‘Mount Edgcumbe is a miniature castle, a puerile mock-up, fronted to the north by terraces that give it a pretence of grandeur in the view down the Hamoaze – a quaint name for the estuarine stretch of the River Tamar, between its confluence with the River Lynher and Plymouth Sound. The water is not my present subject however. To the west this terrace was extended well beyond the house so as to carry the approach across a small valley. This extension is known as the Ice House, for no better reason than that an ice house was built into it. As to when the extension was built, Historic England suggests the early 19th century, whilst Mount Edgcumbe’s historian Dr Feluś gives 1799. She is Hungarian, but even if it was built in the early 1790s the argument that follows would still apply.
Now the first points to make here are that Repton would have called this extension to the terrace a viaduct and he put up a design exactly like Mount Edgcumbe’s at Kenwood in May 1793. He drew it, it is still there today and he described it in his Kenwood red book: “That magnificent terrace which is doubtless one of the first ornaments of Kenwood, finishes abruptly to the east at the corner of a wall, this I propose to continue across the valley, and make it the grand line of communication with the future kitchen garden, farm yards, and other offices; which tho’ out of sight, are generally the principal objects of a Walk in the Country, and ought to be as near as possible to the house, without being seen from thence.” He had used the word ‘viaduct’ a few months earlier, in his red book for Stoneaston, and he was to use it again, at Endsleigh and Leigh Court for example. Now on the face of it one might conclude that he had seen the viaduct at Mount Edgcumbe, had been inspired by it and had chosen to replicate the idea at Kenwood.
However, we have seen (note 1848) that Repton probably visited Mount Edgcumbe first in the autumn of 1792 and the second – killer – point to make is that he had first introduced the idea, as if it were very much a new thing, the year before at Garnons, in July 1791: “The House stands on a terrace a few feet above the level of the road, and along this terrace a walk leads to the Garden over the gate way by which carriages go from the house to the Stable Court: the idea is in some degree new, its effect will be very picturesque, as well as convenient; and the boldness of the Ground with the romantic scenery, justifies the singularity of the expedient, the same kind of terrace to the west yields a protected communication with the walks already made on that side of the house.”
Let us therefore conclude either that Repton’s viaducts and Mount Edgcumbe’s were conceived independently (which is most unlikely), or (much more likely) that Repton advised at Mount Edgcumbe. He may even have recommended the viaduct on that first visit late in 1792, since we know that he had viaducts on his mind at that time.’ [Notes from the Professor, trans. the Type-Setter]