No Ordinary Folly

More than three hundred years ago a lodge was built high above the Gloucestershire village of Painswick, this was no ordinary folly, and it was built in the name of Greek God Pan.

For many years  I have received many reports of supposed occult activity occurring in and around Painswick. Local churchyards have been the scene of vandalism in its most obscurest, strange people have been witnessed on nearby land performing rituals but strangely the general consensus is that the villagers know who are behind these deeds.

During my research time in Stroud and Gloucestershire I stumbled on a number of documents about Painwick and particular about a mysterious lodge. Luckily I was able to obtain details of its construction and its possible usage.

Pan’s Lodge once stood within the grounds of Painswick House where an ivy clad statue of the god Pan can still be seen.  Pan is seen poised on a stone plinth, raising his pipes as if to summon nearby nymphs and satyrs, unfortunately this statue is the only surviving remnant of one of the Cotswold’s most intriguing lost buildings.

Our quest for this lost building begins just a mile away where we find another lost relic of Painswick’s past. Known locally as the “Hate Wall” a tall barn stands on the crossroads as if to spite the owner of Greenhouse Court across the way. However this building was actually known as the “Red Stables” and has some very interesting folklore attached to it.

The Red Stables has always outfoxed archaeologists and researchers; however it was probably just stables that served the owner’s more mysterious retreat on the hill behind it.

Benjamin Hyett built the stables around the mid-eighteenth century and planted his retreat, Pan’s Lodge, in the middle of a wood now known as The Frith. Most of what we know about the Lodge is supplied by two remarkable paintings. It clearly existed in 1757 for this is the date on the view of the building itself. The other, 1758 shows the wide prospect across the Painswick Valley from the terrace in front of the house.

It is harder to determine when Pan’s Lodge disappeared since it appears on Taylor’s Map of Gloucestershire of 1777, yet the woods are empty on Bryant’s map of 1824, when only the Red Stables are shown.

Even though it is nearly 150 years ago since the lodge was demolished, its foundations can still be seen. New planting and thinning have obliterated eighteenth century tree-scape and the terrace is just visible below the undergrowth. The foundations are made of local Cotswold stone and are very distinguish a building plan from what remains.

The Mystery of the Lodge
Hyett (1708 – 1762) and his wife loved his country seat at Painswick and loved mapping out their gardens of their town and country houses. Serpentine paths, pagodas and gothic structures were dearly loved by them and probably inspired Hyett to construct Pan’s Lodge.

So what could Pan’s Lodge have been used for? It was clearly too large to be a simple picnic pavilion or tea house; certainly no such building would require a cottage in the rear for a permanent keeper. Pan suggests wild revelry; maybe Hyett used the lodge for wild parties from out of his wife’s disapproving eye! Unfortunately no diaries or letters have survived to shed light on such goings on, where many stately homes and mansions normally have records of such parties and purchases.

Architecturally, the lodge is a curious mingling of gothic and classical typical of the mid-eighteenth century. Based on the paintings, the centrepiece is a pedimented portico topped by a classical vase, but flanking this are contrasting gothic wings complete with battlements and pinnacles.

Two preliminary drawings of the lodge prepared for the painted views show there was a courtyard behind the main block, and beyond that The Lodge Keeper’s Cottage. The Lodge would have been built of rubble covered with red-stucco, with columns, quoins and window frames of pale stone.

My thoughts about the location are that it is very similar to Francis Dashwood’s Berkshire Hell-fire Club. They too constructed a special location for jollities (Dashwood constructed the Hell-fire Caves) but they also used it for alleged rituals and black art exploration.

Could it be that Hyett was very similar to the gentry of the times, not only did they exhibit their educated tastes but how much they could debauch. There is also a possible chance that bored of debauchery that Hyett began to explore the next level, an interest in the occult. Pan can be viewed on many different levels from drunken debauchery to forms of witchcraft and it could be the reason why Hyett required Pan to stand outside the Lodge.

Recently researcher Andy Collins has discovered Painswick’s pagan past, in an article in his monthly newsletter Andy claims “Sceptics of Painswick’s pagan heritage suggest that its connections with Pan derive from the Hyett’s fanciful love of neo-paganism and their liberal interpretation of the town place-name as ‘Panswyck’, which falsely honoured Pan. It is pointed out that Painswick takes its name from a Norman lord of the manor named Payne Fitz John.

However, it was not until 100 years after his death in 1137 that the town gained the name ‘Wyke Pagani’ Even if the town did gain its name from a Norman landowner, there is irony in the fact that the personal name Payne, or Pain, derives from the word Latin paganus, meaning ‘the pagan’. The suffix ‘wick’, from the Old English wic, meaning a ‘land with special usage’, implying that the true translation of the name Painswick, is the ‘pagan land’, a description that anyone would admit befits it very well indeed.”

So is the Lodge a lost piece of the Hellfire Club or just a garden folly? I don’t think we will ever know. Its just amazing how one can stumble across a mystery like the Lodge in the glorious Cotswolds.

I also believe that this is not the last time that I write about Painswick, I already have enough material about the village’s pagan rituals and about a local delicacy called “Puppy-Dog Pie”, not to mention recent occult activity at nearby locations!

Top photo:

The Red House, Painswick Rococo Garden (andrew auger) / CC BY-SA 2.0