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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Walter Crane & his Floral Fantasy

screenshotI thought it would nice to start the year with something a little light-hearted, although as always with such things there is a more serious undertone.  screenshot

Walter Crane was an English artist and book illustrator. Born in 1845 he was a founding member of both the Art Workers’ Guild (1884) and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society (1888) and later was President of the  Royal College of Art. Politically radical he became a prominent Socialist and was a close friend and colleague of William Morris. But as you can see he also had a good sense of humour – and loved fantasy and anthropomorphism which he was able to indulge in his contribution to  children’s literature.

by Elliott & Fry, albumen cabinet card, circa 1875

by Elliott & Fry, albumen cabinet card, circa 1875

Along with Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway,  his work was  in a style  that would set the tone for  many books of nursery rhymes and children’s stories for decades to come.screenshot









Today’s post is about A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden set forth in verses & coloured designs, which was one of the last of the fifty or so children’s books that he illustrated and which was published in 1899. All the images come from that unless otherwise stated. Continue reading

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2016 on the Blog

HAPPY NEW YEAR! in my garden this morning

in my garden this morning

It’s now 3 years to the day that I started this blog and after a bit of an erratic start it has been  appearing regularly every Saturday mornings. This is the 152nd post!

Readership  hit 37,700 this year compared with 25,000 in 2015 and just under 7000 in 2014.  That means readership is now averaging just over 100 a day, 700-800 a week and 3000+ a month.   There have been 21500 visitors, compared with 10,200 last year and under 3,000 in 2014.  Since the blog started on 31st Dec 2013 there have been a grand total of 69,800 views from 34,653 visitors.

There have been some unexpectedly popular posts and some which, for some reason hardly got read at all. The most popular this year have been one on  Stumperies   [May 2015]  which has attracted 1805 views this year closely followed by one on  the colour of Carrots [Dec 2015] with 1770, then the Wentworth Feud [June 2106] with 1386.  Bizarre things like a post about  the straightness of cucumbers also scored highly at 1297, and  a piece about the almost forgotten artist Beatrice Parsons [November 2014] continues to find 1302 readers. But can anyone tell me why some of my favourite [ie most enjoyable to research and write post have just not found a wider readership… what is it about Mechanical elephants, Roses and class, or Kensington Roof Gardens that fails to attract?   Click on the links to read them!

 from my kitcen window this morning

from my kitchen window this morning

Anyway enough rambling… and thank you for reading. Please continue to do so, and of course tell all your friends about it!

And now what you’ve all been waiting for – another end of year quiz to test your powers of recall from posts over the course of the year.  Good luck – answers at the end


In my garden this morning

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Shirley’s Hints on Christmas Decorations…


I was scratching my head about what to do for a festive post, following on from writing about poinsettia in 2014 [ post ] and mistletoe in 2015 [post] … everything I could think of was so  hackneyed or so twee that I couldn’t even face doing the research when serendipity intervened.  Thinking I might be forced to looked at “Capability Brown and Christmas Tree” or “Santa and his Georgian Grotto”  [maybe next year?] or something equally contrived I decided to forget about the blog & think about something else entirely. In the process  I discovered an obscure article by the great Victorian garden writer Shirley Hibberd that seemed to solve my problem, despite being unillustrated.

screenshotNow Victorian garden writers in general are not exactly a light hearted lot, and Hibberd’s appearance doesn’t  immediately suggest someone who would rise to the more amusing side of the season. The writing isn’t that amusing  but, as you can see,  he did have a nice line in festive hats.

So here, to help you with the finishing touches for tomorrow are Shirley’s  “Hints on Christmas Decorations” from Floral World and Garden Guide of  December 1871. The illustrations come from  a range of other Victorian sources whilst  Shirley’s fancy dress comes courtesy of my brother, Nicholas.


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Upton House & the Bearsteds


Bog Cottage at Upton House, © Copyright Derek Harper 2009 and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Last week’s post gave an introduction to the history and  garden design of Upton House, near Banbury which is now in the hands of the National Trust. Although the underlying structure dates from the very end of the 17th/early 18thc, the garden owes most of its charm and sophistication to the family who bought it in 1927.

Walter and Dorothea Samuel, the 2nd Viscount Bearsted and his wife, probably didn’t buy Upton for its grounds but for its potential  as a country retreat with a difference. Upton was to house their extensive art collection, and to provide adequate accommodation for country house parties. But in the process they developed a garden that probably rivals their paintings and objets d’art for quality.

Read on to find out how they did it…

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A Garden of surprises: Upton House

deatil from Upton House from the South by Arthur Devis, Photo credit: National Trust,

deatil from Upton House from the South by Arthur Devis, Photo credit: National Trust,

Upton is a surprise: let me correct that, Upton is a series of surprises. I happened to be passing reasonably close by and was looking for somewhere to break the journey. So I checked the  flash new National Trust website to see what the gardens  (and the tearoom) had to offer.   I discovered that Upton had been the country house of the Samuel family, and that in 1939 they moved themselves out and  moved their family bank and its staff from London in.   The house is currently transformed back to the 1940s so that you can see how the staff lived and worked for the duration of the war.   It’s a great idea and quite rightly has won awards.

A little more digging on the website and I discovered that Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted, whose father had founded Shell, and his wife Dorothea Micholls, were not only immensely wealthy, but great philanthropists and  perceptive  and discerning art collectors.  The house is effectively a mini National Gallery  with the  extraordinary range of internationally important pictures that they collected. Upton should be on every art lovers itinerary. But what has it to offer to a garden enthusiast?

The Graden Front of Upton House David Marsh, August 2016

The Garden Front of Upton House
David Marsh, August 2016

Well, apart from one short piece about Kitty Lloyd-Jones [of whom more in next weeks post]  the National Trust website contained nothing obvious relating to the gardens, and certainly nothing to make  you want to  visit, so I wasn’t expecting anything other than a bog standard lawn and a few run of the mill borders, tacked-on  to prettify the setting of the art collection.  So read on to find out why I’m bothering to write, and write enthusiastically, about  what I originally supposed would be a nondescript sort of place… Continue reading

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