Issue 32 June 2012

 Newsletter – Issue 32 – June 2012


This year the Gardens Trust was pleased to announce the award of one of our Small Grants to the Chichele College Medieval Garden Project.  The grant of £500 together with a similar donation from Haddonstone Ltd enabled the purchase of a Gothic Urn as the centrepiece for their recreation garden within the Cloister Garth of the College at Higham Ferrers.

The project began six years ago when Higham Ferrers Tourism, Business and Community Partnership decided to respond to an English Heritage report declaring that the site was ‘underused and unappreciated by the public’.   Since then an enthusiastic team of local volunteers has worked tirelessly to develop and improve the site.  The full story describing their experiences can be found within the newsletter.

Before an audience of friends and supporters, Bishop Donald of Peterborough performed the formal opening of the ‘new’ garden on June 2nd.



At last we had an education grant application from a secondary school.  Up to this point we had been led to believe that gardening stopped when children went up to the big school, for all our previous applications had been from the primary sector.  Now, however, Lodge Park Secondary School in Corby has bucked the trend.  First of many we hope.  Naturally it was approved.  My wife had been instrumental in bringing this about and so it seemed appropriate that I should go and see for myself what was happening.  Thus one afternoon in early summer I arrived at the school and was met by Sami, the learning mentor, who is running the gardening club, an after school activity group.  I was then introduced to club members, Jess, Laurah, Alfie, Jordan, Cory and Sami and, to my surprise, taken to the middle courtyard of the school which was awash with growbags and flowerpots, every one full to bursting with seedlings and plants in various stages of development.  This particular session was run in conjunction with the camera club.

Later in the year, just before the end of the summer term, I was invited back to a tea party in the middle courtyard and met many of the staff as well as, once again, Sami and the pupils.  There was justifiable pride that the project had got off the ground in its first year; fact that could not be denied for the evidence was there for all to see!

Next season there is to be a proper allotment, once a suitable site has been selected.  I have suggested that Sami attends the R.H.S. course and, if they will let me, I should like to give a lot more help and advice in the future.

Adrian Smith


Many of you will know of the Cumbrian Castle just south of Penrith off the A6.  It is/was a lovely pseudo gothic castle placed in a wonderful Capability Brown landscape.  It is the third castle of the estate, built in 1816, although the estate goes back more than a thousand years and is far reaching across the whole of Cumbria.  Incidentally many still consider the whole area as Cumberland and Westmoreland.

During World War II the vast 17C formal garden was ruined by the presence of army tanks.  Then in 1956 I believe, because of death duties, the whole interior and roof of the buildings were dismantled and sold.  More recently the Lowther Estate, which is now a Trust, has been trying to see a way to restore the gardens from the dreadful wilderness and make some use of the house.

In 2006 the North West Regional Development Agency (they do have their uses occasionally!!) recognised the potential of the site for tourism. The money has come in for that and in 2010 plans were passed for the stable court yard to be covered to make a visitors’ centre and the castle walls to be stabilised.  In spring 2011 the recovery of the gardens started.

I visited in August and found it all very interesting.  A huge area behind the castle has now been levelled and the first of three lawns could well be planted by now.  They are considering turning at least one lawn area, to the south away from the house into a large vegetable garden, because the Lord at that time was a vegetarian and had a lot grown for him.  The lawns will be used for performances and events (courtesy of the Cumbrian weather).

To the south east on rising ground they have cleared broad walkways to a good three-avenue vantage point to look out over surrounding countryside.  One especially is superb.  The bases of what would have been lovely marble planters have appeared out of the scrub.  Down the slope is quite a large long pond which has been cleared of undergrowth and weed.  Also uncovered from a mass of ivy there is a delightful wood, wood-bark and cone summerhouse – reminded me of the summerhouse in the grounds of our Menagerie.

On the opposite (west) side of the level grass area is a collection of smaller individual gardens now completely ruined and covered in man-planted trees and self sown ones – a mess.  These are to be recovered as time goes on.  There is a rock garden, Japanese garden, a yew avenue, a rose garden and a garden laid out by Thomas Mawson, the local designer.  All these gardens were established at different times and behind all is a spectacular limestone scarp which drops away almost under your feet on the outer walkway – so beware if you are fortunate to go and visit.

I am now intrigued and shall continue to visit on my many visits to the County – especially as I am also a founder member of Cumbria Gardens Trust.  (For Satnav CA10 2HH)

Norma Pearson


What a tragedy that a devastating fire in 1937 destroyed the larger part of the Earls of Dudley’s wonderful home Witley Court at Great Witley, Worcestershire.  From the English Heritage booklet of the property, the magnificence of the reception rooms, entrance room and ballroom had rivalled any of the gorgeous houses standing today.  It was a substantial Jacobean house then considerably added to in 1720s and 1730s and was at its grandest in the 1850s.  Due to Lord Dudley’s huge wealth from his industrial enterprises in the West Midlands, he could have a wonderful property with an army of servants – shades of the lesser household at ‘Downton Abbey’!

Tragically the fire caused the then owner in 1937, Sir Herbert Smith, to decide that although the west side of the Hall was still in good condition he would sell the estate.  After this the remaining buildings were stripped and sold leaving only bare walls through which we can wander and explore the extent of this enormous property.  The basis of the large garden however remains and English Heritage, who now care for the property, is bringing part of it back to life.

To explore the property one starts at the outlying Visitors Centre with a woodland walk and wilderness garden passing a considerable dammed lake.  The ruin is revealed.  Mounting the steps from the Forecourt you can wonder at the vastness of the ruin to right and left, but proceed through and walk to John Nash’s massive porticoes overlooking the magnificent huge ornate formal garden designed by William Nesfield, the leading garden designer of the day – the South Parterre.  A huge fountain dominates this parterre.  To the left is the East Parterre, again with a wonderful fountain.

