The story behind Kedleston's garden features

Robert Adam's fabulous south front is often the first thing visitors notice when they enter the garden at Kedleston. It was meant to impress when it was designed in the 18th century and it still does. But there's more to it - and the other garden features - than perhaps first meets the eye.

Kedleston's triumphal arch

The central part of Kedleston's south front was modelled on the arch of Constantine in Rome. In the Roman period, these arches were built to celebrate an emperor's success in battle.

However, at Kedleston art and prosperity are celebrated rather than warfare. The statues at the top of the arch represent theatre, dance, prudence, and hunting. Below these, there are two roundels, one representing the moon and the other the sun. There are two more statues here: Flora and Bacchus, both associated with abundance and pleasure.

A fierce lion and a funerary urn

As you walk towards the Long Walk, you'll see a roaring lion and a funerary urn. Originally you wouldn't have seen the two together; trees and shrubs separated them and you'd almost stumble across the urn as you strolled past.

Kedleston's roaring lion has guarded the garden for about 250 years.
Kedleston's lion statue

The lion is a copy of a Renaissance sculpture made for the Villa Medici in Rome in the 16th century. In the Villa Medici, it was one of a pair overlooking the garden. Other copies can be found at Stowe where they guard the steps up to the mansion. The ball under its paw represents the earth. Lions are traditionally associated with royalty and power.

Nathaniel Curzon commissioned his lion in 1759, soon after he'd inherited Kedleston, but it wasn't put in the garden until 1766. The lion still stands on a plinth designed by Samuel Wyatt, who we think was also responsible for the design of Kedleston's stables. The lion was always on its own.

The design for the urn was taken from a book on classical sculpture that is still in the Library at Kedleston. It was dedicated to the poet Michael Drayton (1563-1631), who wrote a poem celebrating the English landscape. In Poly-olbion (1613) the following lines appear:

" Where Marten-Brook, although an easy shallow rill / There offereth all she hath, her mistress' banks to fill ..."
- Michael Drayton (1563-1631)

This may  refer to Markeaton Brook, which is the small stream from which the lakes in the park were created.

Funerary urn dedicated to Michael Drayton in the garden at Kedleston
Funerary urn dedicated to Michael Drayton in the garden at Kedleston

The urn was probably placed in the garden at the same time as the lion in 1766. In this year, the main building work to the mansion was completed. It used to have an inscription in Greek, but this has completely eroded over time.

We are looking to conserve both the lion and the urn in the next few years.