Enfilade

New Book | Fonthill Recovered

Posted in books by Editor on November 17, 2018

Distributed in North America by The University of Chicago Press:

Caroline Dakers, ed., Fonthill Recovered: A Cultural History (London: UCL Press, 2018) 406 pages, ISBN: 978-1787350465 (hardcover), $90 / ISBN: 978-1787350472 (paperback), $60.

Fonthill, Wiltshire, is typically associated with the writer and collector William Beckford, who built his Gothic fantasy house, Fonthill Abbey, there at the end of the eighteenth century. The collapse of the Abbey’s tower in 1825 transformed the name Fonthill into a symbol for overarching ambition and folly. But Fonthill is much more than the story of one man’s excesses, and the Abbey was only one of several important houses to be built there, all eventually consumed by fire or deliberately demolished—and all strangely forgotten by contemporary history

Fonthill Recovered draws on new research to explore the rich cultural history of this place where little remains today—a tower, a stable block, the ruins of what was once a kitchen, and an indentation in a field. The first half of the book traces the occupation of Fonthill from the Bronze Age to the twenty-first century. Some of the owners surpassed Beckford in terms of their wealth and political power—and even, in one case, their sexual proclivities. They include Charles I’s Chancellor of the Exchequer and the richest British commoner of the nineteenth century. The second half of the book consists of essays on specific topics, examining such crucial areas as the complex history of the designed landscape, the sources of the Beckfords’ wealth and their extensive art collection, and the recent appearance of the Abbey in a video game.

Caroline Dakers is professor of cultural history at Central Saint Martins and the author of several books, including Forever England and A Genius for Money. She has also curated exhibitions at the Leighton House Museum, London.

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