The Games Room: Bowled Over
Visit the Temple of Flora in the grounds of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire and you’ll find Doric columns sheltering the overflowing cornucopia of a frisky-looking goddess Flora, who surveys the Broad Walk beyond. Both are survivors of an earlier garden plan. This is not a temple designed as a focal point in a landscape, nor a salutation to a pagan goddess – indeed until 1750, the goddess, sculpted by Caius Gabriel Cibber, had a garden all of her own.
The secret is revealed inside the house, in a painting by Jan Siberechts. The top-left corner shows, to the south-west of the 1st Duke of Devonshire’s newly completed mansion, a bowling green laid out in the 1690s with the temple beside it; a perfect pavilion for refreshments after a match. The game of bowls was so universally popular at times that it was repeatedly banned in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for fear that the bowmen of England would squander their practice time and apprentices would leave their work undone.
Henry VIII loved to bowl, so his prohibition of 1541 excepted play on his own bowling green at Hampton Court, and allowed the nobility to purchase a licence for private bowling greens. As a result, bowls became an aristocratic sport until restrictions were finally lifted in 1845. The Duke of Devonshire’s architect, William Talman, echoed the classical motifs on the baroque façade of the main house at Chatsworth in his elegant Bowling Green House, before, in the 1760s, it took up its new role. If you need an excuse to visit, 2019 is the 300th anniversary of Talman’s death.
Historic Houses members may visit Chatsworth’s gardens and grounds for free once in each calendar year. Tickets to the house may be bought for the heavily discounted rate of £10 on the same day on which free entry is redeemed.
All images © The Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees.