I was asked to paint a small allotment in the village of Fonthill Bishop. This modest village is about nine miles from the Wiltshire town of Warminster. It may go unnoticed but for the Fonthill Park Estate.
Fonthill Park Estate
In one form or another, the Fonthill Park Estate goes back to 1533 and from 1830 it has been run by the Morrison family. The current custodian being Alastair John Morrison Third Lord Margadale.
Within the grounds there you can find farmland, forests, sporting activities and there is even a man-made lake for fishing. Curiously, however, you will also find the remains of Fonthill Abbey, which is not and never was an actual abbey.
Fonthill Abbey was commissioned in 1796 by the notorious and eccentric William Beckford. Born in Soho, London (a portent?) he was taught music by Mozart, was a friend of Lord Nelson, an author, poet, would sleep with anyone’s wife or husband and was said to be the richest commoner in the country as he intertied the equivalent of £91,800,000 at the age of 10.
He owned a vast collection of valuable artworks and furniture. He was a reckless and mad spender, often buying items back he had only just recently sold, usually for a higher price.
In modern terms think Michal Jackson, Citizen Kane, and Keith Moon all rolled into one. A Netflix series MUST await!
The abbey was a mock medieval structure representing a romanticised ideal of a dissolved abbey, but without the monks. And without neighbours too as it was set in a forest of 524 acres and surrounded by a 12-foot wall, six miles long.
Obviously, his spending could not go on forever and in 1822 William was forced to sell his make-believe abbey because a deal on his sugar plantations went wrong (yes, he owned 2,000 slaves too!). He got the equivalent of £28 million. A lot of money but nowhere the near 92 million he started out with.
This turned out to be a bit of a stroke of luck because on the 21 December 1825 the shoddily built main tower collapsed wrecking much of the rest of the abbey.
Over the years the Abbey fell into more disrepair and now is just a few patchy ruins and a private house.
Beckford’s luck held and he carried on spending and lived to the ripe old age of 84. He had the equivalent of seven million left of his original fortune. ‘Live fast; Die old’.
Painting the Allotment
I didn’t get a chance to visit the estate whilst i was there, in fact I’m not even sure if I would be allowed just to roll up and wave my brushes about. I peered through the large stone gates which were very impressive and moved into the village to paint the allotment.
I am always keen to paint allotments, they come in all shapes and sizes and each, in their own unique way are unique. I had an allotment once though had to give it up as it used to weed over every time, I went onto a painting trip. Sad to say, these days I stick to painting them.
This one, however, is particularly unique as it sits neatly and very squarely in the middle of an exceptionally large garden in front of what looks to be a set of Victorian farmers cottages.
You will find another section of the allotment over to the left of the main part and up against a fence.
I positioned myself at the end of the garden up against the wall to take in the view for my initial visual. I really liked the symmetrical aspect of the flint and brick buildings and wondered if that was the reason the allotment was placed in the centre.
I was fortunate as the commission came in at the middle of the summer, so all the vegetables and flowers were looking their best and it was particularly good weather for me to paint in.
I took a moment to place in the mock hawks which I presume are supposed to scare birds. They looked a bit feeble to me, that said, I did not see many birds about so they may have been effective.
Lastly, I was keen to put in the collection of ‘allotmenteers’ sitting under the shade enjoying a drink at the end of a long day.
Once I was happy with the visual, I went back to the studio to work up the larger, final image. A most enjoyable afternoon out!