Clarence Elliott: garden writer and alpine specialist

Clarence Elliott from Illustrated London News xxxx

Clarence Elliott                                          from Illustrated London News,                 Jan 11th 1958

This post was inspired by an information board in the Alpine Garden area of Wisley. But unless you’re an alpine plant aficionado  or a fan of gardening columns in long-defunct magazines, you probably haven’t heard of  the person mentioned on it: Clarence Elliott.  He was a founder member of the Alpine Garden Society and began the popularisation of sink and trough gardens. If you hadn’t heard of him you may well have heard of the nursery he founded, and in particular one or two of the plants he introduced to cultivation.

Information board in the Alpine Garden at Wisley, Januray 2016

Information board in the Alpine Garden at Wisley, January 2016

But Clarence Elliott wasn’t just a gardener but a naturalist and plant hunter too. He collected for both Kew and Edinburgh botanic gardens.

And after he ‘retired’ he began contributing a weekly column to Illustrated London News which he continued to write until well into his 80s.

Read on to find out more about this influential and far-sighted horticulturist ….

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A conversation with Arthur Devis

portrait of Sarah Lascelles, Mrs Christopher Lethieullier,(c) National Trust, Uppark; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In the early 18thc a style of portraiture developed, known as the conversation piece, which often depicted the sitter or sitters outside in a garden or parkland setting. 

The greatest exponent of this style was Arthur Devis, who painted the rising gentry and professional classes of Georgian England at ease in and around their own homes and estates. 


Given that we are used to using paintings of gardens and landscapes as good evidence for the appearance of a site when the picture was undertaken,  can these conversation piece portraits be trusted to give us a truthful idea of the 18thc garden?

Read on to find out more about Devis, and the reliability [or maybe not!] of his work as useful evidence…

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Sir Charles Isham: “A Gulliver amongst the Lilliputians”

Although this post is about Sir Charles Isham, it’s also about garden gnomes.  If you didn’t smile at the thought of  a whole blogpost about twee garden ornaments in dubious taste, you probably grimaced or shuddered at the prospect because gnomes do seem to have the ability to cause strong and divisive reactions.     Indidentally why is it gnomes and not elves, sprites, pixies, boggarts, goblins, or leprechauns who live by the side of garden ponds, or lurk in our shrubberies?

There are plenty of  books and websites about gnomes – which of course are now quite  big business – but generally they are not really interested in their history and make little reference back to any documentary or material evidence. That’s a great pity as the real story of their introduction to Britain  is fascinating.  So,  if you haven’t worked out the connection yet between the little men in red hats and Sir Charles read on and  find out more about the origin of the gnome in our gardens…

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Come into the garden Maud…

I was looking for a lighthearted piece to counter some of my more recent serious ones, and shortly afterwards happened to be passing the house where Marie Lloyd, the music hall star, used to live. One of her set pieces was the sentimental song “Come into the garden Maud” and I thought it might be fun to research that a bit more and find out why Maud was being invited, and indeed if she ever did end up at the garden gate?

Come into the garden, Maud,
      For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
      I am here at the gate alone;
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
      And the musk of the rose is blown.
The author...not their usual look. Any idea who?

The author…but not their usual look. Any idea who?

Whatever was I thinking? Light-hearted is the last word you would use to describe the background to Maud. It’s not about wannabee  illicit cuddles in the shrubbery as one might imagine from the better known song extracts, but a story based around insanity, sexual frustration, hallucinations, premature death and even murder amongst other joyful themes. Read on if you want to be depressed by the real story behind the song, although there are also some more cheerful comments about the author’s garden.

from an 1877 edition anon

from an 1877 edition of Maud, anon artist

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Marion Cran

I often start these posts with a comments such as ‘here’s someone else you won’t have heard of”,  although there’s often a good reason for the subject’s lack of fame … but today’s subject is someone who really has been unjustly neglected.

Marion Cran was the first woman gardening broadcaster as well as a highly successful and popular garden writer.  You can judge how well she was  renowned at the time by her inclusion, along with the still ‘famous’ Beverley Nicholls,  in a comic rhyme by Reginald Arkell in 1934.

Beverley Nicholls and Marion Cran

Hadn’t been born when the world began

That is the reason I must confess

Why the Garden of Eden was not a success

md12604509946Marion travelled widely writing about gardens abroad as well as Britain in 15 gardening books, and also produced a couple of novels, and assorted other books.

