BERKSHIRE’S PARKS & GARDENS HERITAGE ON OUR DOORSTEP
As I type, it really does feel as if Spring has arrived with all sorts of bright colours everywhere, including corners of suburbia where wonderful yellow, pink and purple blossoms vie for attention. It really does encourage one to visit gardens!
Liz Ware’s Blog on the Association of Gardens Trusts’ website (www.gardenstrusts.org.uk), comments on several issues concerning the importance of our public parks. I fully support the concept that such amenities contribute to our well-being. Indeed, I really enjoyed visits to several of Reading’s public parks (and open spaces) recently when 4 of us walked from Tilehurst station via Arthur Newbery Park, McIlroy Park and Lousehill Copse to Prospect Park and then on to Reading’s Forbury Gardens.
The Arthur Newbery Park contains a wonderfully landscaped hill with a huge avenue to the left and good views. McIllrory Park, named after its original owner who ran a Reading department store, has some well-placed seats from which to admire its even more tremendous views towards the Chilterns, the River Thames and Reading, including the old brick-producing areas of Tilehurst. Lousehill Copse, new to all of us, is more of an untamed ‘wildlife corridor’, snaking its way between housing estates, with some surprising vantage points and dips to cross small streams in the woods, which are currently punctuated with white anenomes and yellow flowers. Just before reaching the slopes leading up to Prospect Park, there is a decorative ceramic design and plaque on the edge of one small estate denoting the premises of the last brickworks in Tilehurst.
Following lunch in Prospect Park’s white stuccoed Regency mansion (now a very popular ‘value for money’ Harvester), with splendid, almost unimpeded views across the Kennet Valley towards Hampshire, we carried on into Reading along the Holy Brook, so admirably researched by Adam Sowan in his book (published by Two Rivers Press, a local Reading company which also published the Friends’ 2012 Caversham Court Gardens – A Heritage Guide, which I will be reviewing shortly on Berkshire Garden’s Trust’s website and, more briefly, in our newsletter). After the interest of the Coley Park Farm Estate, parts of which date from the 16th century with properties, including a listed dovecote, now converted mainly into private accommodation, there were big skies above the water meadows, some venerable willows, plane trees, and a variety of gardens to view on the opposite bank.
Our walk ended at the confluence of the Holy Brook with the River Kennet after it runs under offices and amongst remains of parts of Reading’s Abbey. From here it is a short stroll into The Forbury Gardens (Grade II), recently restored with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund (see illustration below). On this occasion, we did not continue via the Eldon Square (Grade 11) Conservation Area, within which Watlington House sits, or over the river to Caversham Court (Grade II), an extension well worth considering if you don’t stop in central Reading.
The total walk described above is about 6 miles and while access is not always immediately obvious to those new to the area, there are maps and information available on Reading’s website http://www.reading.gov.uk.
I can’t believe we are now 2013. I hope this update is of interest and wish you all the best for the New Year … … !
In my role as Trust Secretary, the late summer and early autumn of 2012 was taken up with various matters associated with the AGM in September and Ben Viljoen’s excellent November lecture. Then, in addition to submitting views on ‘Local Listing’ of eritage assets to West Berkshire Unitary Authority, we also we ‘put our hands up’ to actually attend and give evidence at the Examination in Public into Bracknell Forest Council’s Draft Allocations Site Policy Document on which we submitted comments last November and also in March 2012.
The Examination was the first time that the Trust has been involved in something like this and, given the financial and resource constraints upon the Garden History Society and building development pressure on land in the South-East in particular, it is sadly unlikely to be a ‘one-off’. The public hearings, with representatives from Parish ouncils, various groups of residents and experts including the RSPB and the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxon Wildlife Trust, as well as Bracknell Forest Council and the prospective developer interests, took place at the Hilton Hotel near South Hill Park where the Trust held a successful study day in September 2011.
The mid-Victorian designed landscape at Broadmoor is currently a nationally registered Grade II landscape and also on the EH At Risk Register. Berkshire Gardens Trust’s main interest relates to the proposals to build housing within the Walled Garden and how the designed landscaping of the impressive terraces at the core of Broadmoor Asylum’s secure site are likely to be adversely affected by development proposals. Needless to say, very few people have ever visited the secure site. However, it is actually quite well documented with plenty of photographic illustrations of the various important features, which were designed to provide therapeutic benefits to those resident within their walls. Although the site is on the English Heritage At Risk Register, many of these features are still currently in fairly good condition overall and rare survivors of such mental asylums, which is why they are considered to be such nationally significant heritage assets. They also form part of the wider Crowthorne Character Area, with views to and from publicly accessible land.
