'Lost' Chinese bridge returns to Croome

A replica of a decorative, eighteenth century Chinese-style bridge has been reinstated more than 150 years after the original disappeared at Croome in Worcestershire.

In the mid 1700s, when Chinoiserie vied with Rococo and Gothic as the fashionable style of the day, British designers and craftsmen created their own fanciful imitations of Chinese designs.

Chinoiserie was the style adopted by William Halfpenny for the wooden bridge he designed for the 6th Earl of Coventry in the garden at Croome. The designs were published in 1749 in his pattern book Developments in Architecture and Carpentry.

Halfpenny's drawing of the Chinese Bridge at Croome
Halfpenny's drawing of the Chinese Bridge at Croome

When Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown arrived in 1751 to redesigned both the house and the garden, the bridge was one of the few features that he kept.

As Brown’s first commission, Croome marked a key moment in the development of the English Landscape style that was to become Britain’s most significant contribution to garden design, adopted the world over. It also helped establish Brown as the most famous landscape designer of his age and his friendship with the Earl endured for the rest of his life.

The Chinese bridge appears in a 1758 painting by Richard Wilson of Croome Court and garden but by the early nineteenth century it had disappeared under the murky depths of the artificial river it once spanned.  

Richard Wilson painting of the Chinese Bridge at Croome, Worcestershire
Richard Wilson painting of the Chinese Bridge at Croome, Worcestershire

Over the past ten years a major restoration project, involving the dredging of the river, led to the discovery of the original bridge foundations and a couple of fragments of old timbers.

These, together with Halfpenny’s drawing and the Wilson painting, helped the Green Oak Carpentry Company to make a replica of the bridge, down to the exact dimensions of the original.

The green oak will be left to dry out for at least a year before being painted the off-white colour, seen in Wilson’s painting.  Meanwhile, you can now enjoy a stroll across the Chinese bridge once more and admire the views, just as they were over 250 years ago.