REPORT OF THE COUNCIL OF MANAGEMENT for the year to 31st DECEMBER 2014
As usual we had a very full and varied programme this year. We have continued to focus on the build up to the anniversary of Capability Brown in 2016. Consequently we concentrated this year on the more formal gardens of the later 17th. Century, a period in which Northamptonshire is particularly well represented. In our lecture programme Jenny Burt gave a fascinating talk on the work of London and Wise who were the go-to gardeners and designers at the end of the Stuart period. This was followed by the Chairman who gave a talk based on one of Northamptonshire’s great poets – John Dryden. This tried to sketch the social background to the age of London and Wise and act as an introduction to a visit later in the year.
Several of our visits took up the theme of these formal gardens. These began with a visit to Melbourne in Derbyshire where Jenny guided us around one of the finest surviving lay outs from this period. We also visited Great Harrowden Hall. Here the Wellingborough Golf Club now cares for the site and study the formal garden around the house. We also visited Drayton House and garden. This really is one of Northamptonshire’s show places and we were fortunate that one of our members, Bruce Bailey, was able to share his deep knowledge with us. The Dryden visit took us to a number of places with Dryden associations. Probably the highlight was going into the garden at Cobthorne in Oundle. Now the house of the headmaster of Oundle School the house was once occupied by John Creed the friend of both Dryden and Pepys and has a fine garden sweeping down towards the river. The last formal garden we visited was Lyveden where Mark Bradshaw was able both to guide us around and also to tell us about some exciting new developments the National Trust hopes to put in place.
We of course did not just think of formal gardens. Our programme is nothing if not varied. At our A.G.M. Ursula Buchan gave us a very entertaining talk about gardens and gardeners in the second world war. The Summer Party was held at Kelmarsh. After a tour of the grounds we enjoyed another splendid meal prepared by Isabel and her helpers. We are very grateful to all those who help at what is our major fund raising event. Rain rather spoilt our visit to Newnham but those who did manage to make it through the floods found a delightful garden in a really beautiful spot. We also visited Evenley Wood Garden. We have been there in Spring and and also in Autumn. This time we went in Summer at around the time of their Lily Festival. This visit reminded us just how different gardens are at different times of the year. Our other Summer visit was to Nassington. Here another of our members, Mike Brown, showed us something of the work involved there in creating a medieval garden around one of the oldest houses in our county. He also shared with us some of his wide knowledge of medieval plants on what was a fascinating evening. Finally our visits programme included another visit to the Record Office where members were able to see some significant maps and documents and learn something of the techniques of research.
The average number of members per visit was slightly down this year yet they remain a very significant part of our work. In particular they enable members to meet and share experiences which is very significant, bearing in mind the geographical spread of the county. We really are most grateful to all those who help arrange the programme and to those who are kind enough to open their gardens for us.
This coming year our focus will move to the beginnings of the more informal and naturalistic gardens of the early 18th. century and to this end our final lecture of 2014 was an introduction to this period given by Stephen Barker of the Leicestershire Gardens Trust. He certainly whetted our appetite and paved the way for a later visit to Rousham.
The Trust seeks to encourage research into the many different aspects of the historic gardens of the county. Indeed it is one of the main reasons for our existence. In this we are very fortunate to have the advice and assistance of Chris Addison at the Heritage Environment Record. Many members of the Trust will not realise what a wonderful treasure chest this office is nor how much help Chris gives to us. She is a key figure in our work and we are hugely grateful. We are also very fortunate in our County Record Office where the staff are always very helpful. We have had organised visits there to see how it all works and several members of the Trust use the archives on a regular basis. This year several of our members have been working in preparation for the Capability Brown anniversary in 2016. They are seeking to produce a definitive account of his work in the county together with a gazetteer of the places with which he was involved in one way or another.
We are beginning to research the work undertaken in parks and gardens as memorials at the end of the First World War. The scope here is very wide as this will range from work done in existing gardens to completely new memorial parks. A good example of the latter is the Peace Park in Thrapston. This is a piece of work that is both moving and interesting, not least for the light it sheds on the attitudes of people at the time. It would be good to have eventually a complete list for every place in the county. It is a great advantage of the Trust in this respect that it has members living right across the county who can bring local knowledge to bear. We are therefore in a good position to co-ordinate such research.
Another project well underway is being undertaken by Elizabeth Taylor who is researching and recording the walled kitchen gardens of the county.
All these projects are very time consuming and we are grateful to all those who have helped in any way. Needless to say we are always delighted to receive any offers of help and plenty of guidance and assistance is available for any who would like to help our researches.
Membership and Council of Management
The membership for 2014 was 116. The figure has been around this for some time. Along with so many societies and organisations it is a constant challenge to recruit younger members. The geography of the county does not help in this respect as wherever we meet involves a considerable journey for some. Having said that we do have a very loyal membership who consistently support what we do.
Very sadly Adele Warner died in 2014. She had been a member for many years and had served on the council for several where she particularly helped in arranging the programme. She was a delightful person and will be greatly missed.
The Council of Management met regularly throughout the year. Terry Higgins stood down at the A.G.M. and we would like to record our thanks for all that he did. In particular he helped us set up our first web site and bring some of us into the digital age. We were joined on the Council by Elaine Johnson and she is most welcome. We continue to have the help of Chris Addison at the Heritage Environment Record while Elizabeth Taylor has agreed to look after the website. To all these and any who have helped in any way I should like to express my grateful thanks.
Other on-going work
Our Trust continues to be a strong supporter of the work of the Association of Garden Trusts. Five members attended the annual conference at Chester which was by all accounts a very successful event. The Chairman and Secretary also attended a regional meeting at Birmingham where useful contacts were made. Chris Addison continues to be our formal representative at business meetings where the proposed merger with the Garden History Society continues to dominate the discussion. Our Trust continues to support the merger in principle.
We continue to take a keen interest in education. On the one hand several of our members give talks and presentations to a variety of organisations while on the other we make grants to schools and institutions to encourage their educational work. This year we made grants to Tiffield School and to the Henry Chichele School Higham Ferrers and we are always keen to help schools in any way we can. We also made a grant to Kelmarsh Hall to help with their educational work.
We have been working on updating the local lists of significant gardens for the use of District Councils. This year the list for Wellingborough District Council was completed and given to the planning office. We hope to begin on the next area soon.
A major conservation issue this year has been the possible threat to the historic parkland at Dingley. After taking the advice of English Heritage a report was drawn up with a view to possible listing.
The website has now been redesigned and it is up and running. It looks really good and will be a great asset. We are very fortunate that Elizabeth Taylor has agreed to look after it. She will always welcome material and information that can be used for it.
Following the fire at Hunsbury we were very unsure where to hold our meetings. It now looks as though we have found a good venue at Great Houghton Village Hall. All the comments so far have been very favourable and future meetings have been booked there. I am most grateful to the members who collected information about possible sites and helped choose the best place.
Overall it will be seen that 2014 was both a busy and successful year for the Trust. It looks as though 2015 will be equally busy and while we face challenges in being able to undertake all the tasks we would like, yet I think we are probably better equipped to do them now than at the start of the year. I would like to conclude by thanking all those many people who have helped in any way. In particular I want to thank the Council of Management for all their support. I must especially thank Jenny Burt and Rod Conlon – our secretary and treasurer. The amount of time and effort they put into the work of the Trust is huge and without them we would not achieve anything like as much as we do. Lastly I want to thank our President Susie Pasley-Tyler yet again for her constant support. It is so good to know that she is always available with calm and thoughtful help whenever she is asked.