An Examination is not somewhere to “pull rabbits out of hats”, but an exercise in which those participating respomd to questions the Inspector has raised in the context of national planning policy, reiterating key points to emphasise their views. Also, as anyone who has ever taken an exam or been part of something similar will know, there always seems to be a wealth of information to be digested and understood beforehand and then not much time to share this with those participating around the table and the Inspector.
Only time will tell whether or not our efforts will be successful in requiring a re-think of the proposals currently on the table, although Bracknell Forest Council have already been asked to propose some changes to the plans. Meanwhile, I’d like to leave you with one of my favourite photographs of the Marjorelle Gardens in the north-west of Marakkesh, Morocco, which I visited in November. Designed by Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner, they contain examples of exotics from across the world; a peaceful haven in a very different way to that of Broadmoor’s designed landscape.
FIONA’S SUMMER BLOG
Well, summer is here at last, with sunshine on the herbaceous borders after all the chilly rain we have had, which while needed, is usually less conducive for garden
As members of the Trust and visitors to this site may already know, I am a great supporter of the varied public parks and gardens which so many of our towns and villages are lucky enough to have. It was therefore great to hear about the importance which the Garden History Society also attaches to them at their July AGM at the Garden Museum in Lambeth. Jonathan Lovie, the Principal Conservation Officer and Policy Advisor to the GHS’s Conservation Team, who is also involved with the National Trust Council, emphasised the crucial role and contribution of County Gardens Trust research and planning activities regionally, especially given the ’choppy waters’ in which the NT, English Heritage and other similar organisations currently operate. Jonathan stressed the need to be vigilant about the increasing risks to public parks, even where they are registered designed landscapes. This was good to hear given the recent support which the Berkshire Gardens Trust has given to those seeking to ensure that Reading’s relatively recently Heritage Lottery funded The Forbury and Caversham Court gardens did not suffer from possible Council cuts (see full article in our Spring/ Summer 2012 Newsletter). The results of any cuts would have been to the own’s etriment and a missed opportunity for those who live, work and visit, including those enjoying the delights of the river and its banks.
I was very aware of Jonathan’s words and the pressure on such areas, when I went on a guided tour of Brighton’s public parks gardens and open spaces with the Birkbeck Garden History Group (BGHG) in mid-July. The tour was led by Virginia Hinze, previously the Landscape Architect for English Heritage’s South East Region and a staunch supporter of the garden history world, especially within Sussex. I was not aware that Brighton had such a good horticultural reputation, nor that it has the national collection of elms, survivors of the 1970s Dutch Elm disease disaster which affected so many in this country. Virginia described Brighton’s Green Mile as “a linear series of designed spaces that form a physical and temporal progression in Brighton’s history”. Dating from the early 17th century, they are now virtually all publicly accessible, with the hope that Preston Park Manor’s walled garden, at the northern extent of our trip, will ultimately become a community garden or allotments.
Just to the north of the Pavilion, the Victoria or Valley Gardens act as a green ribbon and corridor between the busy north-south main road. Originally subscription gardens for the surrounding middle-class houses, they were opened to the public from the late 19th century. There has been some recent re-planting commensurate with the ‘tiered bedding’ introduced by the Parks Superintendent Captain Bertie MacLaren in the 1920s which enlivens what would otherwise have just become another grassy urban landscape fringed by a line of trees, alongside which motorists would pass without another glance, of which MacLaren would not have approved!. Through the addition of grasses as yet another texture, the contemporary planting also has a ‘prairie’ feel, especially when the sun shines.
We then traversed The Level. This final section of ‘the green mile’ area remains an important open space for the playing of games, with the later addition of playground areas, including a skate park, among formal floral beds. There are plans to move the skate park to the remaining open area adjacent to an asphalt football pitch, a move which the majority of the locals who use the area want though others are less keen; illustrative of the sorts of tensions which all local authorities face in the management and development of their open spaces. Stone-flags support the slightly higher perimeter, encircled by fine elms, in the northern part. North again from the Level is Park Crescent, a horseshoe of villas built by Amon Henry Wilds on the site of Brighton’s first public cricket ground (donated by the Prince of Wales in 1791).
