Newsletter No. 23, Winter 2011/12

Letter from the Chairman The Whitmores at Dudmaston by Kunigunda Gough, A Recent Restoration Project - Dovecote at Hodnet Hall by Sarah Butler, Shifnal Manor Gazebo by Advolly Richmond, Meres and Mosses Landscape Partnership by Belinda Cousens and Luke Neal

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Letter from the Chairman 

2013 is the centenary of the birth of Shropshire’s most famous gardener – Percy Thrower. 
ne of our members, Advolly Richmond, has studied his legacy as part of her Master’s course at Bristol University and some of her conclusions can be read in a welcome Shropshire contribution to the 2013 Association of Garden Trusts Year Book.

Although he started his working life as a potand-crock boy on a private estate in Buckinghamshire his approach to gardening was never elitist, but always populist and this philosophy thrived on his gift of being a natural teacher.  His entry in the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography highlights how ‘through simple education and encouragement he helped  to restore gardening as Britain’s favourite leisure activity, bringing it back as a source of often productive pleasure after the unduly protracted season of the war and the allotment’

His regular appearances on the Blue Peter television programme generated a huge interest in growing things amongst young people and some SPGT members may have fond memories of the programmes.  The Blue Peter Garden at the Television Centre, London, designed by Percy in 1974, has been carefully moved to the new Salford Media City where it was officially (re)opened a year ago by the Princess Royal. 

Percy Thrower was very much a popular media person.  His words of gardening wisdom were even available on a 12” vinyl LP.  ‘Percy Thrower’s Gardening Year, issued on the Stereo Gold Award label in 1977 features monthly chats on what to do – January to June on side one and July to December on side 2.   The sleeve notes express the hope ‘that you find listening to Percy relaxing as well as informative’! A more local oral legacy is the song performed by Fred Phipps for the very first ‘Three Men in a Bow Tie’ in 1993.  ‘The Once and Fuschia King’ is a gentle celebration of both the man and the plant which he is most closely identified with.  Languishing on old cassette tapes, a reissue for the digital age would be worthwhile!

Developers of the new garden centre and Waitrose supermarket at the Oteley Road site in Shrewsbury have professed a desire to perpetuate his name and legacy.  Percy Thrower spent the major part of his life in Shropshire and as the local Parks and Gardens Trust we should support and commend efforts to celebrate his achievements.

Tony Herbert  


Our New Website

www.shropshiregardens.org.uk is the address of our recently re-launched website.  The website is hosted by Shropshire Tourism and we are indebted to Kay Corbett for overseeing the project, which has resulted in an attractive and user-friendly introduction to the Trust and its activities. Members are urged to have a look at it – at your local library if you do not have a computer. Under different headings users can find details of forthcoming events, lists of gardens open, and the lists of historic gardens drawn up by English Heritage and Shropshire Council. And so much more.

Do let us have your comments and any ideas you may have for additional content and photographs. Thanks are due to the three committee members who led this project so successfully:  Fiona Grant, Michael Tunnicliffe and Christopher Gallagher.   


New Committee Member

We have been fortunate to recruit several new members to our Committee recently, so this is the first of a series of introductions:

Cristopher Gallagher joined the Committee last year and has already made a significant contribution dealing with planning applications affecting historic gardens and landscapes in Shropshire.

Initially trained as a biologist, he began his career in historic landscapes in 1982 as a founder member of the De Bois Landscape Survey Group, which developed many of the survey and analytical techniques now in common use in this field.  Amongst the many projects undertaken during a 20 year period were surveys at Castle Bromwich Hall, Chirk Castle, Erddig and Dunham Massey in Cheshire.

In 2002 he was appointed Gardens & Parks Curator with the National Trust, working across the whole of the North of England and in Northern Ireland.  In this role, as well as commissioning and overseeing several conservation management plans throughout his region, he also worked on major restoration and replanting projects at Gibside and Nostell Priory, both supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Research projects included Lake District Arboreta and NT policy on  design of car parks.  Chris now works freelance in conservation planning and management, and recent projects have included Tatton Park, Woodchester, Kedleston and Hilton Park. 


The Whitmores at Dudmaston 

Among the owners of the Dudmaston estate there have been several who had a passionate interest in plants, and their past initiatives in the design of this landscaped estate, bordering the river Severn, have often received favourable reviews nationwide. Their legacy can still be seen in surviving areas of distinctive planting design, but also in the significant collections of botanical art inside the mansion and the more recent sculptures set in the garden.