The south fountain has recently been restored by English Heritage and consists of a large oval grass level pool dominated by huge statures of Perseus on his prancing winged horse Pegasus when he came to rescue Andromeda.  Creatures of the deep spout water, truly spectacular. The smaller Flora fountain is in the East parterre.  When I was there two years ago, the English Heritage gardeners were beginning to restore the French style parterre, which was originally designed with box plants and laid with coloured gravels and flowers.  I must return and see the result of their work.

The pièce de résistance for me however was the church.  I may have written about this before, however, I was so impressed so here I go again!!  Although almost touching the main mansion it escaped the fire.  It is not the chapel to the main house, it is the parish church of the village, planned by the 1st Lord Foley before his death in 1733 and consecrated in 1735.  The interior was further transformed twelve years later by the 2nd Lord Foley, which made it into one of the most magnificent baroque interiors of its day with ceiling paintings by Antonio Bellucci.  The parishioners started a restoration of the church in 1965 because it had all deteriorated and then in 1993-4 the whole of the interior was cleaned.  The church is breath taking.  (For Satnav WR6 6JT)

Norma Pearson



Over the centuries, people have made gardens for all sorts of reasons. This is part of the fascination of Garden History.  However, one major attraction of gardens has nearly always been that they can be places of peace where people can relax and sit quietly for a while and reflect in one way or another.  The significance of this has been rediscovered at the end of the twentieth century.  It seems to have become ever more important amid the increasing rush and competition of the modern world, to provide opportunities for people to pause and think and just take stock.  Gardens provide one possible opportunity for doing this.  The result has been the development of the “Quiet Garden Trust”.

This is a network that began with a small number of gardens twenty years ago, so it is approximately the same age as our own Gardens Trust.  It began at Stoke Poges and has spread to over three hundred gardens throughout the world.  Some of these are attached to churches or monasteries or retreat houses while a few are connected with schools and prisons but the great majority belong to private houses.  Although affiliated to the Quiet Gardens Trust, they are all independent and operate in their own way.  What they have in common is that they offer a ministry of hospitality by providing places where there is an opportunity for silence, reflection and the appreciation of beauty.  They give an opportunity for prayer and the development of spirituality in the many meanings of that word.  Although they arise from a Christian background, they are open to people of any faith and no faith.  They operate in a variety of ways and while some have a programme of special events, others are open on an informal basis.  It must be stressed that although most are interesting or attractive gardens, they are in no sense show gardens and probably the key feature for identifying gardens of this sort is the number of seats to be found within it.

I have recently developed my own garden in Cotterstock in this way and become affiliated to the Quiet Gardens Trust.  We have a programme of particular events, such as Quiet Afternoons, with a leader, but we are also open on particular days about twice a month.  I will always happily welcome visitors at other times if it is at all possible.  I am also very happy for the garden to be used by groups or organisations in an appropriate manner and the facilities of my house can be made available.

If you would like further details about the movement as a whole, there is a website at and if you would like more information about the Cotterstock Quiet Garden please let me know and I will send you details, a programme and a map.

Quiet Gardens are places of sharing and hospitality and you will be very welcome at any of them.

David Bond.



In 1854 Henry George William Richard, Earl of Pomfret of Easton Neston sold 105 acres of land alongside the Watling Street to the north of Towcester to a Thomas Ridgeway, possibly, although not proven, the wealthy London tea magnate.  One condition of the sale was that any buildings on the site should not be of such a height as to affect the view from Easton Neston along the avenue to the church at Greens Norton!

Shortly afterwards Thomas Ridgway started building a fine house in the Italianate-style and according to a report from a correspondent from the Cottage Gardener in July 1855. ‘the main works in the garden are in the course of completion’.  He further summarised his visit thus,

‘The house stands rather near the road, but otherwise in a beautiful position.  There will be a splendid terrace on the garden-front, overlooking a sloping lawn, fringed with an irregular lake of water, with meadows etc., in the distance.  Mr Ferguson, of Stowe, has had the laying out of place, and has displayed great good taste in the forming of the lake – breaking it up into islands, forming romantic grottoes and picturesque mounds, as well as taking the utmost advantage of all the specimens and groups of trees that were in the fields, before the place was appropriated to its present use.  The forcing-houses and greenhouses are on the same plateau as the mansion; and Mr Booth, the gardener, has already shown that which is worthy of adoption, though there may be something of the professionally selfish in mentioning it, that the proprietor has showed something like true economy in finishing his gardener’s house before hardly anything else was completed.’

Sketches by George Clarke, probably from the 1860s, confirm the closeness of the house to the main road and a view of the garden-front shows the lawn sloping down to the lake with a couple in a rowing boat (see below).  A full description of the entire estate is given in a sale catalogue of 1886 when on the death of Thomas Ridgeway the property was sold to a Major Price Frederick Blackwood.  In particular, the mansion, stables, outbuildings and pleasure grounds extend to 21 acres, including the lake.  To the south of the house is a series of glass-houses comprising a conservatory ‘of artistic design’ (32 ft by 18ft), a fernery (63 ft by 14 ft), two vineries (63 ft by 13 ft and 45 ft by 15 ft) and a cucumber house (15ft. by 11 ft) ‘the whole

being constructed and heated on the most modern principles’.  Also listed are a mushroom house, potato pit, potting sheds, bothy, apple stores, seed room, tool house and other useful buildings.  Nearby is a three-bedroom head gardener’s house linked by a’ speaking tube’ to the east-bedroom of the mansion!   There is also a very productive kitchen garden of about 1 ½  acres, walled on three sides, ‘laid out with care and stocked with all the choicest kinds of espalier, wall and standard fruit trees’.