Our tour concluded with a traverse of Preston Park, formerly part of the Stanford Estate and purchased as “the People’s Park” in the 1880s. Today the park has two cafes, the prettier of which is in the form of a rotunda designed by MacLaren in 1929 and almost surrounded by his extensive, surviving rose garden of 1929 now planted with David Austin roses. The park incorporates old estate hedgerows, which include some ‘champion trees’, as well as what is called the tile house, with a pleasing patterned tile-clad walls and built in the 1920s as an exhibition piece to show a firm’s wares (currently a keep fit club’s centre).
We ended with the magnificent and dramatic 1936 rockery designed by MacLaren, who had trained with James Backhouse, one of the leading rock-garden specialists of the period. It was a complete surprise, especially given its modern setting above the London to Brighton road. It uses stratified rock on its very steep upper levels which give way to gentle moraine slopes and grassy meadows dotted with rocks. Windy paths, a rustic bridge across a steep cascade and a stepping-stone crossing in the meadows area add to the surprises of what Virginia refers to as “… a huge palette of plants from true alpines to hardy herbaceous and shrubs, conifers … and “kaleidoscopic patterns of colours and forms … “. Sadly, it was raining extremely hard by this point, so sadly no photos were possible. Many thanks to Virginia for an excellent tour and ccompanying notes as well as BGHG’s committee for arranging it.
FIONA’S SPRING 2012 BLOG
Although my intention was to update this blog for the late autumn/winter, events conspired to prevent this, with various other activities needing to be done more urgently. They include work on the Trust’s responses to several planning issues and in particular the recent Bracknell Forest Council’s consultation about planning policy in relation to Broadmoor, a Grade II registered landscape near Crowthorne. Research is another important area. We have been revising the research form and prioritising sites which need to be looked at, to provide some examples to encourage others to join us.
The Trust has also been busy with the Hungerford Tragedy Memorial Garden and Watlington House projects, contributing an article about the Hungerford garden for the 2012 Association of Gardens Trusts’ Yearbook, about which you will find more elsewhere on the website and in the Spring/Summer Newsletter. The AGT publication contains articles about all sorts of activities with which County Gardens Trusts are involved across the country and makes interesting reading; a copy is available for each Berkshire Gardens Trust member and can either be
collected at a Trust event or acquired if you email or telephone enquiry to us
(we still have some 2011 copies available too if you missed out on this).
On a personal note, I have been lucky enough to go on some great visits to some exhibitions about designed landscapes over the last few months. Some of you may have seen last autumn’s excellently displayed ‘Capability Brown’ exhibition at Compton Verney, Warwickshire. As well as paintings and plans, it was interesting to see some of the equipment which Brown and others would have used in the course of their work in the 18th century. Another exhibition a bit closer to home was at the Ashmolean in Oxford, where a huge number of prints and some large-scale paintings illustrated the sorts of details observed by the French artist Claude-Lorrain,
who together with Nicolas Poussin, influenced so many of the classically-inspired 18th century and subsequent garden landscapes in Britain.
In terms of garden visits, I enjoyed my annual ‘pilgrimage’ to Welford Park, near Newbury in West Berkshire, to see the snowdrop display. Although the sharp cold spells in February and lack of rain has affected so much in the garden, they were still a delight, even on a dull day. The mixed crocus, aconites and hellebores nearer the house complemented them perfectly. It is lovely to have such a special place relatively close by to visit towards the end of winter.
More recently, I was lucky enough to experience several hot, sunny days in Paris. While the trip to Versailles was a little disappointing, due to the statues still being ‘under wraps’ and the various ponds drained, it was still impressive (see opening picture) and also interesting to see the last of the winter work to get the gardens ready for Easter and the summer season: an excuse for a future visit to see the fountains!. We were however, enchanted by Le Hameau, Marie-Antoinette’s beloved and delightful hamlet with farm and other ornamentally ‘rustic’ buildings: I quite forgave her any extravagances!
