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The Interior Topography of the Picturesque: Level Changes and Stepped Floors in James Wyatt’s Dodington Park and Ashridge House

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 November 2023

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The picturesque aesthetic of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Britain, as manifested in country house architecture, often involved moving the principal floor from an elevated piano nobile down to ground level, lowering one’s visual perspective and facilitating more direct movement between house and garden. While these developments are well recognised in the literature, one repercussion for architects has been largely overlooked: how to deal, in both practical and aesthetic terms, with the vertical challenges posed for a groundlevel principal floor by uneven terrain or pre-existing fabric. A particularly interesting case study is provided by the work of James Wyatt at two very different houses, the classical Dodington Park (1796–1813) and gothic Ashridge House (1807–13), through his carefully conceived and implemented use of small interior level changes, or stepped floors. Although the initial problems were similar, Wyatt’s solutions differed markedly in response to the demands of each commission; they also contrasted with the various approaches adopted by contemporaries such as Humphry Repton, John Nash and John Soane. Overall, this article suggests both the scholarly challenges, and the importance, of devoting enhanced attention to the interior topography of the picturesque experience.

Research Article
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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial reuse or in order to create a derivative work.
© The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, 2023