Little is known of the setting of the earliest house, although a C16 sketch appears to show it set in a small park, bounded by typical park pale fencing. The present house was built from 1695, and the probable involvement of the architect Francis Smith (according to Andor Gomme) is based on stylistic grounds, and a previous owner’s letter requesting the loan of Smith’s model of a similar mansion design. 

Sketches made in the late C18 show a simple landscape of sloping pastures sweeping right up to the mansion from the early chain of large pools. Even then the family engaged a noted local designer to draw up plans for the improvement of the landscape setting – William Emes, who drew up a ‘Plan of the intended Sheep Pastures’ for William Whitmore (Fig. 2). The degree of its implementation has been debated, but the influence of the nearby ‘ferme ornée’ at the Leasowes, developed by William Shenstone, is very credible as one of his gardeners came to work at Dudmaston following Shenstone’s death. A copy of Shenstone’s book outlining his design principles ‘Unconnected Thoughts on Gardening’ (1764) was also in the library.

Shenstone’s simple landscape at ‘The Leasowes’, the majority of it farmed, was popular with many visitors, including the influential elite of the day. Visitors followed paths along field hedges, around pools, and through a little valley of tumbling cascades. They were able to sit and admire the designed views, and encouraged to contemplate nature, and the meaning of life in general, by poems and inscriptions set up en route. The influence of this picturesque circuit remains evident in other Shropshire landscapes (The Leasowes being in a ‘detached’ part of Shropshire at the time) such as Badger Dingle and the Dingle at Dudmaston. The historic path network, cascades and designed views within Dudmaston’s Dingle have been restored in recent years by the National Trust. The owners’ early design input was later described by their daughter Frances Whitmore ‘The Dingle was a pet of our dear mother’s. She laid out the walks therein, placed seats and formed cascades in conjunction with Walter Wood, whom we called Planter, and who was in many years gardener at Dudmaston and died there. This man had imbibed his taste at Shenstone’s Leasowes and the Badger and Dudmaston Dingle were long picturesque rivals. My mother and Aunt Dora were good botanists…’ 

The next generation of owners carried out changes both to house and landscape in the 1820’s and 30’s. William Wolryche Whitmore had married Lucy Georgiana Bridgeman (of Weston Park) and they gradually created a more formal structure near to the house: a series of garden terraces, with colourful parterres, separated from the pastures by a ha ha. Their new gravelled walks included a path to his fashionable ‘American Border’, concentrating on plants introduced from that continent. His library included Maund’s ‘Botanic Garden’ of 1825-6 which contained several hand-coloured plates of American species, such as Kalmia, and this planting tradition has survived to the present day.

Early photographs convey the exuberance of this planting, said to outdo even that of William Nesfield’s famed schemes at Trentham.  National tributes included an engraving of Dudmaston’s elaborate bedding design in ‘The Illustrated London News’ of 13 September 1851 and copious praise in the ‘Gardener’s Chronicle’ of 18 October 1856 on the subject of ‘the more recent dissemination of what is called the ribbon system.’ (our ‘ribbon bedding’)

After enthusing about ‘ribbons’ at Trentham, Keele and Enville, the correspondent continued: ‘Splendid, however, as was the appearance of the flower garden at Enville, I think perhaps the groups at Dudmaston, near Bridgenorth (sic) the residence of G.Whitmore, Esq. were still more beautiful.

Nothing could exceed them, and I never at any time nor in any place saw beds so perfectly sheeted with bloom. The garden is small, very small as compared with those previously mentioned, but the whole of the shrubbery borders were ribboned, and standing as you could at one point and take in almost the whole of the garden, nearly a mile of ribbon was presented to view, and certainly the coup d’oeil was most enchanting.’  (A detailed description of selected ribbons followed.)  

The Wolryche-Whitmores had also revealed, and extended with stone walls, a natural rock outcrop to create a rock garden, periodically rejuvenated by successive owners and maintained to this day.  Lady Rachel Labouchere, who died in 1978, recalled that 'my grandmother Alice Mary Darby, was a very keen gardener and she collected alpines on the mountains of Norway each summer - a burnet rose and some small ferns are still on the rockery...  In the next generation my aunt Muriel was also a keen gardener and some of the cistus and rock roses are descendants of her plantings.  If anyone asked where the women of the house were, the usual answer was 'on the rockery'!

These two lady ancestors had also constructed walls for a water garden in a shallow arm of the Big Pool.  Currently known as the Bog garden, this is still an eye-catching and popular lake edge garden.  'The gunneras and bamboos were also planted by them.  We plan more primulas here.  The little brook is beautiful in spring with Cardamine raphanifolia, supposed to have been brought back from Norway by my grandmother.'

