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The Grotto and Cascade at Compton Castle, South Somerset

Description: The Grotto and Cascade at Compton Castle

Grade: II
Date Listed: 17 February 2014
Building ID: 1410459

OS Grid Reference: ST6489225380
OS Grid Coordinates: 364925, 125271
Latitude/Longitude: 51.0257, -2.5015

Locality: South Somerset
Local Authority: South Somerset District Council
County: Somerset
Postcode: BA22 7EH

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Listing Text


Early-C19 grotto and cascade, restored and extended in the late C20.

Reason for Listing

The early-C19 grotto and cascade, with late-C20 alterations and additions, at Compton Castle are designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: constructed of roughly-hewn Hamstone boulders and monoliths to create a rustic exterior which enhances the Picturesque design of the landscape;
* Engineering interest: the complex form of the grotto and the operation of the associated cascade demonstrate a sophisticated engineering and water management scheme;
* Degree of Survival: the original plan of the grotto and cascade appears to survive intact and although there has been some rebuilding, repair and additions, this does not detract significantly from the structure’s interest;
* Rarity: the prominence and scale of the north face of the grotto as a series of galleried walkways represents an unusually striking design;
* Group value: it makes a significant contribution to the park and garden in which it is located, which is registered at Grade II, as well as being associated with a number of listed buildings, including the Grade II* Compton Castle.


Compton Castle and its landscaped garden were constructed in circa 1820-25 by John Hubert Hunt (c1774-1830). The Hunt family appears to have had an estate in Compton Pauncefoot since the mid-C17; John Hubert Hunt inherited the estate from his father in 1807. He never married and it was not until his later years that he created the new house and park. The suggestion in the current list description that the house incorporates part of an earlier C17 house, is refuted by the map evidence of an 1800 survey of the estate, which shows the site of the castle as open farmland.

Hunt’s architect is generally thought to have been John Finden (c.1782-1849), who exhibited drawings for the ‘Elevation of a House now building for J.H. Hunt Esq, at Compton Pauncefoot’ at the Royal Academy in 1821. He was probably also responsible for the design of the lodges, and some of the other structures within the landscape. Finden is not known to have worked on landscape commissions, and it is supposed that Hunt was closely involved in the design of the landscape, or possibly that another designer was employed.

After Hunt's death in 1830, Compton Castle was let by the family (Husey-Hunt from 1830) to a series of tenants, with a relatively frequent changeover. An advertisement of 1831, to let the house and over 2000 acres of land, describes the landscape as follows: 'its approach is very imposing, and gives promise of all that is shortly realised. It is embosomed amid its hanging woods, rising in majestic grandeur, and forming a panorama of woodland scenery. In the vale below are THE ORNAMENTAL WATERS with graceful swans and boats to vary both the scene and amusement. During the winter there are lots of wild fowl. Cascades and waterfalls are everywhere diversifying the scene, while rocks, which, in their outward form would indicate strong symptoms of antiquity, complete the delightful scene and render it so beautiful as really to be an Elysium. The plantations and shrubbery walks are of considerable extent, varied by the maze and wilderness, with the hermitage presiding over them'.

In 1836 the estate was described by William Phelps in his History of Somerset as consisting of 'a castellated mansion delightfully situated in a small amphitheatre of wood; with an enormous mass of artificial rock-work, erected at a great expense, which forms a striking object from the castle. [...] The approach to the castle from the turnpike road is by a drive through the plantation, and over the dam thrown across the valley, which keeps up the water of the lake. Here a good view of the castle presents itself. The grounds contain many striking features, and the whole may be designated as a picturesque and comfortable residence’. Phelps's description includes a small view of the south and west sides of the house, and the low castellated wall in the garden.

The landscaped garden and its features, as described in the early C19, are shown on the Tithe Map of the Parish of Compton Pauncefoot published in 1839, and subsequent historic Ordnance Survey maps indicate that the overall layout of the landscape has remained largely unchanged. In 1911, Compton Castle and its landscaped garden were sold to William Peake Mason, later Lord Blackford, who commissioned the architect Charles Biddulph-Pinchard to make alterations to the house. After Lord Blackford's death in 1947 his wife continued to live at Compton Castle for some time, and during the 1950s she regularly opened the gardens to the public. Lady Blackford died in 1958. It is not known when the family sold the house, but the contents were sold in 1961. Compton Castle remains (2013) in private ownership.

The grotto and cascade form part of a wider system of water management on the estate. It appears that water was collected in a fishpond (now infilled) on higher ground to the south of the grotto and was engineered to form a series of four cascades, running south to north, beginning at the grotto and ending at the lake, via three fishponds. It is possible that there were further cascades across the north face of the grotto creating a dramatic visual and audible experience. In the late C20 the rockwork to the grotto underwent a degree of repair and replacement, and it was at this time that the structure is said to have been widened at the east end and the third tier added.


Early-C19 grotto and cascade, restored and extended in the late C20.

Materials: roughly-hewn Hamstone boulders to the exterior; random rubble construction to the internal walls.

PLAN: a three-tier structure which has a roughly L-shaped plan, with the main part spanning the south end of pond, and a shorter, lower section at right angles along the western bank of the lake. It is located at the head of the valley, at the south end of a series of three fishponds with three associated lower cascades, which feed into the lake to the north.

DESCRIPTION: the outward, north face of the GROTTO is arranged as three tiers of stepped rockwork. Each tier contains an open-galleried walkway, with piers formed from monoliths, or from a number of smaller stones placed on top of one another. The walkways provide views of the gardens and give access to numerous small chambers with openings between them. Some of these chambers have stone seats, and there are small niches which may have originally contained candles. One large chamber to the west contains a rectangular plunge pool. The roof of this chamber forms a dome with rough pendant rocks, possibly suggesting stalactites. A number of stairways lead between the different levels of the structure. To the south, or rear, of the grotto, the ground level is higher and a low revetment of large stones forms the south part of the structure. To the south-west corner is the entrance to a grotto tunnel.

To the north face of the grotto, at the east end, is a CASCADE which runs from the second tier down a rock channel containing uneven stone steps, to the pond below. There may originally have been further cascades to the north face of the grotto, but if so, these are no longer evident.

We have considered whether powers of exclusion under s.1 (5A) of the 1990 Act are appropriate and consider that they are not.

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