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Saturday, 10 May 2014


My ancestral cousin Talfourd was a lawyer whose Old Bailey caseload has been the source of a few articles on this blog. He was moderately successful and lived at least the last ten years of his life in a mansion of sorts in the leafy London suburb of Twickenham. It is more likely that he rented rooms in it than that he owned the mansion outright.

Its address was Pope’s Garden, and I had always assumed that the name was a reference to some historical connection to Catholicism. In fact it’s built on the site of the celebrated garden of the poet Alexander Pope.

Pope’s Garden, Twickenham, built in 1864
(picture from the builder’s prospectus)

In 1713 Alexander Pope (1688-1744) began the translation of Homer’s works for which he would become most famous. Published in parts between 1715 and 1720, it made him a wealthy man, and in 1719 he bought land by the Thames in Twickenham. On it he built a villa owing much to the prevailing Palladian style of the age, inspired by the classical architecture of Homer’s Greece.

In its cellar he constructed a grotto, a fantastical cave decorated with crystals and mineral specimens (including pieces of the Giant’s Causeway and stalagmites from Wookey Hole). During construction they stumbled on a spring, a happy accident which allowed the warren of tunnels to be filled with the sound of trickling water.

Pope’s Grotto, sketched in 1786 by Samuel Lewis

Pope described the grotto in a letter to a friend:
When you shut the Doors of this Grotto, it becomes on the instant, from a luminous Room, a Camera Obscura, on the walls of which all the objects of the River, Hills, Woods, and Boats, are forming a moving Picture…And when you have a mind to light it up, it affords you a very different Scene: it is finished with Shells interspersed with Pieces of Looking-glass in angular Forms…at which when a Lamp…is hung in the Middle, a thousand pointed Rays glitter and are reflected over the place.

The grotto was famous, and much imitated in country houses throughout Britain. It continued to attract visitors after Pope’s death, and in 1808 Baroness Howe (the then owner of the villa) demolished the house in an effort to deter souvenir hunters and vandals. Subsequently two new houses were built on the site, mercifully preserving the cellar grotto beneath.

Pope’s Grotto in 2012

Over time parts of Pope’s gardens, which ran from the grotto down to the banks of the Thames, were sold off for further building development. A pub called Pope’s Grotto was built on one corner in 1852. Pope's Garden, the building in which Talfourd lived, was erected on the former lawn between the grotto and the river in 1864.

He must surely have visited both the pub and the grotto itself, and as an educated man he certainly read Pope’s Iliad at school. I don’t have Talfourd Salter’s copy; but I do have an 1834 pocket edition which once belonged to my great great aunt Margaret Merrifield’s great uncle Victor William Charles Ferdinand DeGaudrion.

The Iliad of Homer, translated by Alexander Pope, Esq., printed and published by J.F. Dove of St John’s Square, London; another page is inscribed "Victor William Charles Ferdinand DeGaudrion, Southampton 1834, aged 12 years"

Twickenham suffered from heavy bombing during the Second World War. In 1941, Talfourd’s old home was damaged beyond repair in one air raid; and in 1944 the pub was destroyed in another. Pope’s Garden was eventually demolished in 1954, and a new pub, still there today as the Alexander Pope Hotel, was built on the site of the old one in 1959.

Pope’s Garden in a ruinous state in 1954, just before its demolition

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