Fonthill recovered : a cultural history
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Fonthill, in Wiltshire, is usually associated with the writer and collector William Beckford, who built his Gothic fantasy house Fonthill Abbey at the end of the eight- eenth century. The collapse of the Abbey’s tower in 1825 transformed the name Fonthill into a symbol for over-arching ambition and folly, a sublime ruin. Fonthill is, however, much more than the story of one man’s excesses. Beckford’s Abbey is only one of several important houses to be built on the estate since the early six- teenth century, all of them eventually consumed by fire or deliberately demolished and all of them oddly forgotten by historians. Little now remains: a tower, a stable block, a kitchen range, some dressed stone, an indentation in a field. Fonthill Recovered draws on histories of art and architecture, politics and eco- nomics to explore all of the rich cultural history of this famous estate. Some of the men and women who built the houses and lived at Fonthill surpassed Beckford in terms of their wealth, their collections and their political power. Some were players on the national and world stage as well as major patrons of the arts. Their political and religious allegiances, their sources of wealth and social positions reflected and were affected by the shifts and changes in five hundred years of British history. The book is divided into two sections: the first is largely narrative, the second consists of essays exploring themes, topics and objects which enhance and cannot be comfortably included in the main narrative. There is inevitably some repetition and some difference of opinion, but we have tried to avoid speculation.
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