The dogs are happily snuffling around in the shrubs which surround the raised classical temple in which I am standing. Its floor stands about 12ft above the current level of the lawns and, when it was built, it would have been level with the long gallery or library which faced it in the 18th century building, Highclere Place House, which originally stood here on the site of the current Castle.
The temple, a harmonious and elegant eye-catcher, is called Jackdaws Castle, perhaps for the simple reason that there used to be an avenue behind it in which Jackdaws used to roost. It’s history, though, is somewhat grander. The pillars used to stand as part of the portico of one of the smartest houses in London: Berkley House. Built in the reign of Charles II – around the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666 – it was later bought and renamed Devonshire House by the family of the same name but sadly burnt down whilst being refurbished in 1733. The columns were presumably deemed no longer needed and sold off a few years later. Robert Herbert, Geordie’s predecessor, bought them and had them transported to Highclere by horse and cart.
Once roofed, today it stands open to the elements but the proportion of the columns follows the harmonious classical principles so much admired by 18th century architects and intellects. The Corinthian, the most ornate of the classified orders of columns, is characterized by slender columns and elaborate capitals decorated with acanthus leaves and scrolls.
The “capital”, derived from the Latin caput or “head”, forms the topmost part of the column and mediates between the column and the load thrusting down upon it by broadening the area of the column’s supporting surface. This is not, in fact, needed here but might have been in the earlier building of which the columns were part.
The “capitals” in Jackdaws Temple represent an allusion to heritage, culture and architectural fashions of early millennia and, somehow, the intrinsic sense of connection through time and place. The same word, of course, also describes both a major city and a person’s wealth, from the Medieval Latin “capitale” stock, property. This past year, every one of us both as individuals and as governments have had to ask some searching questions in terms of capital and revenue and their importance in relation to other needs.
Our Temple is related to the landscape here and is not something from which we can derive a revenue. It adds to, and defines, its immediate landscape and is just ours to look after for the future.
Perhaps, above all, the quietness of this past year should have reminded us, among other things, of the capital value of nature and our selfishness in how we remove and dispose of it. We take oil and fuel, we take nutrients through overuse of land with single crops, ancient forests are cut down, metals removed from the earth and seas polluted.
Researching money investment schemes, sensible investors firstly seek to reassure themselves about the preservation of their capital before looking at the promise of income. Curiously few of us have applied the same thought processes to the world in which we are lucky enough to live. Rather like a Ponzi scheme we are stealing from the future to make today work, whereas really we should consider ourselves tenants and put our imaginations towards making the best use of the revenue.
“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Native American proverb, to put it another way: The earth has music for those who listen. —William Shakespeare. A very happy new year to you all.