I also took Mike on a mini-tour of some of the wonderful public parks in Paris, all of which have played a role in the regeneration and ‘improvements’ to the city in recent centuries. It was interesting to note how they were being enjoyed and
used as well as some of the maintenance issues which it seems beset so many landscapes the world over, especially where economic pressures are present.
The largely 18th century styled peaceful Parc Monceau, towards the north-west of the capital, towards the north-west of the capital, is a few streets from the bustle of the Arc de Triomphe and still quite well tended.
Well used, especially by nannies and businessmen, its columnade, arches, other carefully placed features and lawns were in good condition.
To the north-east, the sloping and lake-side lawns of the dramatic 19th century Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (commissioned by Napoleon III in the Baron Haussmann era, when huge swathes of Paris were ‘modernised’ and ‘improved’), were full of all sorts of Parisians and visitors picnicking and sunbathing around the 50 metre man-made rocky promontory rising out of the lake.
Complete with its belvedere, modelled on the Temple of Sibyl at Tivoli, Italy, it is ageing well.
The late 20th century Jardins Atlantique, above the Gare de Montparnasse and surrounded by tall buildings, contain some hidden delights, both in terms of planting and stylish design features such as stylish ‘art nouveau’ lamps and paving designs as well as stepped, scalloped lawns whose shapes were echoed by perimeter seating, raised walkways through lush vegetation within which interesting slate/stone structures were positioned and with a colourful children’s play area and tennis courts to either side.
The centre of the park has some metallic sculptures; actually a series of instruments for measuring elements of the weather. Sadly, the concrete used for some of the central paths and the wooden-slatted seating were deteriorating, although it was well used, both as a resting place and a thoroughfare.
Another late 20th century venue, the Parc de la Villette, towards the north-east of Paris, is a real ‘green, cultural lung’ through which the Canal Martin runs with a near-by basin and locks. The park provides a short-cut to and from the River Seine for large boats. It has a lot of open grassy areas and some modern sculpture; we were particularly taken with the ‘de-constructed’ bicycle. However, much of the ‘prairie area’ to the north of the canal and some of the other ‘compartments’ which I remember from a previous visit 10 years ago, appear to have been ‘sacrificed’ for the extension of the musical conservatoire, theatre and science park and large exhibition buildings. Once again it was certainly very well used, especially by families and youngsters taking advantage of the sunshine after school and ‘in transit’ workers and tourists.
Close by is the Promenade des Plantes, yet another recently created green thoroughfare on the site of an old railway-line; an urban regeneration project to and from the Canal Martin near the Bastille. A few kilometres in length, it incorporates some interesting planting in ‘compartments’ punctuated by trellis and other features, as well as lots of seating. Part-way along, there is also a cafe and upmarket artisan workshops to visit below.
Finally, the late 20th century Parc Andre Citroen, parallel to the Seine on a previous car and munitions factory site to the south-west of the Hotel des Invalides and the Eiffel Tower, provides what is said to be the third-most expansive urban view in Paris. Although the sunken garden ‘rooms’ and sloping, geometric concrete rills and other features, showed some signs of neglect (the lining of the drained, long rectangular water trough was heavily patched with fountains and concrete edges not looking good),
the overall impact was still as great as when I first visited earlier this century. Certainly the computer-controlled fountains set between two large ‘glasshouses’ are still dramatic, while the geometry of the planted hedges and of the paths between them and across the lawns bisecting the site, remains largely intact and creates an impact, despite the intrusion of a tethered hot-air balloon (which you can pay to ascend in), promoting the services of an environmentally-friendly French bank!
Happy Garden Visiting this Spring to all readers!
To paraphrase Keats, it is the season of garden conferences. I thought I would use this opportunity to give an idea of what goes on at such an event and bring to life some of the historic designed landscapes visited. In late July, I attended the Garden History Society’s AGM and Conference weekend event based at the University of Keele, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire (Grade II* listed hall and Grade II grounds), which took place the weekend before our own County Trust AGM at Watlington House, Reading (to be covered elsewhere).
The GHS conference event was entitled Modern Restorations, Old Landscapes: Georgian, Victorian and a Touch of Palladio.
