J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Mayburgh Henge, Eamont Bridge, Penrith 1831

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 26 Verso:
Mayburgh Henge, Eamont Bridge, Penrith 1831
Turner Bequest CCLXVI 26a
Pencil on white wove paper, 114 x 187 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The subject of Mayburgh Henge, or ‘Penrith Table’ as it was referred to, was proposed by Robert Cadell and Sir Walter Scott as a possible frontispiece illustration to The Bridal of Triermain, volume 11 of Scott’s Poetical Works.1 The alternative suggestions were ‘Skiddaw’, and either ‘Namworth Castle’ (Naworth Castle) or Castle Rock near St Johns-in-the-Vale as the vignette illustration.
All of these subjects are recorded between folios 18 verso–30 of this sketchbook (D25796–D25819). Mayburgh Henge is sketched on folios 24 verso–28 and 28 verso–29. The sketches include panoramic views of the earthwork from several angles, studies of the stone from the four points of the compass, and views of the hills in the distance. Although Turner tried out a few different views he seems to have been quite confident in his choice of viewpoint, sketching it three times.
On 6 August, while Turner was at Abbotsford with Scott and Cadell, Mayburgh was finally selected to be the vignette rather than frontispiece illustration. Turner’s sketches use the circular mound to create a strong oval composition with obvious potential for a vignette; seeing these may have convinced Scott and Cadell to use this subject in that format.
Jan Piggot identified this and the following seven pages as depicting Mayburgh Henge (folios 26 verso–30).2 To these can be added folios 24 verso–26 which show similar sites.
The drawing on this and the following page (folios 27) formed the basis of Turner’s watercolour, Mayburgh circa 1832 (whereabouts unknown).3 Standing on the southern end of the circular earthwork bank, we look down upon the henge with its single remaining standing stone (there were originally four). Trees fringe most of the banks though there is apparently a gap where Turner stood to make the picture and another at the right where the eastern entrance to the site is. There is no sign of the building (probably Penrith Castle) which is shown on folio 25 verso (D25810), and which was incorporated at the top left of the final design. In the distance at the centre of the drawing is Beacon Hill, with its beacon dark against the sky north of Penrith at the far right of the present page.

Thomas Ardill
September 2009

The original list was drawn up by Scott and Cadell on 19 March 1831, and on 1 April a revised list was sent to Turner. See Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London 1980, p.243.
Piggott 1993, p.88.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.429 no.1091.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Mayburgh Henge, Eamont Bridge, Penrith 1831 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, September 2009, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-mayburgh-henge-eamont-bridge-penrith-r1134179, accessed 29 May 2022.