Steps from the house lead to the upper terrace laid out with parterres and to the conservatories.  Three further flights of steps surmounted by vases lead to the broad terrace, which extends almost the full width of the property and provides a panoramic view of the pleasure grounds and the lake beyond.  The broad terrace terminates at its southern end with a summer house whilst to the north it leads to the park lands with serpentine walks ‘clothed with a profusion of splendid shrubs etc.’.  The sale catalogue goes on to describe the pleasure grounds as ‘beautiful in the extreme’, adding that they were laid out by the late owner ‘with great skill and judgement, without consideration of expense, and are now in a state of perfection rarely to be met with’, reinforcing the skill of the aforesaid Mr Ferguson.  A curved walk from the terrace leads across the lawn sloping down to the lake past a rosary to a rustic summer house by the lake. A third walk from the terrace leads to ‘capital tennis lawns’ and to a walk which encircles the lake.

The lake, of five acres in extent, is fed from a sinuous stream that separates the pleasure grounds from the parkland beyond and contains two islands ‘densely planted and laid out with interminable walks’.  The larger island is approached by a rustic bridge, the other can only be accessed by boat, and ‘the whole forms an exceedingly beautiful feature from the mansion and terraces.’  And if that wasn’t enough to convince any potential buyer, the catalogue description of the pleasure grounds concludes with the following,

‘It is impossible to describe with any justice the beautiful surroundings of this charming residence. Their unique character, perfect symmetry and rare excellence have to be seen to be properly appreciated.  Amongst the specimen conifers and other trees adorning them in profusion, the following may be mentioned -.Araucaria Imbricata, Chinese Arbor vitae, Cedrus Deodara, Abies Douglasii, Abies Pinsapo, Abies Nobilis, Pinus Insignis and Excelsa, Wellingtonia Gigantia, Irish Yews, Cedars of Lebanon and other varieties, Copper Beech, Deciduous Cypress, Weeping Elms and Ash, Flowering Thorns, Evergreen Oaks, etc., etc.’

We know little about the next owner, Major Price Frederick Blackwood, except that he eventually sold the property around the turn of the century.  The new owner was Walter Bairstow JP, a Yorkshire man, who is first recorded in Kelly’s Directory of 1903 when the name of the property had been changed to The Lodge.  Walter Bairstow had apparently unsuccessfully contested the Keighley, Yorkshire seat as a Conservative in 1895 and 1900, and by 1908 was High Sheriff of Northamptonshire.

There is a second sale catalogue from 1931 when Bairstow, at the age of 74, put the estate up for sale.  Speculation might suggest that this was the result of the economic situation at the time following the New York stock-market crash and Great Depression in the USA and the UK.  However, the sale does not seem to have been a great success.  Fourteen lots totalling 360 acres were offered for sale at a reserve of over £11000, but only five sold.  These were farmland totalling 25 acres sold for £900; the Lodge and its surroundings (21 acres) did not meet its reserve of £2,450.  The sale catalogue does give further insight.  It suggests that the property, ‘in position, design and construction was particularly well suited for use as a hotel or club as well as residential purposes’ indicating the difficulty of selling such a large residence at the start of the depression.  The description of the Pleasure Grounds is less detailed than that of the 1886 catalogue saying that ‘they formed the most attractive features of the property’, followed by a brief summary of their main features.  Namely, the terrace – ‘flanked by cedars and Irish yews’, a spreading lawn – ‘shaded by stately elms and other forest trees’, the lake – ‘well stocked with pike and other fish, overhung by water-loving trees, and in hard winters affording grand skating’, and the wooded islets – ‘covered in evergreen and flowering shrubs’.  There were also two grass tennis courts, and a fruit and vegetable walled garden – ‘well stocked and productive with a great number of mature trees’.  The grounds generally were described as ‘unusually well-timbered with a great variety of forest and ornamental trees with some delightful woodland walks’.

After 1931, Kelly’s directories make no further mention of either The Lodge or Walter Bairstow, but that for 1940 instead lists the Tower Transport Café Ltd on the site.  It is thought that Lord Hesketh, a descendant of the Earl of Pomfret, was a director of the Tower Café Company and it seems probable that he bought The Lodge privately following the disappointing sale.  The house was then demolished and a very 1930s-style building with a central tower built in its place.  Much of the original pleasure grounds, the walled garden, greenhouses and specimen trees have survived albeit overgrown and dilapidated.  The local angling club fishes the lake and Towcestrians rugby, hockey and tennis clubs occupy what was the parkland beyond the lake.  Up to about ten years ago the southern-most part of the estate and one of the greenhouses were being used as a small market garden selling produce and flowers to the general public.  The transport café is now an important truck-stop for traffic travelling on the A5 and the M1 motorway, and once a year hosts a bike rally for hundreds of Harley-Davidsons and classic motor-bikes from all over England – a far cry from the peaceful splendour of Thomas Ridgeway’s magnificent garden.

Rod Conlon

References: George Clarke sketches; NRO GCPS Book 40 Nos. 7 & 8; 1886 Sale catalogue; NRO YZ5979, 22 July 1886; 1931 Sale catalogue; NMR SA00589/PA, 29 July 1931.

NORMA’S TRAVELS 3 and Book Review

ABERGLASNEY      ‘A Garden lost in time’ by Penny David

This is an extremely comprehensive book about a house and garden which have fascinated me for about nine years, when I found it by accident in South Wales, not far from Carmarthen.  It is tucked away off the A40 near Llandeilo in the parish of Llangathen.   (Postcode SA32 8QH for those with Satnav).