She created two interesting gardens, one of which is still basically intact and being restored  in keeping with her ‘spirit’. Yet her success there wasn’t matched by a similar success elsewhere. She often had financial problems and her private life was something of a mess with 3 husbands and a child out of wedlock – hardly a proper state of affairs for a respectable vicar’s daughter in the early 20thc.

Coggers at Benenden, phoo by Louise and Colin, 2014,

Coggers at Benenden, photo by Louise and Colin, 2014,                   

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The Hanging Gardens of Stoke Edith

screenshotThe British galleries in the Victoria & Albert Museum hold many treasures but probably none more interesting to lovers and historians of gardens than two large early 18thc wall hangings from Stoke Edith in Herefordshire.  They show elaborate formal garden scenes in the Anglo-Dutch style of late 17th century.

George London, the great landscape designer and royal gardener, is known to advised at Stoke Edith in 1692 so it  is likely that pleasure grounds there were  laid out around  then, in a similar formal style  to that depicted these amazing embroideries.

screenshotIt is tempting to think that the hangings depict the actual gardens that London designed for Paul Foley, who was Speaker of the House of Commons, and if one believes family tradition that they were made by the women of Foley’s  family that would be more than a possibility.   Unfortunately this view, which used to be shared by Historic England, has been disputed more recently by experts at the V&A who believe that the sheer scale of the hangings, and the consistently high quality of the workmanship suggest that this was unlikely to have been an amateur affair. They argue instead that the hangings were bought from a professional workshop and probably represent a pastiche of contemporary fashionable garden features rather than  Stoke Edith itself. There is certainly evidence of the purchase of other hangings for the house [Country Life, 9 Aug 1956].

Whatever the truth read on to discover more about Stoke Edith and what the hangings tell us about garden design of the period… Continue reading

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Thomas Bewick’s Gardens and Gardeners

Augustus and Anthony: Or a Rational Education Preferable to Riches,

Augustus and Anthony: Or a Rational Education Preferable to Riches,1796

Thomas Bewick, who was born in rural Northumberland in 1753, was an author, illustrator and publisher and became  ‘the father of modern wood engraving’.   His work is almost always instantly recognisable and his History of British Birds is really the first field guide for naturalists.  His natural history books are his best known and greatest legacy but what is probably less appreciated is that he also wrote and  illustrated very cheap books of fables and other moral tales for children.

A natural history of reptiles, serpents, and insects, 1820 ed

A natural history of reptiles, serpents, and insects, 1820 ed

All of his books contain vignettes or tailpieces [space fillers at the end of the text] in which Bewick often made subtle social comments or jokes.  They often feature landscapes and sometimes gardens,  either as locations or to provide exemplars and Bewick’s beautiful engravings often reveal all sorts of little details about contemporary rural life, which don’t often appear in more standard, and largely unillustrated, texts,

Hanging the washing, from The History of British Birds, 1797

Hanging the Washing, from The History of British Birds, 1797

so read on to find out more about these miniature masterpieces and what they can tell us about gardens and gardeners… Continue reading

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Avoiding sex with Mrs Moriarty

Gorteria rigens from Fifty Plates of Greenhouse Plants, 1807

Gorteria rigens from Fifty Plates of Greenhouse Plants, 1807

In November 2015 I wrote a post about Augusta Withers, complaining that,  as is the case with many female botanical artists, little was known about her. However by comparison with today’s subject, we had a veritable plethora of biographical information!  Mrs H. M. Moriarty is almost a complete mystery. She published two novels and two editions of a book of paintings of greenhouse plants but other than that I can find very little trace of her.

Protea lepidicarpos

Protea lepidicarpos

Commentators on botanical artists repeat the same few sentences taken from her own  brief introduction to her book of plants but nobody seems to know more. Yet she was presumably reasonably well known in her day, seems to have been well-connected and and her books are mentioned by George Johnson in his 1829 History of English Gardening even though unfortunately he too gives no other information.

So enjoy the little we can say about her, and the pictures – all of which come from her second book, Fifty Plates of Greenhouse Plants [1807]  unless otherwise stated – and  if you think you know anything more get in touch! Continue reading

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Crompton and Fawkes

The Wentworth Castle Conservatory before restoration.

