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Statue of Hercules in the South-East of Wrest Park, Gravenhurst

Description: Statue of Hercules in the South-East of Wrest Park

Grade: II
Date Listed: 21 May 2012
English Heritage Building ID: 1403014

OS Grid Reference: TL0928034898
OS Grid Coordinates: 509280, 234898
Latitude/Longitude: 52.0018, -0.4095

Locality: Gravenhurst
County: Central Bedfordshire
Country: England
Postcode: MK45 4HP

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Listing Text


A statue of Hercules dating from the first half of the C18.

Reason for Listing

The statue of Hercules in the south-east of Wrest Park is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: the statue, dating from the first half of the C18, is an early survival of English carved garden sculpture which represents the artistic and aesthetic tastes of the time;
* Artistic interest: the statue is an example of good quality craftsmanship and accomplished artistic skill and expression;
* Group Value: the special interest of the statue is further enhanced by its location within a Grade I registered landscape, to which it also contributes in terms of the landscape's aesthetic and structural composition.


Wrest Park belonged to the Grey family from the Middle Ages until the early C20. In 1702, Wrest became the property of Henry de Grey who, by 1710, had become the Duke of Kent. Henry was determined to improve the status of Wrest. At this time the gardens to the south were enlarged, alterations made to the water courses, and a number of garden buildings were constructed. A summer house was placed by the mill pond and a greenhouse was added to the Orange Garden. The architect Thomas Archer was responsible for many of these structures including the Pavilion (Grade I) which marked the southern limit of the garden as defined by the Old Brook. The alignment of the Old Brook is still maintained as the boundary between the parishes of Silsoe and Gravenhurst. Cain Hill was incorporated into the landscape as an eye catcher, its presence emphasised by the geometric axis which, eventually, led east from the house and north-east from the Archer Pavilion partly in the form of avenues.

In the 1720s additional land was acquired, various alterations to the canals were carried out and several garden buildings were commissioned, from the Italian architects Filippo Juvarra and Giacomo Leoni, but also from others, predominantly Nicholas Hawksmoor, William Kent and James Gibbs. Of these the Temple of Diana (now demolished), the West Half House (Grade II) and the East Half House (Grade II) were built. The allees (avenues) and squares, either side of the Great Canal, were also created by 1726 marking the peak of the formal garden at Wrest. Two plans drawn by Rocque in 1735 and 1737 illustrate some of these changes. In 1729 work resumed with additions including an amphitheatre to the north of the bowling green and the creation of the serpentine canal. A greenhouse (on the site of the current Orangery) and the addition to, and enlargement of Bowling Green House (Grade II*) were also completed, both by Batty Langley.

The statue of Hercules is believed to date from the first half of the C18 although there is no definitive record of when it was introduced at Wrest, the earliest recorded date is C20. There is speculation that the statue may at one time have been located in a niche at the front of the house as is suggested by the curved treatment to its base. The depiction comes from the story of Hercules and Omphale, the Queen of Lydia, to whom Hercules was sold for three years. During this time Hercules became effeminate, which is why he holds a distaff, one of the symbols of the domestic role of women.


MATERIALS: the sculpture and pedestal are made of Portland stone.

DESCRIPTION: the sculpture depicts a muscular figure of Hercules standing next to a tree stump. He has the pelt of a lion across his right shoulder, and in his right hand he holds a distaff. The sculpture stands upon a moulded stone plinth atop a square pedestal which is ornamented with a fascia and moulding detail and has fielded panels to all four sides. One corner of the plinth is slightly damaged.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.