REPORT OF THE COUNCIL OF MANAGEMENT for the year to 31st December 2015
2015 was a very successful year for the Trust and I am pleased to report our activities under the following headings –
We enjoyed another full and varied programme this year and when I compare our programme with those of other counties I usually feel that ours bears comparison with any of them. We have continued to focus on the build up to the Capability Brown year of 2016. This year we turned our attention away from the highly formal gardens of earlier centuries and began to look at the more natural and informal landscapes of the early 18th.century. This period saw a real change both in people’s attitude to the natural world and in their garden designs. These changes were introduced to us in a lecture by David Jacques. He reminded us that the English landscape park tradition took many forms and that Capability Brown represented just one of these. Following this on our visits we concentrated in particular on the work of William Kent who, although there is not much to show in our county, is wonderfully represented just over the County border. We had a visit to Stowe in Spring. It was rather cold and the attendance was a bit disappointing but we had a really good guide who introduced us to Kent’s work there in a very enjoyable way. This was followed by a visit to Rousham which is one of the most important and most attractive sites in the country. Jenny Burt guided us around and was able to use correspondence between the Head Gardener and the owner to show us how it was originally seen and understood at the time. Thus we were able to gain a better understanding of the key ideas and innovations of Kent and appreciate that there is a world of difference between his ideas and those of Capability Brown. It is one of the strengths of the Trust that we have people like Jenny who are so knowledgeable and are so ready to make that knowledge available.
This is true also in connection with another of our ongoing themes. For the last few years we have included a day on a local writer who in some way or other relates to the local landscape and in particular its gardens. In previous years it was John Clare and John Dryden. This year our subject was H E Bates who was born and grew up in Rushden before he moved to Kent at his marriage. Although he is best known for Pop Larkins and The Darling Buds of May he was a prolific writer and wrote several books about gardening and others about the Northamptonshire countryside. He also wrote many other novels some of which are set in local places. Gwen Tobin, another of our council members, led the way and with help from others organised a magnificent day visiting some sites associated with his books. We started in Higham Ferrers and we were able to visit a private garden that combined H E Bates’ associations with splendid views of the Church. We then moved on to Rushden and looked at both the Hall and the Park which were the setting for one of the best known novels by Bates. After lunch we moved on to Knuston Hall and saw the remains of an historic garden there which also featured in his books. It was a really good day and was wonderful value. As a result of this Gwen was invited to give a talk at one of the regular dinners that are held at Knuston. This reminds us that several of our members give talks on subjects related to the interests of the Trust and it is usually possible to provide a speaker for any event. Our H E Bates day was greatly helped in that his grand-daughter was able to be with us and enlivened the day with personal reminiscences. We were even more fortunate in that she was able subsequently to give us a talk about H E Bates’ garden in Kent which was very well known. Both the Rousham day and the H E Bates day gained enormously from the picnic lunches provided by Isabel Gillett and her helpers and these are becoming a main attraction in their own right.
Our summer party was held at Cottesbrooke which is always a delight and everyone enjoyed a splendid evening there. Many of our visits combine gardens with some other attraction or interest. This is important as our main interest is in garden history and that involves looking at any garden in its context. This means that we try to make our programme as wide as possible. Thus we had a lovely evening lecture by Penelope Rapson about music in and inspired by gardens while Mike Brown, another member of the council, gave a highly entertaining presentation about Christmas in the middle ages. During this he performed on several different musical instruments and related everything to the natural world in a most satisfying way.
This combination of topics probably reached its height on our visit to Harrington. This has one of the most spectacular and significant archaeological gardens in the country and is a wonderfully evocative place. Chris Addison was able to guide us around the site and point out many of the things we might otherwise have missed. We then adjourned to the nearby distillery!! This has been developed by the family of Adele Warner a much loved member of the Trust who sadly died in 2014. We were given a fascinating and highly entertaining introduction to the process of distilling and then invited to sample some of the results. Everyone departed feeling very satisfied with the whole evening and wishing for more.
A large group from the Trust was able to visit Thenford and tour Michael Heseltine’s garden there. This is certainly one of the most impressive of the newer gardens in the county and it is always interesting to see newly created gardens of all sorts and wonder how people will view them in the future. Allied in a way to this was a talk given by Neil Lyons – yet another member of the Trust. He spoke about the care of larger country houses and gardens in the twentieth century. This is often thought of as being a story largely of decline and loss but Neil stressed that although there had been some sad losses there was definitely another side to the picture and it was not all gloom by any means. This was born out by our visit to the gardens at Glendon Hall where we were able to see how they were being cared for in the very different circumstances of the early twenty first century.
That we had such an interesting, varied and successful programme is largely due to Jenny Burt who does most of the organising. We should be very grateful to her and to all those others who open their gardens to us or give talks and introductions to help us appreciate what we are seeing. It is thanks to them that our programme is so good.
