Having been wined and dined, Aislabie's guests were transported through the grounds at Studley Royal to their next venue, the Banqueting House, something of a misnomer as no banqueting actually took place in this small stone pavilion. On arrival they were greeted by a trio of bearded stone faces sternly staring down at them. Representing malice, envy and jealousy, they served as a reminder to leave these unwelcome sentiments at the door.
The Banqueting House
Once inside, guests would be treated to all manner of exotic treats. Tropical fruit and other expensive delicacies were served as Aislabie impressed his friends with this display of wealth. Not to mention the tea, a highly prized commodity that only the rich could afford.
The Banqueting House was fronted by the Coffin Lawn, a patch of grass with a large coffin shaped depression in the middle. This was designed to remind revellers of the brevity of life and to encourage them to eat, drink and be merry while they had the chance.
Who Was John Aislabie?
John Aislabie was a British politician who rose through the ranks finally becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1718. A strong promoter of the South Sea Company, Aislabie was found guilty of insider trading after the South Sea Bubble burst. This resulted in his imprisonment in the Tower of London and the end of his political career.
Before his release, Aislabie was expected to repay the profits he had unlawfully procured. This was a hefty sum, equivalent to £9.2 million today. Aislabie then retired to his home at Studley Royal where he spent his time developing the water garden for which the property has become renowned.
The Water Garden at Studley Royal
The centrepiece is the circular 'Moon Pond' bordered by two crescent ponds. The perfectly manicured lawns surrounding the pools are littered with statues and make a great spot for a picnic on a sunny day. The coots nesting on the ponds provide some entertainment as they scurry around in search of nest building materials or tend to their scruffy bald headed young.
The adjacent Temple of Piety, a simple square building fronted with Tuscan columns, looks a little out of place in this English garden. It's just one of several follies scattered around the grounds. Walk up the wooded slope, through the dark Serpentine tunnel to reach the Octagon Tower. The windows on seven of its eight sides, provide a panoramic view of the whole garden scene. Further along the ridge, the Temple of Fame is yet another folly with its wooden columns convincingly painted to look like stone.
Walk along to Ann Boleyn's Seat, which actually had no connection with Ann Boleyn. The name was a comical reference to the headless statue that still stands behind the seat. From this vantage point you can admire the 'Surprise View'. In the 18th Century, guests would have had the view revealed to them from behind a curtain. The curtain is long gone but the view is still impressive today.
Looking down the hill from this viewpoint, the Half Moon Reservoir leads to a wooded riverside walk that is very much in keeping with the rest of the gardens. Further along the river however, stands the picturesque ruin of Fountains Abbey. The perfect addition to any gentleman's garden, and guaranteed to impress, this Cistercian monastery was purchased by John Aislabie's son, William, who took over the estate after his father's death. William also added a Chinese style garden in the aptly named Seven Bridges Valley.
The Surprise View
Studley Royal Deer Park
Studley Royal is also home to a medieval deer park, another status symbol as the royal licence required to keep deer was only granted to a select few. Populated with red, sika and fallow deer, you'll see the herds grazing side by side or relaxing on the grass, usually with a few outliers keeping watch for intruding tourists and dog walkers. Just watch your step in the long grass as the tiny fawns are well hidden when they curl up for a nap.
John Aislabie dedicated years to the development of his country estate. Every detail was carefully thought out to create maximum impact and to allow guests to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. It was also a grand display of wealth. Keeping up with the Aislabies must have been quite a challenge, especially once the ruin of Fountains Abbey was added to the spectacle.
Still preserved much as it was in Aislabie's time, the Georgian water garden at Studley Royal has now been awarded World Heritage status. It continues to impress visitors with its eclectic mix of architecture, abundant wildlife and spectacular scenery making it a popular choice at any time of year.
How To Get To Fountains Abbey And Studley Royal Water Garden
Studley Royal Estate is around 3 miles from the town of Ripon, in North Yorkshire. It's easiest to drive, cycle or walk to the entrance. There is a bus service from Ripon but it only operates on certain days of the week.
Fountains Abbey And Studley Royal Water Garden is a National Trust property. Entry is free for National Trust members.