Wentworth Castle in Yorkshire boasts a magnificent Victorian conservatory behind the main 18thc building.   It was built in 1885-6 by Crompton & Fawkes, an Essex-based company who were one of the leading manufacturers of horticultural buildings in Britain at the time.  As you can see from the photo it was until recently in an extremely dilapidated state.  However thanks to the efforts of the  Wentworth Castle and Stainborough Park Heritage Trust, it has now been beautifully restored.

Unfortunately, as far is known, Wentworth’s  is the only surviving example of Crompton and Fawkes’s  work, which given the number they must have built, and the obvious quality of their work, is a sad reflection on the preservation of our gardening heritage.

Lean to Conservatory, No.370 from their 1899 catalogue

Lean to Conservatory, No.370                             from Crompton & Fawkes 1899 catalogue

However the company did leave behind several catalogues of their work. These include not only the usual line illustrations of their various ranges, with dimensions and prices [would that you could still buy such an elaborate  32ft  x 14ft conservatory  as the one on the left for only £93 today!] but photographs of some of their grander commissions headed by Wentworth Castle.

Read on to find out more about origins of the company and its extraordinarily gifted founders….

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The survival of Wentworth Castle

In 1817 the Rev. Lionel Berguer published “Trifles in Verse”, a collection of  [to put it politely] turgid amateur poetry. The first of these almost unreadable pieces  is dedicated to his friend Frederick Vernon Wentworth. It conjures up a gentle Arcadian landscape whereas the reality was  that Frederick had inherited a magnificent Georgian mansion, complete with art collection, extensive parkland and enough coal mines and farmland to make him an extremely wealthy man…. and all at the age of 9.

This is my third post about Wentworth Castle near Barnsley, an amazing living archive of a house, garden and landscape. The first post   looked at the work of Thomas Wentworth, first  Earl of Strafford [ catch up on that here ] , and the second  at the work of his son William, the second earl.  [catch upon that  here ]

This one takes the story from Frederick’s inheritance in 1804, through the estate’s 19thc heyday to its rapid decline, and slow but sure restoration by the Wentworth Castle Heritage Trust.


Frederick Vernon-Wentworth, from the guidebook

Frederick Vernon-Wentworth, from the guidebook

When Frederick eventually came of age he set about restoring the estate and developing the gardens. It was a huge task  but luckily for him there was coal on the estate and the mining  ensured that he had sufficient income to be able to do it in style.

In 1826 he married Lady Ann Brudenell Bruce, daughter of the Marquis of Ailesbury and began to take his part in county life, serving as sheriff and standing for Parliament.

Some small part of the rivalry with his Fitzwilliam cousins at Wentworth Woodhouse still survived, but at least part of this seems to have been diverted into horticulture.  In September 1836, for example, his gardener, William Batley won 1st prize for his vegetables at the Sheffield Horticultural Show held in the Botanic Gardens in front of “a brilliant assemblage of beauty and fashion”, beating Earl Fitzwilliam into 3rd place. The Earl in his turn swept the board in the fruit classes, particularly with a tray of nearly 30 varieties of fruit lauded as  “one of the richest specimens of the kind ever seen at public exhibition” and beating Frederick’s gardener into 3rd place. The Earl also snatched  the prize for a display of 6 orchids from under the nose of the Duke of Devonshire and his gardener Joseph Paxton. [Yorkshire Gazette – 17 Sept 1836].  

from The Sheffield Independent, and Yorkshire and Derbyshire Advertiser (Sheffield, England), Saturday, July 07, 1838; pg. 6; Issue 891. (5498 words)

from The Sheffield Independent, July 07, 1838

Frederick’s wealth also enabled him to take full advantage of the discoveries of  plant hunters like Robert Fortune, Augustine Henry and the Lobb brothers. In particular he caught orchidmania,  growing these exotic imports  in a new range of glasshouses heated by hot water pipework.

Renanthera coccinea Lour. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, t. 2956-3038, vol. 57 [ser. 2, vol. 4]: t. 2997 (1830) [W.J. Hooker]

The Chinese Air Plant or           Renanthera coccinea 
Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, t. 2956-3038, vol. 57 [ser. 2, vol. 4]: t. 2997 (1830) [W.J. Hooker]

However William Batley was obviously a top rate gardener because in 1847, for example, he won as many as 26 prizes at the Barnsley Horticultural Show. He died in 1852 and was succeeded  by his son James who was to remain in place for more than 50 years and  prizes continued to roll in across the board for all kinds of fruit and vegetables but also exotic and greenhouse plants.  One of Batley’s  awards was for “a singular plant called the Chinese air plant, which carried off first prize among the orchids.” [Leeds Intelligencer – 22 Sept 1855]

Frederick obviously took a great interest in the gardens and carried out a lot of improvements and innovations. Amongst them was the creation of what is now known as the Victorian Flower Garden. This was  on the site of the bowling green and where the second earl had installed the Chinese seat. In the 1890s after Frederick’s death it was redesigned as an Italian garden, which were then extremely fashionable, and then again in the early 20thc as a rose garden. The present layout dates from the 1980s and is a recreation based based on archival photographs.