Research into the history of our parks and gardens continues to be a principal aim of the Trust. This year has seen the continuation of three ongoing projects. Of the greatest immediacy is that to do with the work of Capability Brown in the county. A group has been continuing to compile a gazetteer of his work here with whatever details about it can be found out. The aim is to publish this in the form of a booklet at some point in his anniversary year. Already some of the results have been significant. In particular Rod Conlon has found out a tremendous amount about the details of Brown’s work at Wakefield Lodge and he and Jenny Burt have also helped put Brown’s work at Fawsley on a surer foundation. Much of the fruits of this research will hopefully be made available, not just in the proposed booklet, but in the various displays and events being planned in the county to mark the anniversary.
A second project now well under way is that being undertaken by Elizabeth Taylor. She is recording the various walled kitchen gardens in the county and is making good progress through them. Again we hope to make a permanent record of this at some point in the future. A third project is to compile a list and record of the various memorial landscapes in the county. This is particularly focusing on memorials associated with the First World War. At present work on this has been quite slow but the pace will increase once Brown’s anniversary is over and of course the target date is 2018 to coincide with celebrating the armistice.
The wide range of these topics from landscape park to kitchen gardens to war memorials shows just how fascinating a subject garden history is and how wide is its appeal. There really is something for everyone. What is also very gratifying is to note the number of people who are now positively engaged in one sort of research or another. As well as these projects several members are actively pursuing their own areas of interest. It is no longer just two or three people who are doing the research and there is a growing amount of expertise in various topics and various periods in the Trust. We are very grateful for the ready way this expertise is shared with all.
Membership and Council of Management.
The membership for 2015 was 133. This is a ten per cent increase on the number for 2014 so that is moving in the right direction. Sadly we have lost some members who have died during the course of 2015. These include Ann Richards of Polebrook and Marguerite Stephenson of Kettering. They were both very supportive members and we will miss them.
It is inevitable that there is a bias both in numbers and in activities towards the centre of the county. We do try to balance things out as much as possible but the far North and far South of the county are a long way from the centre and this inevitably affects the numbers attending functions in those parts. Having said that I am constantly surprised at just how far some people do travel to support us and we do have a very loyal and dependable membership.
The Council of Management remains as it was in 2014 with the addition of Elizabeth Taylor. It numbers ten with some additional co-options. It has met four times throughout the year and we should record our thanks to Jenny Burt for her hospitality. In theory there are six sub-committees with a council member responsible for each. In practice much more of the work is done by relatively informal working parties. These for example arrange the programme, deal with refreshments, organise the research and in particular this year have dealt with our contribution to the Capability Brown Festival. They all work extremely hard and I would like to express the thanks of all the members and my own personal thanks for all they do.
Other on-going work
We continue to be a strong supporter of what was the Association of Garden Trusts. This body has now officially merged with the Garden History Society and the united organisation is known as the Gardens Trust. We did support the merger although many of us were not absolutely sure what the new organisation would be like. It seems reasonably clear at present that we will not be affected much in what we do. The Northamptonshire Gardens Trust will continue to be an independent organisation responsible for its own activities and I do not think most members will notice any difference. At a national level a united body may be in a stronger position to safeguard our heritage of historic gardens and anything that does this is to be welcomed.
The most exciting developments are to do with the Capability Brown Festival. This promises to be a really big year-long celebration and gives all the Garden Trusts an opportunity to promote their work and interests. All the Trusts are planning a series of events and we are no exception. What IS special for us is that we have been awarded a special grant by the national organisers for our programme. This money ultimately comes from the lottery and it is a great feather in our cap to have been chosen. We are very grateful to Elaine Johnson and Carol Fitzpatrick and those who helped them put the bid together at short notice. They are now working to make it all happen. We are working in partnership with Castle Ashby and details of events will soon be available. This close relationship with important sites is something to be warmly welcomed and we look forward to an exciting year.
We continue to support developments in schools and make grants where appropriate. We are also continuing to keep note of any developments that may affect our historic gardens and challenge them where necessary and we also maintain our records and update our lists of gardens of interest.
The web site has been a great success and attracts many visitors including quite a number from overseas. We have even survived a hacking attempt from the Ukraine! I do urge members both to visit it if you have not already done so and also to keep supplying Elizabeth Taylor with material.
It will be clear that I believe that 2015 has been a good year for the Trust and it looks as though 2016 will be at least as good. Whenever I meet representatives from other Trusts I feel really quite proud to be speaking on behalf of Northamptonshire and that we can hold our heads high. I want therefore to conclude by thanking everyone who has helped in any way. It would be invidious to mention any names at this point for there are so many so thank you to every member of the Trust for all your support and above all your friendship.
However I must yet again thank our President Susie Pasley-Tyler for her constant support and encouragement. Here again other Trusts are envious that we have such a supportive President and that such a wonderful garden as Coton is almost our second home.
David Bond – Chairman of the Council