Review: Mound Trust Lecture

The annual Mound Trust Lecture took place in Ellis Theatre on the evening of Monday 12th September.
This year the annual mound lecture was brought to us by Brian Dix who spoke “of Snails and Toads; Archaeology of Mounts and Grottoes”.

Mr Brian Dix is an expert in Garden Archaeology and has held a long-standing interest in the history of ornamental Mounds and Grottoes. Through this presentation the audience were able to explore this history, examining examples past and present, along side the motivations and intentions behind their genesis.

Mr Dix’s initial focus was on Mounds, and the development of decorative garden mounds from the 15th century.  As well as being used for purely ornate purposes these mounts were often symbolic. Mr Dix cited multiple mounds build at Lyveden in Northumbria by Sir Thomas Tresham in the 16th century, the gardens at this site were dedicated to Jesus and The Virgin Mary and this symbolism was continued into the mounds alluding to biblical scenes such as the mountain of olives.

Mr Dix explained that the fashion of the garden mound, or “Parnassus”, such as the one at Marlborough, was Romantic in origin. Horace asserted that Apollo and the Muses lived on Mount Parnassus, coupled with the association between nymphs and Mount Parnassus mounds held a great appeal to early humanist in renaissance Italy. The appeal of a Grotto was born from a similar allusion to the classical period.

Grottoes came to England from Italy in the 17th century however they became increasingly common in the 18th century, the most notable example being Alexander Pope’s “Shell Room” at Twickenham. Here there is a visible shift in the purpose of a garden grotto: from purely spiritual to didactic, as an expression of the beauty and value of nature. The walls of Pope’s grotto, embellished with shell and minerals, note this transition.

It is thought that Lady Seymour was inspired by Pope’s shell house to build the Marlborough Grotto in the 1730s. She is even quoted on saying that hers was “much prettier than the one at Twickenham.”

We thank Mr Dix for his fascinating lecture illuminating the history and origin of the garden Mount and Grotto.

Naomi Weir (MO U6)

You may also like