William Leaf & Park Hill Streatham

from the 1875 sales particulars. British Library

A few weeks ago I wrote about the work of late Georgian society architect John Buonarotti Papworth. One of his commissions was for a house for the unknown but immensely wealthy businessman, philanthropist, art collector and garden enthusiast William Leaf.  Later the estate was bought by another, but much better known, immensely wealthy businessman, philanthropist, art collector  and garden enthusiast Henry Tate.

Amazingly the estate has escaped  the common fates of Victorian suburban villas, even grand ones:  demolition to make way for street after street of cheaper housing.   The escape has not been total but the core of the property still survives reasonably intact, which is even more amazing since the estate is only 6 miles from central London.

from the 1875 sales particulars. British Library

Read on to discover the story of Park Hill, Streatham… Continue reading

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Vulnerability Brown

On Wednesday I was in Birmingham for the annual  Historic Landscapes Assembly organised by The Gardens Trust.   It marked the launch of a significant report they had commissioned about Capability  Brown,  so although I don’t normally cover current events here I thought I’d use my 200th post  to spread the word.

I can hear the collective groan going up – yes we know the man was a genius but we’ve just  had a whole year of him and are beginning to get a bit B… off.  But the report wasn’t about him but the conservation challenges and opportunities facing many of his designed  landscapes, which are currently being collectively considered  for possible World Heritage Status.

First the good news: Langley Park in Bucks, restored with the aid of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

This report was written by Dr Sarah Rutherford and Sarah Couch , both experienced landscape historians with expertise in the conservation of historic landscapes and in the planning issues they face.  Much of the text of this post is taken directly from their work, and you’ll find the link to the whole document at the end.

But why is the report necessary? Surely we know that Brown’s surviving sites are precious and need to be looked after like any other great work of art?  If that’s the case why are there as many as 6  Brown parks, as well as a whole string of buildings in landscapes associated with him, on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register?.

And the not so good news:  Clandon Park in Surrey, is on the Heritage at Risk Register                    Photo Historic England Archives

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Belsay: “A self-contained Eden”

Belsay Hall, Historic England

Belsay is an extraordinary match made in heaven, or rather in the green rolling hills of Northumberland.  The estate is most famous for its stunning but stark Grecian revival mansion finished just 200 years ago in 1817, but tucked away in the grounds there is also a once important but now semi-ruined mediaeval castle that was enlarged and ‘domesticated’ in the early 17th century.

Belsay Castle, Historic England

But best of all the two buildings are linked by an extraordinary  garden created in the 19th within the the quarry from which the stone for the new hall was cut.

The Quarry Garden, English Heritage

Belsay was owned by the same family – the Middletons –  from the 13thc up until ownership passed to English Heritage in 1984. Although its buildings are now empty and echoing Belsay still maintains the same special quality that led Christopher Hussey, the architectural and garden writer, to describe it in 1940 as  “a self-contained Eden”. It is definitely  one of the architectural and horticultural  highlights of not just North East England but the whole country. Continue reading

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Ella and Florence Du Cane & their own gardens in Essex

“Spring in the Wild Garden” based on a painting by Ella  Du Cane of her  garden at Beacon Hill from J.Coutts, A Complete Book of Gardening, 1930

Last week’s post was about Ella and Florence du Cane two adventurous aristocratic young women who, in pre-war Edwardian England, wrote and illustrated garden-related travel books.  

Despite their popularity before 1914,  by 1918 the story was different. There were far fewer travel books published – and none at all for the sisters – but there may well have been other factors at work.   The family estate, Braxted, had to be sold to pay their brother’s debts, so after her war service Florence returned to live with their mother at Mountains, the former dower house. She also took seriously to horticulture, not only taking over the running of Mountains but making a career of garden design. Meanwhile,  although some of Ella’s  paintings continued to be  used to illustrate books she spent most of her time at nearby Beacon Hill House, painting and creating a new garden around what was  once a small, but soon enlarged, cottage.

Extract from OS 25″ series: Essex n XLVI.13 
showing both Mountains and Beacon Hill House                                                                                       Revised: 1920 Published: 1923. National Library of Scotland


Both gardens were soon being recognized as interesting and significant and were reported on by Christopher Hussey in Country Life, almost in tandem, in 1925.  All the photos come from the articles on  14 March & 2nd May respectively and have the original captions unless otherwise stated.

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Two Essex Girls & the exotic: Ella & Florence Du Cane

Azaleas from Flowers and Gardens of Japan by Ella and Florence du Cane, 1908

My title is a bit unfair. The Essex Girls I’m going to talk about are not those caricatured on TOWI or in popular comedy but two aristocratic young ladies from the county who not only created gardens there but also travelled the world and wrote and illustrated a series of travel books. These were mainly about gardens and introduced a touch of the exotic and colour, to their British readers.

Aristocratic women in the 19thc were conventionally taught to paint and draw but few made a living out of it. That would have been thought shocking. But one woman who did was Ella Du Cane. The daughter of a Tory MP and colonial governor, after the death of her father, she set off with her elder sister Florence to travel the world.

