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London mysteries: Kenwood House’s sham bridge

Posted at 6:15 pm, March 21, 2012 in News

London mysteries: The fake bridgeEach week we solve one of London’s great mysteries (as submitted by you, the reader). This week Udo Wardell of Wembley asks: ‘On a recent visit to Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath, I spotted a beautiful bridge and went closer to take a snap. But I quickly realised it wasn’t a real bridge at all! It was just a facade. What on earth is it doing there?’

Well Udo,

The dummy bridge you mention doesn’t span any water, but stands in the grounds of Kenwood House on the bank of its lake, the Thousand Pound Pond. The structure, which resembles a discarded theatre set, was created as a picturesque focal point for Kenwood’s handsome gardens. According to English Heritage, it was built between 1755 and 1757, when the house was owned by the first Earl of Mansfield. Mansfield commissioned Scottish neoclassical architect Robert Adam to remodel the seventeenth-century house and landscape the grounds, and he also designed and built the bridge. It has been rebuilt many times, most recently in 1992, and it is now protected by Grade II-listed status. Despite its various reconstructions, it has retained its original design: a white timber facade with a Palladian balustrade painted on it. But venture round to the back of the structure and the deception becomes apparent: rows of wooden struts hold up the two-dimensional front. We spoke to Andrew Ginner, the range supervisor at English Heritage, about the origins of the bridge. He told us that the first evidence for its construction might be in a sketch by eighteenth-century artist and writer Mary Delany. Her drawing, now part of the Iveagh Bequest art collection at the house (which, incidentally, closes in April for repairs and reopens in autumn 2013), is entitled ‘A View of the Ancient Bridge at Kenwood’, and is dated June 25 1757. The ‘Ancient Bridge’ depicted isn’t the dummy one, but in a corner of the sketch you can glimpse something that could be a pillar of Adam’s imposter. The fake bridge must, therefore, have been fooling visitors for 250 years. Josie Gurney-Read

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