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A Brief History Of Four Inspirational British Summerhouses

Garden summer houses are a stylish and practical addition to any garden. They can be used for a range of purposes, from entertaining to storage, or even for a home office, gym, or workshop. Once, they were the preserve of only the wealthiest in society, but now they are an affordable option and a very popular way to make the most of your outdoor space.

Throughout history, people have always sought an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the relaxing and beautiful surroundings of nature. This led to the fashion for having a garden structure away from the main house, where it was possible to enjoy the delights of the garden from a restful spot. 

Initially summerhouses were only to be found in the grounds of castles or grand country estates, but by the mid 18th century they were a fashionable addition to the townhouses of the well-to-do. Here’s a look at some summer houses in the UK, which may not be a practical choice for your own garden, but nonetheless can interest and inspire!

The Bavarian Summerhouse at Brodick Castle

Brodick Castle is a grand baronial castle on the Isle of Arran off the western coast of Scotland. There has been a fortress on the site for centuries, but the present castle was constructed in 1844. It is the ancient seat of the Duke of Hamilton and it features extensive formal gardens with ponds, waterfalls and woodland trails.

The stunning gardens were graced with not just one but four summerhouses, which were all strategically positioned to offer a scenic view. Only one remains today, and it is thought that it was constructed by specialist craftsmen from Bavaria. The timber structure is built into a sandstone rockface, creating a resting point on a woodland walk.

The inside of the structure features a unique ceiling pattern that is created entirely out of pine cones, while the exterior has a decorative rhododendron stem cladding. It is thought that the garden building was a wedding present for Princess Marie of Baden, wife of the Duke of Hamilton. 

Thatched summer house, Osbourne, Isle of Wight

Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight was built as a summer residence for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The style of the house was inspired by the Italian renaissance, and it features extensive gardens with a variety of structures. These include a thatched summer house that is thought to have been created for the use of the Royal children.

The summer house was likely to have been used to store gardening tools, as it stands next to a plot of land that was set aside for the young princes to cultivate. 

A rather grander structure in the form of a small Alpine-style chalet can be found hidden in the woods at Osbourne. The Swiss Cottage was built between 1853 and 1854 by Prince Albert, who wanted it for an independent playhouse for the nine Royal offspring. He believed this would encourage them to develop practical skills such as cooking and gardening.

Chartwell House, Kent

Chartwell was the country home of Sir Winston Churchill, the UK wartime prime minister. He  and his wife, Clementine, purchased the house in 1922 and lived there for the next 40 years. He was particularly fond of nature, and cultivated beautiful landscaped gardens at Chartwell, including a kitchen garden, lakes, and a play house for his daughter Mary.

Cliveden, Buckinghamshire

Cliveden is a country house and estate in Buckinghamshire that is managed by the National Trust. The initial house was built in 1666, but was destroyed by a fire in 1795. A replacement house was built in 1824, only to be destroyed by a fire in 1849. The present Italianate mansion style house was built in 1851.

Cliveden was the favoured residence of King Charles II, and over the years it has been the home of a string of Viscounts, Dukes, Earls, and Princes. It’s also been a favourite setting for high society, hosting countless exclusive social gatherings, and was at the hub of the notorious Profumo affair that led to the eventual downfall of the government. 

It also features 160 acres of grounds that have been carefully cultivated over the years. The gardens are famed for the stunning carpet beds that produce an abundance of vibrant spring and summer flowers. There is also a beautiful East Asian inspired water garden with a six-sided Chinese pagoda as the focal point.

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