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The Picturesque Traveller discovers the Lakes

Lakeland Landscape, unknown artist,  York Museums Trust 

Last week’s post about Anthony Devis showed how our understanding and appreciation of the landscape has changed radically over the centuries.  Until the beginning of the 18thc wilderness and untamed nature, was generally unappreciated with most art, literature and aesthetic taste focused on the tranquillity of pastoral scenes.  However philosophers like the Earl of Shaftesbury then began to take more interest in wild nature.

Sir George Beaumont and Joseph Farington painting a waterfall,by Thomas Hearne, 1777,           Wordsworth Trust

This developed as the century progressed and saw the emergence  of a new aesthetic category which explained how wild and untamed  scenery could evoke a response which was not the displeasure associated with ugliness, but pleasure mixed with fear.

Previously unregarded parts of the country  such as the Lake District, the Peak District, Wales and Scotland began to attract visitors. As transport and roads improved so more and more travellers  toured the country  seeking “picturesque beauty” and “the sense of the sublime” in nature.

Who for instance, would previously have thought that Windermere, looking like an outpost of  the North Atlantic coast in a force 9 gale, would be a suitable subject for a painting?

Belle Isle, Windermere, in a Storm,  Philip de Loutherbourg, Lakeland Arts Trust


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Anthony Devis: Georgian topographical artist

No it’s not a repeat. It’s true there was a post about the 18thc artist  Arthur Devis a few month ago but this one is about his half-brother Anthony.  While Arthur specialised in conversation piece portraits Anthony turned to topography and became one of the country’s first successful landscape painters.

The Old Hall from the Park, TableyHouse, Cheshire.  

Anthony’s career spanned more than 60 years and unlike his half-brother he managed to adapt his style to changing Georgian taste and fashion both in painting and appreciation of landscape.  Read on to discover how his works  give us an insight into the changing perception of nature and the countryside in the 18thc.

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On Don and Don and Don and Don…

I know Monty may be the only Don you’ve heard of but this is not  a post about him. Instead its about some of his 18th and 19thc ancestors who were also well-known horticulturists and botanists.  The family came from the county of Angus, then known as Forfarshire, in eastern Scotland where George Don had a nursery and what he called a botanic garden,  before rather unexpectedly ending up as Superintendant of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.

He had five sons who all followed him into gardening, and two of whom became celebrated in their day. The eldest, George junior, went plant hunting for the  Royal Horticultural Society  before becoming a botanical writer.  David, the second eldest, after working in a nursery became the Librarian at the Linnean Society  and then Professor of Botany at Kings College. 

Read on to find out more about this extraordinary family and their legacy.

George Do's signature from http://linnean-online.org/64852/

George Don’s signature  Linnean Society


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“Fresh Air & Fun”: Ada Salter and the Beautification of Bermondsey

Ada Salter

London is a city of great surprises and has many hidden corners and almost unknown treasures. I thought I knew it fairly well but there are always surprises and I’ve just found two of them in the same patch.  Did you know, because I certainly didn’t,  that  the remains of one of Edward III’s favourite country houses still survive on the banks of the Thames?   Perhaps the reason I didn’t know it is because it’s in a district which long had a reputation for slums and poverty, and being more than a bit rough around the edges.

The remains of Edward III’s Manor House on Bermondsey Wall, David Marsh May 2017

Of course over recent years nowhere in London is safe from gentrification and this area is no exception.  A new tube station and proximity to central London – that’s an understatement since its within a few minutes walk of Tower Bridge – have led to massive amounts of redevelopment.  So I finally corrected my ignorance of Bermondsey  by going on a guided London walk with Sue McCarthy of Capital Walks. [Highly recommended – and no she’s not paying me to say that!]  You can read a short photo report of what the walk covers here.

The view from Ada’s statue which stands just across the road from Edward III’s manor house.

It focussed on the life and work of Ada Salter, a pioneer of ethical Socialism  who was elected the first woman mayor in London, and first Labour woman mayor in Britain.  Read on to find out more about her radical – and successful – campaign to improve health and housing, provide gardens and beautify Bermondsey.

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Boys Toys and Shanks’s Ponies

What on earth is this? And what’s it got to do with cutting the grass?

Sitting on the terrace overlooking my garden a few weeks back in the heat wave I was watching the lawn go yellow and then brown, except of course for all the pesky weeds which continued to grow cheerfully and provided a bit of height and colour. Now autumn has arrived it’s all change and I’m sitting at my desk  watching the rain pour down for the third day running and watching the lawn turn green again, with all the pesky weeds looking even happier. So as soon as it stops it will be time to cut the grass again…

Trust John Claudius Loudon to be the first to notice  the solution that will save me having to get out the scythe…

from The Gardener’s Magazine 1831, p.611


So today’s post is an as-little-technical-jargon-as-possible look  at one of the first “boys toys”: Edwin Budding’s  lawn mower  and some of  its descendants… Continue reading

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