David Marsh, April 2016

David Marsh, April 2016


Rhododendron maccabeanum, David Marsh, April 2016

Rhododendron maccabeanum, David Marsh, April 2016

Another of Frederick’s passions seems to have been rhododendrons, and he began planting large numbers of newly discovered species. The gardens now hold the National Collection of both species and hardy hybrid rhododendrons,  of williamsii hybrid camellias and that of species magnolias.  These grow in several areas of the garden, particularly in the Middle Garden, informal wilderness and shrubberies [8,14,15 and 16 on the map]DSCF3873

The informal wilderness, David Marsh, April 2016

The informal wilderness, David Marsh, April 2016

Frederick also seems to have altered the use of some other garden areas, since, when the Union Jack garden was being restored,  it became clear that at some stage it must have been used for the display of bedding plants. This was only realised when the clearance of overgrown trees and shrubs allowed the germination of dormant seeds of plants like calceolaria and nemesia which sprang up all over the place!

One of the Victorian fern-pattern seats in the wilderness, david Marsh, April 2016

One of the Victorian fern-pattern seats in the wilderness, David Marsh, April 2016

The informal wilderness and shrubberies below Stainborough Castle, although originally planted as a setting for the castle in the 18thc were also probably altered and added to by Frederick.  There are now fine stumperies and  groups of ferns and tree-ferns, as well as some nice Victorian fern pattern seats in this area.


Although Frederick took some part in public life in his earlier days at Wentworth, serving as sheriff and standing for Parliament, he later seems to have preferred a more private and less visible public  role.  He was a generous donor to good causes, giving money for new churches, public buildings, and emergency appeals as well land to extend a public park in Barnsley. He was happy to open the house  on request so that visitors could see the extensive collection of paintings, and to allow access to Stainborough Park  for the enjoyment of workers from the neighbouring towns on special holidays such as the Barnsley Feast.

Looking down into Stainborough Park from near Archers Hill Gate David Marsh, April 2016

Looking down into Stainborough Park from near Archers Hill Gate
David Marsh, April 2016

Sheffield Independent - Saturday 24 August 1850

Frederick was to be the owner of Wentworth Castle for  80 years, as he did not die until 1885 just 8 days short of his 90th birthday. However several years before that he had left Wentworth and  moved  to Hastings where he died. As a result  his death attracted surprisingly little local news coverage, although his funeral in Worsborough attracted a few  mentions. He left  a personal fortune of nearly a million pounds in his will which made his son  Thomas one of the wealthiest commoners in England.

Thomas Vernon-Wentworth. image from the guide book

Thomas Vernon-Wentworth. image from the guide book

Like his father Thomas was a retiring man but he was also a moderniser. In 1885 he began installing electric lighting in the Castle, making Wentworth one of the earliest great houses to have it. [Leeds Times 15 Aug 1885].  There was, of course, no National Grid and electricity  had to be generated on site, which required two steam boiler engines and two dynamos to be put in as well. Much of the work was done by Colonel Rooke Crompton, an electrical pioneer, whose company, Crompton and Fawkes,  also designed and built the amazing conservatory, with its underfloor heating and electric lighting.  “The Iron Winter Garden” was  used by the company as the first featured building in their lavishly illustrated catalogue.  [Crompton & Fawkes will be the subject of the next post]

Horticultural buildings and their fittings : by Crompton & Fawkes, Chelmsford, 1899

from Horticultural Buildings and their Fittings : by Crompton & Fawkes, Chelmsford, 1899

Portrait of Prince Albert Victor of Wales, by Bassano, c.1888 National POrtrait Gallery

Portrait of Prince Albert Victor of Wales, by Bassano, c.1888 National Portrait Gallery

The construction of such a technically advanced building was apparently part of a campaign to attract a royal visit – and it succeeded because Prince Albert Victor, second in line to the throne, stayed for a month at Christmas 1888 and later again in 1889.

