“O” is for the octagonal cupola on Ashdown’s roof. A cupola is defined as “a small, often dome-like structure on top of a building.” As at Ashdown, it usually crowns a larger roof and in Ashdown’s case is built as a “lantern” of timber and glass. This style is a classic of Restoration architecture and can be seen elsewhere, at Belton House in Lincolnshire and at Kingston Lacy in Dorset. This photograph shows the Ashdown cupola as it was before last year’s restoration project.
The Kyp drawing of Ashdown that dates from the early 18th century suggests that the original octagonal cupola featured wooden panels in the lantern as well as panes of glass. Certainly we know that the style of the cupola has changed over the 350 years of its existence; successive renovations at times reduced it to four panels, increased it again to eight, displayed trompe l’oeil panels and sometimes replaced the plain glass with coloured panes. This photograph, taken from one of the interpretation panels in the Information Centre, dates from the early 20th century and shows restoration work taking place on the cupola and roof.
The lantern style of the cupola, with so much glass, allows lots of light into the stairway below. In the 19th century there was a lamp lit in the cupola at night, giving Ashdown its name of “the lighthouse of the Downs.” More than one traveller of the track from Lambourn across the top of the Downs used it to navigate by.