In 1754, the celebrated actor David Garrick purchased Hampton House (now Garrick’s Villa) which overlooks the river Thames at Hampton. He commissioned Robert Adam to improve the house, adding a classical portico and orangery. At some point in 1755 he decided to build a garden folly by the riverside which he intended to dedicate to his muse Shakespeare as a ‘temple’ to the playwright whose works he had performed to great acclaim throughout his career. Garrick used the temple to house his extensive collection of Shakespearean relics and for entertaining his family and friends.
The temple now houses an exhibition about Garrick himself, featuring a number of reproductions of works by major 18th century artists, including Gainsborough, Reynolds, Hogarth and Zoffany.
The temple was built in the Classical style popularised by the Italian architect Palladio with an Ionic portico, four columns wide by three deep, flanking the entrance. Several steps lead up to the portico. The temple's architect is unknown as Garrick’s decision to build it is not recorded in his own papers. Robert Adam and Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown have both been suggested as possibilities. An ‘Ionic Temple’ of similar design stands in the gardens of Chiswick House a few miles away. This may well have been the inspiration for Garrick's Temple, Garrick had spent his honeymoon in June of 1749 at Chiswick House, home of Lord and Lady Burlington. The Burlingtons were close friends of Garricks and had acted as guardians to Eva Maria (an Austrian ballet dancer) before the marriage.
On 4 August 1755, his neighbour and friend Horace Walpole wrote to a correspondent: "I have contracted a sort of intimacy with Garrick, who is my neighbour. He affects to study my taste; I lay it all upon you – he admires you. He is building a graceful temple to his master Shakespeare and I am going to adorn the outside, since his modesty would not let me decorate it within, as I proposed, with these mottos:
Quod spiro et placeo, si placea, tuum est.
That I spirit have and nature,
That sense breaths in ev’ry feature
That I please, if please I do,
Shakespear, all I owe to you.”