Life beyond Elmbridge
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was the third President of the United States of America, serving two terms between 1801 and 1809. He was born in Shadwell, Virginia, the third of ten children. When his father Peter, a planter and surveyor, died in 1757, the teenaged Jefferson inherited a substantial tract of land and several slaves.
An able and dedicated scholar, Jefferson, in common with his presidential predecessor John Adams, became a lawyer, entering the Virginia bar in 1767. Jefferson's political life began shortly after the outbreak of the American War of Independence when he was elected to the Second Continental Congress in June 1775. There he met and became firm friends with John Adams. A major contributor to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence a year later, Jefferson became Governor of Virginia in 1779 and a member of Congress at the end of the Revolutionary War.
Following the death of his young wife Martha in 1782, Thomas entered a long period of depression. He never remarried. Partly as a means of helping him overcome his persistent grief, Jefferson's political friends persuaded him to travel to France, where, in 1784, he became trade commissioner and then succeeded Benjamin Franklin as ambassador. His tenure of office coincided with the onset of the French revolution. Jefferson left behind on his plantation a mansion which he named Monticello, a project that he held dear and which he continued to work on until his death. While in Europe, he took the opportunity to visit and derive ideas from many of the great houses of France and England.
Life in Elmbridge
Jefferson's only visit to London lasted from 12th March to 26th April 1786. He was not much impressed with the city's architecture which he described as "in the most wretched stile (sic) I ever saw," but, together with John Adams who was American representative in London at the time, he visited the landscape gardens at Painshill, Cobham. There he saw the Temple of Bacchus, a folly completed by Charles Hamilton, the owner of Painshill, in 1762, and is believed to have greatly admired it.
The Temple of Bacchus gradually fell into disrepair until all sign of it above ground had disappeared by the 1940s. Recent restoration work, however, will culminate with its rebuilding. Louis B Susman, the USA Ambassador to the UK visited Painshill in 2011 to mark the 225th anniversary of the visit of the future second and third Presidents of his country, and unveiled an architectural model of the Temple.
The Ambassador remarked: "One of the great pleasures of being American Ambassador to the United Kingdom is discovering the many deep roots which link our two countries. Painshill is a fine example of the historic ties which are shared between the United States and the United Kingdom."