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Statue of Hercules in the south-east of Wrest Park

A Grade II Listed Building in Silsoe, Central Bedfordshire

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Latitude: 52.0018 / 52°0'6"N

Longitude: -0.4095 / 0°24'34"W

OS Eastings: 509280

OS Northings: 234898

OS Grid: TL092348

Mapcode National: GBR G3S.K96

Mapcode Global: VHFQV.VYCB

Entry Name: Statue of Hercules in the south-east of Wrest Park

Listing Date: 21 May 2012

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1403014

Location: Silsoe, Central Bedfordshire, MK45

County: Central Bedfordshire

Civil Parish: Silsoe

Traditional County: Bedfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bedfordshire

Church of England Parish: Silsoe

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans

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


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.


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.

Reasons 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.

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