Mermaid Basin at west side of South Parterre


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:


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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Central Bedfordshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Garden ornament. Late C19, thought to have been erected by Francis Thomas de Grey Cowper, 7th Earl Cowper (1834-1905).

Reasons for Designation

The Mermaid Basin located in the western part of the South Parterre at Wrest Park is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Historic interest: A sculpture associated with Wrest Park since the late C19 which forms an important element of the evolved historic garden landscape at Wrest Park; * Group Value: The sculpture contributes to the structural and aesthetic composition of a Grade I registered Park and Garden.


Wrest Park belonged to the Grey family from the Middle Ages until the early C20. In 1833, Thomas Phillip Weddell, later Earl de Grey, inherited Wrest, having already spent much time there as a young man demonstrating his early abilities as an amateur architect in the design of the two lodges at Silsoe in 1826 (both Grade II). Although he had great respect for the gardens this did not extend to the house, which he demolished. The present house was constructed approximately 200m north of the old house in 1834-9 by the Earl with the assistance of James Clephan. The stable buildings to the east (Grade II) and the walled gardens (Grade II) to the west were also added between 1834 and 1839. The site of the former house was laid out to include the present parterres and south lawns. The Earl's appreciation of the existing garden’s qualities meant that little else was done to diminish its former appearance. In 1856 'le Petit Trianon' was built for his children and in 1857 an 'American Garden' was laid out north of the bowling green.

Earl de Grey died in 1859 succeeded by his daughter Anne Florence and her husband George, 6th Earl Cowper. They showed some interest in Wrest adding some statuary and replacing the Chinese bridge with the present stone and brick structure (Grade II). Her son Francis Thomas inherited Wrest in 1880, and he and Lady Katrine, whom he had married in 1870 continued the development of the gardens at Wrest. Lady Katrine had overseen the creation of the Italian gardens at her father's estate at Castle Ashby, and it is thought that the Mermaid Basin was acquired between 1880 and 1904, as it is referred to in a Country Life article of the 9th July 1904.


MATERIALS: Italian veined white Carrara marble on a stone base. The sculpture is approximately 1.5 metres high.

DESCRIPTION: the Mermaid basin is a C19 Italian fountain base made of veined white Carrara marble. It is shaped in the form of four seated mermaids or nereids with double tails curled around to either side of the base.The figures are placed back to back against a central pier which is decorated with stylised rockwork. The whole sits upon a a square stone base. Above the figures is a separate moulded socle which has been hollowed out. One hand of each of the mermaid figures is raised as if to support a large fountain bowl which is now missing. The sculpture is located in the western part of the South Parterre.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Roscoe, I, Hardy, E, Sullivan, M G, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660-1851, ((2009))
Smith, N, Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, English Heritage Guidebook, (2008)
Cole, D, Beresford, C and Shackell, A, Historical Survey of Wrest Park, (2005),
Davies, J P S , Report on the Garden Ornaments at Wrest Park 1700-1917, (2007),
Donald Insall Associates, Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, Conservation Management Plan, (2009),


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 13 Jun 2003
Reference: IOE01/10522/01
Rights: © Mr Derek E. Wharton. Source: Historic England Archive
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