The estate appears to have been in existence since AD1000, coming down through various Welsh families until it was bought by the Rudd family about 1600 – purchased by a Bishop Rudd of St. David’s.  The family held the estate until one of the offspring, Sir Rice Rudd, who may have some interest for some of you, inherited it late 17th century.  Rice Rudd’s mother was Judith, daughter of Thomas Rudd of Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire.  He appears to have then gained lands in our county.  Through various law suits he squandered all the fortune of the two estates including that which his wife, Dorothy Cornwall, had brought him.  In 1701 when he died the lands at Higham Ferrers and Aberglasney were sold.  Aberglasney was bought by Robert Dyer in 1710 and the Dyer family owned it until 1803.  Thereafter there was a succession of owners until it was bought by the Aberglasney Restoration Trust in 1995.

I don’t know when the present house was built, but it is a large Georgian house which would have been very handsome in its time.  The decline must have started – both to the house and garden – during World War II when the army took it over.

When I first came upon it, the garden excavation and restoration had started, but the house was in a sorry state.  Slates were gone, water coming in, ceilings and floors were missing, windows were shattered and some frames as well.  The outside wall rendering was broken and ivy was everywhere.  Surely, I thought, it would have to be pulled down.

The garden – the last of nine various gardens created over the years, had been a complete wilderness, but it was beginning to emerge. The large stone archway gatehouse to the property was all ivy.  A very unusual intricate paved pebbled roadway from there to the house was under inches of soil and weed – a lovely surprise when it was found.  An original yew archway runs adjacent, formed by the yew branches bending over and rooting on one side to form a walkway, high enough for adults to walk through.  It hadn’t been pruned or cut in years.  Now, there is limited access through this tunnel to save root damage.

To the left of the house is the cloister garden – a large square looked down onto from the stone wall nearest the house.  The other three stone walls facing are wide high structures, parapets atop, with steps leading to the roof, virtually a viewing gallery to the pond and the land beyond.  You could imagine this as an outdoor long gallery.   Beneath this roof are lines of archways open to the north, again a dry but open long gallery for parading up and down.  Here the paving has the same pebbling crisscross patterning.

All this area was a complete semi-ruin when the restoration started. The walls and viewing gallery were ivy covered; the steps unusable with sapling trees rooted everywhere.  The internal lawn area was in-filled with soil and rubble to several feet, with rampant vegetation including Japanese knotweed.  The archways were barely visible.  Now this cloister is delightful.  It is not known if monks were ever at Aberglasney, but everything tends to indicate that they might have been.

The old walled kitchen garden is now a delightful formal garden designed by Penelope Hobhouse with herbaceous borders.  There is a woodland walk above the house, they call it the American garden – don’t know why.  There the old Aviary and Dog Kennels are still in ruin – more restoration to come.

I shall tell you no more of the garden hoping you might explore yourselves and visit also the ruined house which, since I visited last time, has been brought back to life.  I was amazed at the transformation.

The house is more or less in two halves – back to front.  The outside plaster has been restored and painted.  Now over the entrance, a classical portico of eight stone columns with ionic capitals which went ‘walkabout’ in May 1992 and was found – a long story – has been put back.  On the back the damage was so great that restoration would be impossible, and instead a sort of high glass roof has been installed to make this area into a near jungle hot-house complete with banana trees.

I have only scratched the surface of the story, suffice to say the place is delightful, the history amazing, they have a restaurant, you’ll need half a day at least!  Try to go and see. 


If I have inspired you to visit Aberglasney Gardens, can I suggest that you tarry a while in the area and visit the Welsh Botanic garden which is roughly five miles away.  I think I prefer it to the Eden Project – sacrilege!!

Like Eden it is a fairly new garden set in the parkland of the former Middleton Hall – open and spacious with wonderful views over the adjoining countryside. The main feature is the Great Glasshouse, an enormous low structure housing exotic plant species from varying parts of the world.

There is a huge unique double walled 19C kitchen garden with its hothouses against one wall. The beds are partly ornamental having flowers and vegetables growing mostly in families as behoves a botanic garden.  Outside, one side of the walls has been planted in a lovely curving bed of shrubs and a wonderful array of herbaceous plants, the colour was beautiful in early July. The Japanese are represented by a delightful watery dell area.

Once again there is somewhere to eat in the Old Stable block of the Hall, where is also the shop and schoolrooms for the school parties which they welcome.  (For Satnav SA37 8HG)



In 2007 a few garden enthusiasts, including your ex-Chairman, Jenny Burt, planted the seed of an idea to create a Medieval Style Garden at the Chichele College site in Higham Ferrers, to the committee of Higham Ferrers, Tourism, Business and Community Partnership*.  This was greeted with enthusiasm and a sub- committee of garden lovers from the group, with Jenny acting as our consultant, then developed the idea until it grew into a fully researched plan.  After five years of negotiation and form filling we were awarded £21,658.00 by the Big Lottery Fund, through Community Spaces, to bring the plan to life.

The College is the legacy of Henry Chichele, probably Higham’s most famous son.  He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1414 and in 1422 founded the college dedicated to The Virgin Mary, St. Edward the Confessor and St Thomas of Canterbury. There was provision for eight priests, four clerks and six choristers, who said prayers for The King, The Queen, The Virgin Mary, St. Thomas, St. Edward, Henry Chichele’s parents and the souls of the dear departed. The College was surrendered to Henry VIII in 1542, and adapted several times into smaller units.  In the 18th century it became an inn, ‘The Saracen’s Head’ and during the 20th century it was further reduced to a single farm cottage and a granary.  The Ministry of Works took over in 1948 and English Heritage cleared the farm buildings and restored the College to its present condition, leaving the rugged remains of what had been the original buildings, outlined in the evocative ruins.