David Marsh, April 2016

David Marsh, April 2016


from Horticultural buildings and their fittings , the catalogue of Crompton & Fawkes, 1899







The conservatory was planted with an enormous array of tropical plants, in open ground but also in hundreds of pots ranged along its stone shelving for display, although they were actually grown and ‘stored’ when not in flower in other greenhouses nearby.

A 1910 photo by J.Batley showing the conservatory in its full splendour from

A 1910 photo by James Batley, the head gardener showing the conservatory in its full splendour from

David Marsh, April 2016

David Marsh, April 2016

The Journal of Horticulture reported in 1887 that “the roof throughout is gracefully festooned with healthy and well-flowered specimens of Passifloras, Tacsonias, Cobea scandens and other suitable plants. When lit up by means of the electric light, with which this fine house as well as the whole of the establishment is furnished, the effect must be charming and fairy-like in its nature.”

Another feature thought to have been put in place for a possible royal visit was the azalea garden cut into the slope uphill between  the conservatory and the Union Jack garden. Laid out symmetrically along gravel paths it is carefully terraced and one part has now been partly developed into a rock garden planted with bulbs and alpines.

James Batley [standing 3rd from right] and his staff including his son and successor George [2nd left]. Image taken from the guidebook

James Batley [standing 3rd from right] and his staff including his son and successor George [2nd left]. Image taken from the guidebook

One of the great things about Wentworth is the enormous archive of information about the gardens, and especially about its gardeners. There is a nice display in the new lobby to restored conservatory about them. During the 19thc it was a Batley family affair – with 3 generations succeeding to the post of head gardener in turn, starting with William in 1826 and ending with  George in 1915.  It was James Batley who ran the gardens for almost 50 years who was the head gardener at the time the conservatory opened. He then had a staff of 12, divided into 3 teams who looked after the pleasure gardens, the glasshouses and the kitchen garden.

Lady Lucy's Walk,

Lady Lucy’s Walk,

The Times, 2nd Jan 1902

From the obituary of Thomas Vernon Wentworth,  The Times, 2nd Jan 1902

Thomas Vernon-Wentworth died “much beloved” in 1902 at Aldeburgh on the family’s Suffolk estates. He was succeeded by his son Bruce, who had been a Captain in Grenadier Guards before being elected Tory MP for Brighton.  He continued the enhancement of the estate, adding  the balustraded terrace in front of the Baroque wing of the house in 1911. The pillars of  the ironwork gates have armorial supporters made by John Nost in about 1720, which make them contemporary with this part of the house.  Bruce also replanted the narrow lime avenue, known as Lady Lucy’s walk, that runs  behind the house  to the wilderness area.

Bruce Canning Vernon-Wentworth from "Black & White" Parliamentary Album 1895,

Bruce Canning Vernon-Wentworth from “Black & White” Parliamentary Album 1895,

But, despite this, Bruce seemed to prefer the Suffolk and Scottish estates to Yorkshire, and in 1919 he abandoned Wentworth completely, auctioned much of the house’s contents at Christie’s, and moved to Aldeburgh permanently.

The Times, 13th Nov 1919

The Times, 13th Nov 1919

The house was mothballed for twenty years but during the Second World War it was used by the military and for housing prisoners of war. As so often happened  its condition deteriorated drastically, and complete demolition was seriously considered. However, in 1948  the castle and its immediate surrounds  of 60 acres were sold to Barnsley Council,  for £26,000, about twice the sum paid for the whole estate in 1708 when it was bought by the first earl.

They restored the house and turned it into a teacher training college, which it remained until 1978 when it became  the Northern College of Residential Adult Education education college who remain the occupants today. To find out more about them and the courses they offer check out:

Despite being in public hands it was featured in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition “The Country House in Danger”. The great landscape that Walpole praised in 1780 was described in 1986 as now “disturbed and ruinous”,and the  the second earl’s sinuous river excavated in the 1730s had been reduced to a series of muddy ponds.

In 2002 the grounds were acquired by The Wentworth Castle Heritage Trust which aims to carry out a phased programme of restoration and development works. By 2003 they had managed to buy the park from the Vernon-Wentworth Trusts and won funding  from the Heritage Lottery Fund to begin essential repairs. Although there is still a lot of work to do, judging by what they have achieved already the estate is entering another great, if very different, stage in its history & I’m looking forward to a return visit soon to see how this progress.

David Marsh, April 2016

David Marsh, April 2016


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