As I said at the end of my last post sets of heraldic beasts became rarer in Elizabethan times, as imagery became much more focussed on the queen herself. however there was a revival of interest in the early 19th century, and again more recently, as you can see in a slightly funkier way!
This is not an attempt at a comprehensive survey of heraldic beasts in gardens but just a brief look at a few sites, and as always, I’d love to hear from anyone about other places where they exist or existed.
But lets start with a 17thc example…and no – this is not a concrete lion from a Jacobean bad-taste garden centre – at least I don’t think it is. I found references [using our database] to two new sets being created in the first half of the 17thc. Both were at Sheriff Hutton in Yorkshire where Sir Arthur Ingram built ‘a very fair new Lodge … with a fair garden enclosed with a brick wall with mount walks and fair ornaments’. He sent roses up from London with instructions to ‘set them at every corner of the knots and cut the privet into beasts ‘ (Ingram family papers quoted in Country Life, 1966). Maybe the privet didn’t take very well to being topiarised because in 1637 his son, Sir Thomas Ingram, employed Thomas Ventris, a sculptor of York, to carve twenty heraldic beasts in stone for the garden.
Like so many other houses, Sheriff Hutton has undergone many changes, so although the lion in the photo, and its colleague on the other gatepost, may just possibly be survivors from Ingram’s set, I suspect they are more likely to date from the early 19thc when the grounds were remodelled. If anyone has any further information please let me know.
The revival of interest in mediaeval history and style that started with Sir Walter Scott’s novels soon shifted into architectural forms. One of the first places to reflect this was Knebworth in Hertfordshire. Bought by Sir Robert Lytton in 1490 it has been the home of his descendants ever since. In common with many of his contemporaries Sir Robert contributed to the Tudor building boom, and built himself a new, four-sided courtyard house attached to the existing 15thc gatehouse. This remained largely unaltered for over 300 years, but then, the Regency chatelaine, Elizabeth Bulwer-Lytton, decided the Tudor mansion was ‘old-fashioned and too large’. She had three sides of the quadrangle demolished, gothicized the remaining wing and added eight towers and battlements. Later, her son the novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton added further embellishments. One of its most prominent features is a set of heraldic beasts on the roof., although there were never any, as far as I can tell, in the gardens.
Last December the Knebworth House Education & Preservation Trust which now owns and runs the estate has replaced a pair of gryphons on the main entrance gates. The original figures, a much worn pair known as Mr and Mrs Clarence will be moved into new places to guard the tropical gardens shortly.
The full story can be found at:
There was also a set of heraldic beasts on the roof of Arley Hall in Cheshire a house that was rebuilt in the 1830s in the Jacobethan style for Rowland Egerton-Warburton. Some of the beasts remain there but 4 have been moved into the award-winning gardens, which also incidentally feature what is thought to be the first herbaceous border in the country.
Beasts overlook the formal gardens of another Cheshire estate, Crewe Hall, which were laid out by Nesfield between 1840-1850, with terraces probably designed by E.M.Barry featuring lions, griffins and other heraldic creatures. These mimic the ornate statues which decorate the hall’s main staircase.
At St Donat’s Castle, near Cardiff, the heraldic beasts actually stand in the garden in a more traditional Tudor way. The steep terraced site must have been one of the most spectacular Tudor gardens ever created, and its structure still clearly survives. [I am going to write a post about it one day soon]
In the early 1900s when the castle was being rescued from disrepair, a “Tudor garden” with yew hedges and box edged beds, and a set of stone beasts, was laid out out on one of the terraces which run down to the sea. It can be seen in the middle of the aerial shot below.
The Queen’s coronation in 1953, which was the trigger for the Hall Place topiary beasts in my last post, also saw the installation of a set of ten royal beasts outside Westminster Abbey.
Each was approximately six foot high, and modelled in plaster by sculptor James Woodford. Afterwards, too vulnerable to remain out of doors, they were removed first to Hampton Court Palace then, in 1957, to St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle. In 1959 they moved again to their current home in Canada where they have been painted in their full heraldic colours (although originally only the shields were coloured).
After the coronation a replica set was made in Portland stone and these are much better known because they are now lined up outside the great glasshouse at Kew where they are seen by millions every year.
More recently a pared-down contemporary set of beasts has been installed at Penshurst Place in Kent.
The brightly coloured painted poles are the focus of the Heraldic Garden and are all topped with symbols of the Sidney family and their connections.
Another much more ornate and meticulous set graces the grounds of a modern Welsh ‘castle’, Castell Gryn, near Rhuddlan. It’s a wonderful modern castle built between 1977-82 for architect John Taylor. I wish I lived close enough to visit [or had been rich enough to buy it when it was for sale recently!] Not only does it have a heraldic beats but a shell house and many sculptures, plaques and other garden features.
For more images see:
and for a fuller account of the house and its history see:
My favourite set though, are the whackiest yet. Made out of scrap materials such old beer and cola cans they were designed by Cambridgeshire artist, Tom Hiscocks for the Diamond Jubilee in 2012. He explained that when he visited the beasts in Kew Gardens “I had a strong sense that their spirits were compromised by the way they were represented. They said: ‘we’re stuck in poses that were for a particularly formal occasion 60 years ago. We have evolved. Can you help?’ And this is the result!
For more about Hiscocks and his philosophy see his website:
and that of his publisher:
If you know of any other sets of topiary or more solid royal beasts please let me know and I’ll return to the subject to feature them at some point.