Our aim was to enhance this already atmospheric, charming and very rare walled garden site into a more inviting and accessible area, which local people and visitors to the town, might more fully enjoy.  Surveys showed that many people felt the site was underused and its beauty and historical significance under-appreciated, as did the EH Inspector’s report. Recommendations from the surveys included suggestions for  physical improvements, such as seating (there was none), as well as community interaction through the staging of  recreational events, including music, arts and  country fair/plant fair, type attractions.

As these views coincided with our own ideas, the plan for a medieval style garden took on a more defined shape. A clear square space directly in front of the standing building appeared to have served as the central court of the monastic buildings and also of the later Inn.  Our first discussions with the EH Inspector confirmed this and he agreed with us that this court would probably have served as a cloister garth and would lend itself to our proposed interpretation of a monastic cloister garden – a central urn or fountain with four grassed quadrangles and paths which allowed access for push chairs and wheelchairs.  However, before we could do anything we had to consult with English Heritage, who, whilst agreeing to the concept in principle, needed to carry out the necessary geophysics on the site to ensure we did not disturb anything of archaeological interest and value.  The College is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.  Jenny initiated the proceedings and it took some time, but we finally got the go ahead from English Heritage. The next step was to further develop our rough plan and a team of very supportive EH officers, helped us enormously, by setting the boundaries of our designs and advising throughout the process.

The Duchy of Lancaster, who own the site and surrounding areas, agreed to the professionally drawn plan and also donated money from their benevolent fund to assist with the project, whilst English Heritage repaired the side road to improve access for wheelchairs and push chairs. We carried out a tender process for the projected work and realised that raising the money locally would take a very long time; we then made the bold decision to apply for funding through The Big Lottery awards.

This was a lengthy process, but supported by the lottery facilitator, many meetings with English Heritage and visits by our project manager, Carol Fitzgerald, to the local planning office, (for  permission to erect the dividing trellis fence and arch, and install the Haddonstone Urn as the centrepiece of the garth area), we finally received a full grant of  £21,658.  This paid for the contracted work and materials including the aesthetically approved pathways, which improved access for wheelchairs and pushchairs. We are grateful to Haddonstone Ltd and Northamptonshire Gardens Trust, who between them funded the cost of the Gothic Urn.

The site is divided in two by ruined walls; the lawned recreational area will be used for a wide range of events to suit all age groups, whilst the garth area is an area for quietness and contemplation, as perhaps it was in 1425. A new trellis fence separates the two areas with an archway between.  Money for plants was raised through our ‘Pledge a Plant’ scheme and it is envisaged that the general planting will encourage greater biodiversity by attracting more insects, birds and small animals.  Seating has had to be specially designed, as we cannot sink stabilisers into the ground, and we believe the massive chunks of stone will ensure their security. We have tried to keep planting contemporary to the monastic period and have included fruit trees and a vine to reflect the monk’s orchard and viniculture.  We have used herbs, roses and climbers for perfume, consulted books and manuscripts for suitable flowers, and have restricted the cloister border to soothing green and white plants.  The larger border in the recreation area has a wilder area nearer to the Medlar and the upstanding ruins.  The Urn has been planted with herbs as we could not have a fountain in case of damage to the site.

A great deal of work, besides the endless form-filling, has been done by many people in the community.  This has been one of the many rewards of the project and we are grateful to all who have shown interest and support for our vision.  Fund raising events including suppers, clothes sales and open gardens as well as Pledge a Plant, have provided the community with the means to share and have a vested interest in the garden’s development, whilst providing us with funding for planting and seating.  Many individuals, schools and organisations were keen to be involved in its creation and use as a community space and we are delighted that people of all ages and abilities feel a personal involvement in the garden’s development and maintenance. Adult volunteers cleared away old shrubs and plants, prepared the ground and planted.  Students from The Ferrers Specialist Arts College planted trees whilst children from local nursery, infant and junior schools planted hundreds of narcissi and snowdrops.  The garden is still evolving and we have an enthusiastic band of volunteers.

The official launch took place on June 2nd to coincide with Queen’s Jubilee.  Our patience has been rewarded and our aim is reaching fruition; namely, to create a garden in keeping with the historical significance of the site, which provides a place of peace, beauty and tranquillity for the community, a hidden gem that will become a living site for all to enjoy.  So please do come and see, sit and savour the flourishing of our community endeavours which grew from that first inspirational seed for a Medieval Style Garden. The site is open all day, every day.

Gwen Tobin, Jenny Burt, Carol Fitzgerald, Celia Ingram, Anne Dodson (the project group).

*Higham Ferrers Tourism, Business and Community Partnership, is a voluntary organisation comprising of a small group of volunteers dedicated to encouraging local people and visitors, to appreciate what the town has to offer.  We organise community events, often with other local organisations, to engage interest in businesses and historical sites, whilst fund raising to ensure we are able to contribute to the development and preservation of our aesthetic heritage and vibrancy of the town.


Book Review

Laura Mayer’s credentials as an expert on eighteen century architectural and landscape design and development are impressive. This compact and informative book however is not so much about Capability Brown but about the development of gardens through the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries from the geometric formality of the renaissance gardens exemplified by London and Wise; through the revolution in ideas of the early landscapers to the flowing lines of the Brownian landscape garden, and on to the ruggedness of the pastoral aesthetic of the early nineteenth century. The book is beautifully illustrated with modern colour photography, reproduced paintings and sepia layouts.

