“Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare is a small garden folly erected in 1756 on the north bank of the River Thames at Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Grade I listed, it was built by the actor David Garrick to honour the playwright William Shakespeare, whose plays Garrick performed to great acclaim throughout his career. During his lifetime Garrick used it to house his extensive collection of Shakespearean relics and for entertaining his family and guests. It passed through a succession of owners until coming into public ownership in the 1930s, but it had fallen into serious disrepair by the end of the 20th century. After a campaign supported by distinguished actors and donations from the National Lottery’s “good causes” fund, it was restored in the late 1990s and reopened to the public as a museum and memorial to the life and career of Garrick. It is reputedly the world’s only shrine to Shakespeare.
The temple is an octagonal domed building with a nod to the Pantheon, Rome, constructed in undecorated brick with a single east-facing entrance. It was built in the Classical style popularised by the Italian architect Palladio with an Ionic portico, four columns wide by three deep, flanking the entrance. Several steps lead up to the portico. Inside, glazed arched windows reaching to the ground face the river. A deep curved recess in the west wall provides room for a statue. Outside, a lawn and garden provide views over the Thames to the south.
Garrick built the temple on land adjoining a villa that he had bought in October 1754 to serve as a country retreat. The villa’s riverside garden, a plot now known as Garrick’s Lawn, was separated from the main property by the road from Kingston upon Thames to Staines. Garrick commissioned the building of an elaborate grotto-tunnel under the road, illuminated by 500 lanterns, to facilitate private access to the lawn from the house.
At some point in 1755 he decided to build a summer-house by the riverside which he intended to dedicate to his muse Shakespeare as a “temple” to the playwright. The temple’s architect is unknown as his decision to build it is not recorded in his own papers. Robert Adam and Lancelot “Capability” Brown have both been suggested as possibilities. An “Ionic Temple” of similar design stands in the gardens of Chiswick House a few miles away. This may well have been the inspiration for Garrick’s Temple, as Garrick had spent his honeymoon at Chiswick House a few years earlier in the company of his wife’s guardians the Burlingtons.
The temple’s interior was furnished as a shrine to Shakespeare. It was dominated by a statue of the playwright commissioned by Garrick from the French Huguenot sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac at a cost of 300 guineas (£315, equivalent to approximately £32,000 now). Roubiliac chose to model the statue on the Chandos portrait of Shakespeare while Garrick himself is said to have posed for the sculpture. Its appearance is rather more reminiscent of Garrick than Shakespeare; it is said that the actor struck a pose and exclaimed, “Lo, the Bard of Avon!” to illustrate how he wanted Shakespeare to be portrayed. The statue’s head was not to Garrick’s satisfaction, and Roubiliac had to replace it with another, carved from a different type of marble. During Garrick’s lifetime the statue was displayed in the temple. On his death it was willed to the British Museum, where it is still on display in the King’s Library. A copy of the statue, donated by the museum, is currently displayed in the temple.
Garrick employed the temple not just as a museum but as a working building. As well as using it as a quiet place to learn his lines and write letters, the actor used it to entertain his wife and guests for afternoon tea and dinner. The painter Johann Zoffany, a protégé of Garrick, painted a number of scenes of the actor, his wife and their friends on the lawn and in front of the temple…”