Annual Report 2013


The Council of Management has met regularly throughout the year.  In addition to myself Jenny Burt has continued as secretary and Rod Conlon as treasurer while Norma Pearson has been membership secretary.  Mike Brown, John Cooper, Isabel Gillett, Terry Higgins, Adrian Smith, Gwen Tobin and Adele Warner were the other members of the Council and during the year Elaine Johnson was co-opted to the Council.  Chris Addison has continued to give us help and advice from her role at the Historic Environment Record (previously Sites and Monuments Record).  I must begin by thanking them all for all their hard work in so many ways.  In particular we should thank John Cooper who has decided to stand down after many years on the Council.  John worked tremendously hard to get us publicity and also served as Vice Chairman.  We will miss his contribution and it is good to know he hopes to remain an active member of the Trust.  As a result of John standing down Gwen Tobin agreed to act as Vice Chairman.

Membership for the year was 123.  This was slightly down on the previous year.  We welcomed several new members but sadly have to record the passing of some long-standing friends.  Anne Mackley, Pat Wallis and John Rigby all died this year and they will be much missed. We should also record the death of Mavis Batey who was a great friend of the Trust especially in its early days.

This year saw a significant change in that the programme was planned on a longer-term basis.  2016 sees the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown arguably England’s most famous Landscape Park designer.  Many celebrations and events are being planned nationally to mark the anniversary and we in Northamptonshire are thinking about how best to celebrate it locally.  Similarly 2014 is the three hundredth anniversary of the death of George London another famous designer and partner with Henry Wise at the celebrated Brompton Nursery.  Bearing in mind these anniversaries we have planned the outline of our programme over the next three years to reflect on them.  Therefore, in 2014 we will be concentrating on the gardens of the period of London and Wise, i.e. the late C17th.  In 2015 it will be the early C18th and then in 2016 the age of Capability Brown.  As a lead up to this, our 2013 programme focused on the formal gardens of the later C16th and early C17th  – a period in which Northamptonshire is particularly strong.

Thus we visited Holdenby where much of the Tudor layout survives with a modern garden created on top of it.  We went out of county to Kenilworth to see the garden English Heritage has recreated to tell the story of Robert Dudley entertaining Elizabeth there.  This is one of the most ambitious recreations in the country and most of us were very impressed.  At Canons Ashby we were able to see another restoration – this time by the National Trust.  They have set out a Victorian garden within the structure and layout of the C17th.  Again most of us thought this was very successful.  Another visit was to Blatherwycke.  This was interesting because the Tudor house there was owned by the Stafford family who are better known for their contribution to Kirby Hall.  The park at Blatherwycke was landscaped in the C18th and much of that survives including the lake, but we went to see particularly the work being carried out in the Walled Garden.  This is work-in-progress but when complete should be a fine addition to the gardens of our County.

We do not visit only ancient sites and we always enjoy visiting modern gardens.  This year we visited a delightful garden at Medbourne just over the border in Leicestershire.  It is also good to put gardens into the wider context of the landscape and also the wider cultural background.  To this end we spent a day looking at the story of John Clare.  We were given an introductory talk and then toured his house and village.  In the afternoon we went to two of the sites most associated with him – both now Nature Reserves.  This was a long day for all those who did everything but was much enjoyed.

The highlight of the year is always the Summer Party.  This year marked the 21st. anniversary of the founding of the Trust and we were once again welcomed at Coton by our President.  Coton is always special and although the weather was not ideal we had a memorable evening.  We were especially delighted that Gilly Drummond, the president of the Association of Garden Trusts, was able to be with us to celebrate.

Organising the visits can be very time consuming and we are very grateful to all those who helped set up the programme.  We must also thank all those who so kindly opened their gardens and made us so welcome on every occasion.  The number of members attending visits was slightly down but not worryingly so and the programme of visits remains a major focus of the Trust’s work. They were supplemented by the usual programme of lectures at the Hunsbury Centre. Unfortunately a serious fire put our normal meeting place out of action and we have had to relocate either to another facility at Hunsbury or elsewhere. Inevitably this has caused some confusion and the issue of where to hold our future meetings has yet to be settled. At the AGM we had a delightful talk on Edwardian Gardens. The other lectures were related to the main theme of our programme. Hazel Fryer gave us a good introduction to our visit to Kenilworth while Malcolm Deacon gave a splendid introduction to the career of the first Christopher Hatton. Finally Bruce Bailey introduced us to the next year of our programme with a beautifully illustrated talk on the European background to our Baroque landscapes. The lectures were all well received and we are very grateful to those who came to talk to us.

Our Trust continues strongly to support the work of the Association of Garden Trusts.  Chris Addison represents us at their business meetings and gives regular reports of what is happening.  Several members attended the annual conference, which this year was held in the East End of London.  These are always very enjoyable occasions but this year the programme and speakers were especially interesting.  The theme was about ‘greening’ the East End and we had visits to Victoria Park Hackney, Mile End Park, the Thames Barrier Park and Canary Wharf.  The climax was a guided tour of the Olympic Park.  Altogether it was a fascinating weekend. We are involved with the plans of the Association regarding the Capability Brown Anniversary and intend to play a full part in that.

The major item of interest in relation to the Association concerns the possible merger with the Garden History Society.  This has been encouraged by English Heritage who feel that a single body representing the heritage of designed landscapes will have a more powerful voice when it comes to making representations and applying for grants.  This may well be true and there may be other advantages to a merger including financial ones.  Nonetheless the two bodies are very different in both organisation and membership and in general ethos so a merger is not expected to be an easy matter.  A working party has been set up to consider the merger and so far what they have produced looks quite interesting.  It is doubtful how much difference a merger would make to us on the ground but the Council will be taking a keen interest in what is happening so that we are not steamrollered into something that is not in our own interest.

As a footnote to this item it is right to report that your Chairman and Secretary attended a special event at the Walled Garden in Ramsey to remember John Drake the former Chairman of our neighbouring Trust in Cambridgeshire.  John was much loved and a very good friend to Northamptonshire.  It was a lovely occasion though tinged with sadness.  The Ramsey Walled Garden was very dear to John’s heart and it was especially moving to remember him there.

A vital part of the Trust’s work is the investigation and recording of historic parks and gardens.  A team of members are updating our lists and are working district by district.  In 2013 the main work was on the Wellingborough District and this was virtually completed.  We try to encourage people to make use of the facilities at the Record Office and to that end arranged an evening session there which was well attended and much appreciated.  It is right to report how helpful the staff are both at the Record Office and at the Historic Environment Record and we are genuinely grateful for all the help they give us.  Individual members are working on their own special interests but there is much much more that could be done and it would be nice to have some more helpers in this area.
We publish a newsletter reasonably regularly and it is always very interesting when it comes but this is another area where we would appreciate some more help.

We continue to take a very keen interest in what schools are doing and it is a pleasure to report that we have continued to make grants to schools that have applied.  We always try to help whenever we are asked.  It would be good if members of the Trust could make our interest and grant scheme known in their own areas.

I would like to finish by once again thanking all those who have helped in any way.  It would be invidious to name individuals and it would be a very long list, but we are fortunate to have so many people to make my job easier.  I would however like to thank once again our President Susie Pasley-Tyler for her continuing support. The Trust benefits enormously from her constant support and advice.

David Bond, Chairman of the Council – March 2014