The author presents a concise and colourful introduction to the ideas of Stephen Switzer, Joseph Addison and Alexander Pope, the leading champions of landscape gardening and the inclusion of the view beyond as part of the garden thus eliminating unnecessary use of good agricultural land and high cost. This is followed by a discussion of the work of the landscape gardeners of the eighteenth century, such as William Kent, with their classical design found for instance at Stowe and leading into the Rococo such as that found today at Painswick Gloucestershire.

It is not until Chapter 4 that we have details of the work of Brown. The name Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown has become synonymous with the eighteenth-century English landscape garden, indeed between 1751 and 1783 his consultancy handled over 170 major commissions. Ruthlessly efficient, he could stake out the ‘capabilities’ of an estate within an hour on horseback. He became the Master Gardener to George III, his trademark features included bald lawns, clumped trees, lakes and enclosing belts of woodland on the estate’s perimeter. With this standard park formula Brown and his followers held the commercial monopoly on garden design well into the following century.

The final Chapter entitled ‘A Picturesque Controversy’ explains the literary reaction of William Gilpin, Richard Payne Knight, and Uvedale Price to Brown and his successor Repton’s manicured landscape design. The chapter discusses the alternative ideas of the diverse terrain of Rococo leading on to the more rugged design of Sir Rowland and Richard Hill’s Hawkstone Park in Shropshire, (a veritable obstacle course still open to the public today but not to be attempted by the faint hearted) and Valentine Morris’s Piercefield in Monmouthshire.

Overall this compact Shire book offers a balanced view of the various styles of garden design in the late seventeenth to early nineteenth centuries but the author is without question an enthusiast of the Brown landscape.

John Cooper



Ashton Wold  GD5389                     Grade II                                               Designated 10/12/2010

Ashton Wold House is a country house with formal garden designed by William Huckvale in 1901 for Nathaniel Charles Rothschild. The house and gardens are set within a predominantly wooded landscape, but with meadows and pasture to the south and south-east and with lakes beyond the meadow to the south.


The Ashton Estate, including Ashton Wold, was purchased and developed mainly as a sporting estate following its acquisition by the banker, Lionel Rothschild, in 1860, and was later transformed into a model estate with country house for his grandson, Charles Rothschild. This area of Northamptonshire was enclosed by Act of Parliament in 1810, and the map of the Enclosure Award shows the area of the Wold with clearly delineated boundaries and tree-lined rides or avenues from north to south and east to west, encircled by trees at their crossing. Before enclosure the high ground of Ashton Wold was under open pasture, although within it there were three separate areas of old enclosures. One of these, to the north-east of Ashton Wold House and outside the registered area, contains ridge and furrow (visible on aerial photographs), and extensive ridge and furrow present in the woodland to the south indicates that much of it was at one time under cultivation. The only other features shown on the 1810 map are three small circular fox coverts. The Wold seems to have formed the sporting element within the wider Ashton Estate; the only buildings at that date in this part of the estate were those of the farm tucked into the south-east corner of the main rides crossing. This appears on both the sale map of 1858 and the conveyance map of 1860, which also show the Wold south of the east-west avenue as woodland crossed by rides. This area, Polebrook Hill and Wold Wood, are specifically referred to in the sales particulars as ‘well known famous Covers, and are intersected by Walks and Glades convenient for shooting: and connected with it are some extensive broad Avenues of Large Elms with Turfed Glades, affording pleasurable, picturesque, and secluded Drives and Walks’. Wold Wood is the main area now classified as Ancient and Semi-Natural Woodland, and is also designated as a SSSI (Ashton Wold, 1000301).

Although the 1858 sale particulars describes the Ashton Estate as ‘very valuable and important’, with sporting advantages, there is a confession that there ‘is no House on the Property adapted for the occupation of a Gentleman’. The Wold formed the sporting element within the wider Ashton Estate, and was the main source of interest for Lionel Rothschild and his son Nathaniel Mayer, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915), who otherwise showed little interest in the estate; the only structural work undertaken in the late C19 was the building of a hunting lodge on the site of the present house. However, when Nathaniel Rothschild’s son Charles encountered Ashton Wold on a butterfly hunting expedition with his friend, the Vicar of the nearby village of Polebrook, he was so enchanted by it that he asked his father to build him a house there, and in 1900 the Rothschild’s architect William Huckvale was commissioned to design not only a house with terraces and formal walled gardens and kitchen garden, but a full complement of estate buildings including a head gardener’s house, accommodation for under-gardeners, lodges, a gatehouse and a model farm by the avenues crossing. These were largely complete by 1901, with water and electricity delivered to houses, gardens and greenhouses from an old mill on the River Nene, west of Ashton village. Electricity was generated here by water turbines, backed up by diesel, and was used to pump water to a water tower and so to the estate buildings. By 1927 the formal gardens to the east of the house were complete, and the woodland had been extended to the fields immediately to the west and east of the existing woodland, Wold Wood, and to the north-east of the model farm. Also by 1927 two lakes had been created 2kms to the south of the house, at the end of a peninsula of rough pasture and light scrub over ridge and furrow. The lakes were overlooked by a boat-house and a nature observation summerhouse.

The planting of the formal gardens and the wider landscape were largely the work of Nathaniel Charles Rothschild (1877-1923), his wife Rozsika, and later his daughter Miriam. Charles worked full-time for the family banking firm, was the leading expert on fleas in the country, and was also a renowned naturalist and pioneer conservationist, responsible for forming the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves in 1912 (now the Royal Society for Nature

Conservation). He brought to the landscape of Ashton Wold the interests of a naturalist, and while the terraces and walled gardens around the house took a conventional Edwardian form, and the greenhouses held his collections of rare cacti, orchids and waterlilies, the wider landscape was designed to provide natural habitats to attract wildlife.

