Today, Wanstead Park consists of 140 acres of pleasingly rough grassland and woods in the east London borough of Redbridge, a public amenity with a golf course and open-air theatre productions in summer. It borders Epping Forest and has a slightly wild air. The last time I visited was with a Welsh terrier club, when about thirty identical black-and-tan canines went charging about in the long grass and then dived into a stream. Our rendezvous point was the visitor centre known as the Temple, one of the few visible remnants of an 18th-century formal landscape made to complement the long-vanished Wanstead House, a vast and architecturally pioneering Palladian mansion. The grand original garden, completed in 1722, was the final work of the designer and nurseryman George London. Engravings of the plans for Wanstead House and its sumptuous garden were published as the highlight of Vitruvius Britannicus (1715), the most important book of architectural perspectives of the period. The finished garden did not disappoint and for a while Wanstead even outshone more established estates such as Chatsworth, Longleat and Badminton.
But its fame did not last. The estate went into decline and the house was demolished in 1825. All that is left of the 18th-century house and landscape today is the Temple, a ruined grotto and a lake that was formerly a large octagonal pool. It is still