History of the Rotunda

An intrigate scale model of Ickworth house delivered to Italy for approval © Andreas von Einsiedel

An intrigate scale model of Ickworth house delivered to Italy for approval

A monument to the idea of Italy

The Rotunda is a monument to the idea of Italy in the English mind.

Though unsuited to the Suffolk climate, Frederick Augustus Hervey, the Earl-Bishop and 4th Earl of Bristol, captivated by Italian art, architecture and sculpture, built this magnificent building to house his collection and his estranged wife and family.

The East and West Wings

Both the east and west wing provide a great visitor welcome

Both the east and west wing provide a great visitor welcome

Home and symmetry

  •  © Andrew Butler


    The Earl-Bishop's son chose the east wing for the family home rather than the austere Rotunda.

  •  © David Levenson


    Built between 1847 and 1841, the west wing was originally built for symmetry.

  • Have a browse in the West Wing shop © NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel


    The west wing houses our visitor center and the east wing forms The Ickworth, a luxury hotel.

High ceilings

The asthmatic Earl-Bishop wanted his new home to have very high ceilings, as his 'spirits spontaneously rose much higher in lofty rooms than in low ones, where the atmosphere is too much tainted with our own bodies.'

Grand interiors

The grand interior of the Rotunda was meant to impress. More a museum than a living space, it's home to the Hervey family's vast collection of treasures accumulated by each generation of the family.

Decorative friezes

Stucco panels designed by the Earl-Bishop's granddaughter, Lady Caroline Wharncliffe, decorate the exterior of the Rotunda. They depict scenes from the ancient Olympic games.

Gossip, secret recipes and keeping everyone fed


Lady Elizabeth Foster, Ickworth, Suffolk © National Trust

Lady Elizabeth Foster (1759-1824), favourite daughter of the Earl-Bishop, had an unhappy marriage to John Foster, MP. Befriended by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, she became one part of a 'ménage a trois' with the Duke. The miniature she is wearing in this picture is thought to be of Georgiana. Elizabeth went on to marry the Duke in 1809 after Georgiana's death.

Great skill

Mrs Sangster in the kitchens at Ickworth, Suffolk © National Trust

The cook reigned over the kitchens at Ickworth, and from 1906 to 1950 the cook was Mrs Sangster. She was very highly regarded by the family and also by the staff. In order to prevent rivals from stealing her recipes, she would sometimes banish everyone from the kitchen while she worked on particularly difficult dishes.

Keeping everyone fed

The beautiful view of Ickworth vineyard and church from the canal lake © National Trust

Ken Saddler, the head gardener in the 1930s would call Mrs Sangster daily to find out what produce was required for the kitchen. 'There was a big population up at the house, 14 kitchen maids, 14 scullery maids, scores of girls up there. We used to feed all them, West Suffolk Hospital, the chauffeur, the keepers, head keeper...we used to feed all them from that garden.'