Following his death in 1923 and that of his wife Rozsika in 1940, their daughter Miriam (1908-2005) inherited the estate. The house was commandeered for use as a hospital during the Second World War, and dispersed accommodation blocks were built in Ashton Wold woods for the RAF and the American Eighth Air Force billeted at nearby Polebrook Airfield. The gardens and estate suffered considerable damage and neglect, and although the kitchen gardens were returned to productivity after the war, the formal gardens were not restored. Fruit trees were planted on the terraces, and in the following years Miriam’s interests turned to wildflower gardening. She developed a preference for wildness over formality, covering the house in a tangle of carefully chosen creeping and flowering plants and transforming the terraces and lawns with wildflowers. Her advocacy of wildflowers was highly influential in the gardening world, but she is best known for her work as an entomologist, and particularly as an international expert

on fleas, continuing her father’s research. She was a fellow of the Royal Society, was awarded eight honorary degrees and was appointed DBE for her services to the study of natural history.



Ashton Wold occupies an area of high ground about 4.5kms to the east of Oundle, and about 2.5kms to the east of the village of Ashton.

The site covers an area of about 207ha. Its main entrances are from the east and west. From the west, access is from the public road out of Ashton village, which continues as a private road after West Lodge (this lodge is outside the registered area, but is listed at Grade II). As it approaches the estate buildings the road divides, the north fork passing through the Gatehouse and curving around the front of the stable block to join the chestnut tree-lined avenue that runs straight from west to east, where it joins the road to Warmington at the East Lodge (also listed at Grade II). The main approach to the house is via a track running south from the avenue which enters the more formal gardens around the house through wrought iron gates. The south fork is the service entrance to the site, and travels behind the stables, beside the north wall of the kitchen garden and its potting sheds, joining the polite access track at the entrance to the house courtyard. An avenue running from north to south from the Warmington road crosses the main avenue at a roughly central point, and carries a public footpath.

The park is bounded on the east by the minor road between Hemington and Warmington, and to the south by the Lutton road. At the west entrance to Ashton Wold the north boundary follows the curving line of the drive to the north-east before turning north to take in the small rectangular pond, then travels east to enclose the woodland called The Gorse. To the south of the west entrance the boundary follows the service road east, turning south to the west of the gardeners’ cottages. The boundary is otherwise irregular, and formed by farmland and field boundaries. The main area is defined by the historic Wold of the 1810 Enclosure Award map, with the addition of the lakes and Lake Fields to the south of Ashton Wold House, and the field to the south-east of the house and gardens, between the oak-tree-lined boundary to the west and the woodland to the east. To the north, the boundary also takes in the small triangle of woodland known as Stamford Corner.

Two areas are excluded from the registered area. The first, 1 & 2 Bluestone Cottages and their gardens on the Lutton Road are on the periphery of the designed landscape. The second, containing the agricultural buildings of Ashton Wold Farm, is immediately to the north of Home Farm. The character of this area is compromised by a modern grain store and remains of World War II huts.


There are a number of listed buildings and structures associated with the park and garden, including, most notably, Ashton Wold House. This was designed by William Huckvale in a neo-Jacobean style, based on Northamptonshire examples. It is built of coursed rock-faced limestone with ashlar limestone dressings, its roofs covered in Collyweston limestone slates. Originally two and a half stories, in 1971 Miriam Rothschild commissioned Claude Phillimore to reduce its height to one storey with attics. The terrace walls and steps are included in the Grade II listing of the house, and the formal garden structures are also all listed together at Grade II. The wall that forms the south boundary to the formal gardens is separately listed, as is the walled kitchen garden, with its associated bothys and greenhouses. Other Grade II listed estate buildings directly associated with the house and within the area recommended for registration include the Gatehouse, Steward’s House, stable complex, petrol store, water tower and Head Gardener’s Cottage (Greenwood Manor). Set within the wider landscape, Woodend Cottage, East Lodge, and the summerhouse/nature observation hide by the south lake are also listed at Grade II. The buildings of Home Farm, the model farmstead at the avenue crossing, are listed at Grade II*, with the exception of the cart shed, which is Grade II.


The formal gardens are set within a woodland enclave, with deodar cedars and blue spruce providing the main backdrop. These cover about 2.0 ha, and consist of three terraces to the south and two to the east of the house, the first banked, the second retained by a random rubble limestone wall, with steps between terraces. The final terrace to the south is retained by the garden boundary wall. These terraces originally contained flower beds and borders, visible as slight depressions, but are now planted with groups of trees, while the sward is sown with wildflower mix. There is a small circular reed and thatch bothy at the west end of the middle south terrace; this is not listed. To the east of and below the terraces are three walled gardens, roughly equal in size and linked by steps. The first, to the north, which now contains a swimming pool (built after World War II), was originally the rose garden; the sundial survives. To the south of this was the rock garden with a central thatched dovecot reached by a causeway of stepping stones; it was originally surrounded by a pond with smaller ponds to the corners of the garden, their stone edges still defined. The third garden contains a large rectangular lily pond, much overgrown. This is the lowest of the gardens, and its west wall also retains the third terrace to the south of the house. An opening in the wall gives access to steps up to the terrace, and a wrought iron gate in the centre of the south wall opens onto a path leading down to the lakes. The east boundary of the formal walled gardens is marked by low tumbled walls, which in the water garden once supported pergolas draped with climbing plants.


