stands.
Beckford’s Tower in Bathtub. Photograph: Michael Day/Flickr
The ruins of Fonthill Abbey right this moment. Photograph: Rictor Norton & David Allen/Flickr