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Fonthill Recovered

A Cultural History

Fonthill, Wiltshire, is typically associated with the writer and collector William Beckford, who built his Gothic fantasy house, Fonthill Abbey, there at the end of the eighteenth century. The collapse of the Abbey’s tower in 1825 transformed the name Fonthill into a symbol for overarching ambition and folly. But Fonthill is much more than the story of one man’s excesses, and the Abbey was only one of several important houses to be built there, all eventually consumed by fire or deliberately demolished—and all strangely forgotten by contemporary history

Fonthill Recovered draws on new research to explore the rich cultural history of this place where little remains today—a tower, a stable block, the ruins of what was once a kitchen, and an indentation in a field. The first half of the book traces the occupation of Fonthill from the Bronze Age to the twenty-first century. Some of the owners surpassed Beckford in terms of their wealth and political power—and even, in one case, their sexual proclivities. They include Charles I’s Chancellor of the Exchequer and the richest British commoner of the nineteenth century. The second half of the book consists of essays on specific topics, examining such crucial areas as the complex history of the designed landscape, the sources of the Beckfords’ wealth and their extensive art collection, and the recent appearance of the Abbey in a video game.

406 pages | 193 illustrations | 6.69 x 9.61 | © 2018

Free digital open access editions are available to download from UCL Press.

Art: Art--General Studies

History: European History

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"This volume is full of interest and provides a useful reference work that will feed the curiosity that the name Fonthill always evokes, not least for its association with the eccentricities of William Beckford"

Country Life

"Landscapes, contents, families and life at the various Fonthills all feature in this rich and extremely readable collection of essays. It’s nicely produced and notably well illustrated in colour, with a rich collation of largely historic paintings, plans and photographs."

British Archaology

"Quite apart from Fonthill's special interest to historians of architecture and collecting, the essays gathered here are valuable as a case study of a landed estate."

Times Literary Supplement

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