Running beside the main west-east avenue are ditches, which also survive to preserve in part the circle of trees around the avenue crossing. The north section of avenue survives as a track, lined with young chestnuts, but to the south the line of the avenue has moved slightly to the west. At the south-east corner of the avenue crossing, by Home Farm, is a large pond. The remainder of the registered parkland is under mixed woodland, apart from two fields to the west and one to the east of the north avenue, and the meadows or pasture to the south and south-east of the house and formal gardens. The wood to the south-east of the avenue and Home Farm is designated as a SSSI; the core of this and the small woodland at Stamford Corner are classified as Ancient and Semi-Natural Woodland. Much of the woodland is the subject of a Restrictive Covenant granted to the National Trust in 1945 made between Dame Miriam Rothschild and the National Trust.

To the south of the house a wedge-shaped piece of meadow merges into hawthorn scrub and woodland concealing the two lakes from the house. The furlongs of very pronounced Northamptonshire ridge and furrow can be seen throughout the woodland. A path to the lakes from the formal garden follows a boundary lined with old oak trees. The path approaches first the smaller of the two lakes, swings round to the north of the summerhouse and nature observation hide and so to the thatched boathouse on the north shore of the larger lake. The lakes are fed by two streams, one of which is culverted to the north of the small lake. A line of poplars and cedars mark the north and west boundaries of the lakes, to the south of which is an area of woodland, Lake Fields, bisected by a track. There is also a small rectangular historic pond on the north-west boundary of the park, north of the main group of estate buildings, which is shown on the 1810 Enclosure Award map.


Immediately to the west of the house is the kitchen garden. Potting sheds line the north wall, on the south side of which were greenhouses, recently demolished. Freestanding green houses survive in the north-east corner, and a sundial stands in the centre, where paths cross.


Enclosure map of Lordship of Oundle with Ashton (1810). Northamptonshire Record Office 2858.

Map of estates belonging to William Walcot, (1811). Northamptonshire Record Office 3703.

Map of Ashton Estate by Messrs Hayward, Surveyors, (1853). Northamptonshire Record Office 1728a.

Catalogue of sale of Ashton Estate, (1858). Northamptonshire Record Office ZB 706/24.

Map accompanying Conveyance of Ashton Estate to Lionel Rothschild. Northamptonshire Record Office 5173 (1860).

Map of Ashton Wold in Ashton Wold House (c1901).

Rothschild, Miriam, The Rothschild Gardens (1996), 82-107 & 169.

‘The Hon. Nathaniel Rothschild’, obituary in The Times, 15 October 1923.

‘Dame Miriam Rothschild’, obituary in The Guardian, 22 January 2005.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography website:



The early C20 garden and parklands at Ashton Wold are designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Group value: They form part of an important and unusually intact and coherent Edwardian model estate. The gardens and wider designed landscape form the setting for the Grade II listed house and a number of other listed buildings; the formal garden structures are also listed at Grade II.

* Intactness: The plan of the designed landscape, as well garden structures and features within the park survive largely intact.

* Association and influence: Its design and development reflects the interests of its owners, Charles Rothschild, and Dame Miriam Rothschild, both nationally respected naturalists and conservationists. Dame Miriam’s advocacy of wildflower gardening was particularly influential, thus endowing this landscape with extra interest on the basis of her pioneering ecological work.



Last winter the Gardens Trust gave an education grant to this school to help develop a garden around Joel’s Remembrance Bench.  Gwen Tobin and I had the privilege of being invited to the grand opening of the garden on the Friday of the Queen’s Jubilee weekend.  The headmaster and Nicola Sullivan Brown, teaching assistant, greeted us together with the excited children from the Gardening Club.  The Remembrance Bench is dedicated to Joel, a former pupil who tragically died.  The Bench is a covered seating area and is surrounded by a small fence enclosing artificial turf (this replaced a muddy grassed area and now allows the children to sit on it), together with a number of raised beds.  The children had chosen all the plants, some were climbers on trellis work, all were colourful and flowered at different times of the year, whilst on the school walls were a number of posters.  Nicola had spent the previous evening finishing painting the raised beds and had obviously spent a great deal of her free time (and her husband’s) in developing the garden.

Many of the children were dressed up for the Jubilee and more and more children joined us as they were let out for playtime.  The Headmaster gave a little talk, thanking the Gardening Club and Nicola for all their hard work and then invited me to cut the tape and declare the garden open.  This was an absolute joy, a new experience, and precious that my late husband and mother both attended the school when the playground was absolutely sterile.  Gwen and I spent some time talking with many of the children about the plants they had chosen, i.e. where they had come from – anemone japonica from Japan, and stories about their common names – aquilegia in my childhood known as fairies on stilts and if one sat quietly the fairies might come out to play.  Perhaps the most memorable chat was to a child whose brother was best friends with Joel who told me that the plants were memories for him.   It was an uplifting experience and so good to see the use of our Education Grant.

One can see the newly created garden if you look over the wall opposite Higham Ferrers post office.


AGT Research and Recording Study Day

The development of the landscape at Bretton Hall, 1720 – 2012

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, nr Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF4 4LG

Friday 21 September 2012, 9.45am to 4.30pm Cost £50, this includes tea/coffee; sandwich buffet lunch; car parking; 10% discount in YSP contemporary design shop.

To book email the AGT or phone 020 7251 2610

Woburn Abbey Study Days

The Art of the Zen Garden

29th August 2012, 10.00am to 4.00pm, Cost £30

Humphrey Repton at Woburn Abbey

21 November 2012, 10.00am to 4.00pm, Cost£30

Booking at or 01525 290333