Friday morning was set aside for a Graduate Symposium chaired by Patrick Eyres, editor of the wonderfully stimulating The New Arcadian Journal, where a number of presentations illustrated just how varied a subject garden history is. The formal AGM followed and included a debate about the continuing project where the Garden History Society, the Association of Gardens Trusts, the UK Parks & Gardens Database and the Garden Museum are discussing ways in which they can all work closer together to help protect, enhance and research gardens so as to maximise the benefits for all of us, including what funding and policy support may in future be available from such bodies as English Heritage and various government departments. The point was also made that due to less resources being available, the Association of Gardens Trusts members would have to become more engaged with planning issues which would need the support of the GHS and AGT. There was also a presentation by the Conservation Team which does its best to focus its expertise by commenting on Grade II and Grade II* registered parks and gardens and contributing to their conservation and management plans. This work includes sensitive and constructive consideration of issues affecting a wide range of designed landscapes, for example from schools or other institutions who wish to make changes to them to applications for wind farms. While there were some queries about practicalities, most attendees seemed to recognise that we all need to adapt how we operate in order to be successful in this straightened economic times.
On Friday evening drinks in the Victorian Library at Keele Hall were followed by an enlightening talk by Dr. Nigel Tringham, who has been the Editor for the Victoria County History of Staffordhsire for over a decade. His talk brought to mind elements of Berkshire, when he mentioned the fact that poor soil in much of the now depleted county (which has suffered as we have from border changes), gave rise to a focus on hunting parks. On Saturday morning, we enjoyed a tour of the university grounds, which cover the 18th to the 21st centuries, with a re-created formal garden in the High Victorian style close to Keele Hall itself. With a bit of imagination, it is possible to erase the less attractive 20th century educational buildings and block out the nearby M6 and go back to a different era.
Sunday morning brought a surprise when I discovered that the Head Gardener at Adlington Hall (English Heritage Grade I listed building and Grade II* registered landscape), just over the border in Cheshire, was Anthony O’Grady, who studied with me at Birkbeck for our MA in Garden History. He gave us a fascinating tour of a half-hidden 18th century landscape. Typically for that period, the layout lent itself to an almost ‘Alice in Wonderland’ like tour. At times we had to negotiate rough paths cut through invasive shrubs. We firstly took in a Temple of Diana where the interior roof scrolls and garlands decoration of the rotunda, which was supported by Roman Doric columns, was in such good condition it looked as though it was painted yesterday. (now sadly minus its summerhouse), the Ting House (a square brick paviliaion with pyramidal slate roof and black and white timberwork in a Chinese style), followed by a ruined ‘Hermitage’ , the ‘Rat (or Rat) House’ (with gothic windows and the remains of quartz decorations), a very early ‘free standing’ beautifully planted Rockery next to a Shell House and finally a Cascade where a Father Tiber statue by John Cheere, a famous London sculptor, used to sit. We also had a brief tour of the interior of the Grade I listed Hall with its impressive external timberwork, followed by a lovely lunch.
Henbury Hall provided the promised ‘touch of Palladio’, with a late 20th century perfectly symmetrical creation in french limestone (loosely based on Palladio’s Villa Capra, La Rotonda, near Vicenza in Italy), by architect Julian Bicknell and statues by New Zealand artist Felix Kelly, responsible for murals in Castle Howard and remodelling Highgrove for Prince Charles. The Hall gazes out onto classic English park and farmland with sheep grazing beneath avenues of trees, with gardens created by Sir Vincent de Ferranti, son of the owner Sir Basil de Ferranti, and Gilly Brown a relaxing contrast leading down to and around lakes and featuring a ‘Crystal Palace’ style wooden framed conservatory within which is located a very inviting-looking pool.
THE GARDEN HISTORY SOCIETY
ASSOCIATION OF GARDENS TRUSTS’ AGMsRead More»
The re-launch of the Berkshire Gardens Trust website has provided us with an opportunity to keep members in touch with what is going on in the wider world of heritage related to our parks & gardens.Read More»
Last year, Fiona Hope provided some highlights of the Garden History Society’s July Annual General Meeting and conference in Nottingham, while Liz Ware provided an interesting insight into the 2010 Association of Garden Trust’s Annual General Meeting and weekend conference which took place on the Isle of Wight last October. Both events included plenty of visits to interesting designed parks and gardens in the areas concerned as well as opportunities to learn more about the subject and network and generally have fun with like-minded people.Read More»