Keys to the Past

The Temple of Minerva (Hardwick Park, Sedgefield; Sedgefield)

Temple of Minerva, east facade.  Early 20th century
Temple of Minerva, east facade. Early 20th century

The view from the East. October 2001
The view from the East. October 2001

The partially dismantled Temple. October 2001
The partially dismantled Temple. October 2001

The dismantled Temple colonnade. October 2001
The dismantled Temple colonnade. October 2001

The Temple of Minerva was designed by James Paine and constructed under the supervision of John Bell of Durham for John Burdon's new garden at Hardwick. Paine's original scale drawings for the plan and elevation of the building survive in the Durham County Record Office at County Hall, Durham. They correspond with the structure as built. The building was commenced in 1754 and completed in 1757: these dates were formerly confirmed by an inscription within the building.

The Temple was dedicated to Minerva, goddess of wisdom and patroness of the arts. It consisted of a single 18-foot cubic room on the ground floor of brick rendered with stucco. Each facade bore a central window with a niche to either side. The niches carried busts of Homer, Virgil, Horace, Milton, Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, Dryden* and Pope on decorative plinths. These were probably plaster busts from the London statuary John Cheere. Above the cube was an ashlar sandstone octagon, with square windows alternating with blind ones around the facets. Above this was a leaded dome with a carved stone urn at the apex. Surrounding the structure to the height of the cube room was a colonnade of twenty Ionic columns in sandstone, with a continuous sandstone entablature. The entablature was secured to the central structure by a lean-to slate roof. The colonnade thus formed a continuous covered walk surrounding the Temple. Views extended in all directions from the colonnade. To the north and east, the visitor would see across the lake to the Grand Terrace and Lake, and down into the garden along the Serpentine River including the Ruin and the Banqueting House, a first glimpse of pleasures yet to come. To the west was a view of neighbouring towns and villages, as well as 'Heighington, Shackleton, and Brussleton towers' (Mackenzie & Ross 1834).

The single room within was elaborately decorated in the characteristically English combination of Palladian and Rococo elements. The floor was of marble mosaic. Further busts, now of Socrates, Plato, Demosthenes, Julius Caesar, Titus, Marcus Brutus, Trajan and Antoninus Pius, were supported on brackets around the room, with a further bust of Minerva over the pedimented entrance. Stucco medallions representing the four seasons occupied recesses between the windows. These were the work of Giuseppe Cortese. The dome was decorated with frescoes by Giuseppe Mattia Borgnis and his son, derived from Renaissance originals. The central painting showed Minerva with the Gorgon Shield, and Apollo offering her a laurel wreath, with the Arts and Sciences at her feet. Below, eight paintings depicted Music, Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and the four cardinal virtues of Justice, Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance set in extravagant rococo stucco frames.

The Temple was surrounded by a ha-ha to exclude grazing livestock and open the view.

Reference number:D349
Legal status:Registered Park or Garden of Historic Interest
  • National Heritage List for England Entry Number: 1000730
Event(s):Hardwick Park, Sedgefield 1999

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See also:
Source of Reference
Local History of Sedgefield


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Please note that this information has been compiled from a number of different sources. Durham County Council and Northumberland County Council can accept no responsibility for any inaccuracy contained therein. If you wish to use/copy any of the images, please ensure that you read the Copyright information provided.