While the ladies were working on their ornamental gardens, Sir Geoffrey WolrycheWhitmore was managing the wider farmed estate through much of the C20 and developing a growing reputation for his innovations in tree planting, forestry tools, and enlightened forestry in general.  He was President of the Royal Forestry Society from

1944-46 and was given one of their first Gold Medals for distinguished service to forestry.  He introduced Metasequoia glyptostroboides to the gardens, one of the first to be grown from seed.  The estate received national recognition at the Festival of Britain in 1951, when a large model of Dudmaston was displayed as a classic example of a wellmanaged country estate. 

From 1952, when he passed Dudmaston to his nieve, Lady Rachel Labouchere, and from 1978 when it was gifted to the National Trust, the interest of the gardens has been maintained through the conservation of earlier significant layers of garden design and the introductions of new elements.  Lady Labouchere was a descendant of the Darby's of Coalbrookdale, and through that family link she brought to the house a fine collection of early botanical art, to which she personally added, with works ranging from Redouté to Mary Grierson.  In planting terms, she added to her uncle's terraces in front of the house a newer, freer, style of herbaceous planting, seeking advice from the designer James Russell.  During their years abroad, while her husband was a British ambassador, the Laboucheres had collected modern art avidly.  Several sculptural pieces are in the gardens, together with new commissions which have added to the family collection.

The reminiscences of Lady Labouchere and the diaries of previous family members reveal that they were influenced by the many fine gardens and estates which they visited as a routine part of their social life (including the time spent in their London houses, or touring abroad) but equally they received guests themselves and were always anxious to maintain high standards in the gardens, even through periods of financial hardship.

Kunigunda Gough

In recent years the National Trust has opened part of the kitchen garden area and created a natural play area for children, both close to the tearoom which lies in the historic orchard.  In 2013 opening days have been extended – for more information tel. 01746 780866 or www.nationaltrust.org.uk 


Hodnet Dovecote

A recent restoration project

In the medieval period and through to the 17th century, dovecotes played an important part in the economy of country estates.  Along with fishponds, deer parks and rabbit warrens, they provided a reliable source of food; and their by-products were highly prized as fertiliser and as a key component of gunpowder.  Their importance to manorial life was often reflected in their sophisticated architectural design, which led to their becoming status symbols that reflected the wealth of a country estate.

Hodnet’s dovecote is located on raised ground and forms a focal point in the deer park of the  Heber-Percy family’s historic estate near Market Drayton.  Its size and the articulation of its simple traditional form express the symbolic importance attached to its construction.  Richly embellished with stone dressings and patterned brick recesses picked out in white render, the principal north elevation is enhanced with three decorative arches. The central arch has rich terracotta relief and the inscription ‘TM 1656 IM’, whilst another recess has the ‘lion rampant’ from the Vernon coat of arms.  The north door, typically Tudor is a plank door with iron strap hinges. 

By the mid-19th century, the dovecote had been adapted to serve as a cow byre.  A large segmental-headed opening had been formed in the south elevation, originally fitted with a door; and the north door had been bricked up.  A loft floor was introduced, with the nest boxes retained in the upper level, whilst the lower nest boxes at ground level were infilled.  It is likely that the brick floor may have been introduced at this time, as the arrangement of drainage channels falls towards the south door.

Its designation as a scheduled monument and Grade II* listing indicates the importance of this building. It is a classic example of a mid17th century symbol of high social status and of the specialised structural form of this building type.

A pencil sketch by Stanley Leighton dated 1863 shows the north east view of the Dovecote with larger sketch details of the central arch and ‘lion rampant’. Despite the 1850’s changes, the use of the building by animal stock, and subsequent 1950’s repairs, the Dovecote survives remarkably well, with its design intent intact and architectural features clearly evident although weathered. 

Donald Insall Associates acted as lead consultants for the repair and renovation of the building, assisted by structural engineers Frank Haywood Associates, NJL Consultant

Ecologists and John Pidgeon Partnership as CDM co-ordinator. The principal works were funded by Natural England, and English Heritage was closely involved in the consultation process because of the building’s Scheduled Monument status. A local conservation contractor I J Preece carried out the works. 

Repairs were categorised as either essential, necessary, or desirable. Essential repairs were related to structure, excessive weathering and health and safety issues.

Structurally, the principle concerns were the stabilisation of the brickwork, which had suffered from cracking through the spread of the roof; and the tying together of the roof structure.  The repair of the cracks could have been executed by introducing steel reinforcement rods within the brick courses and pointing up the cracks. However, we were keen to allow the brick structure to continue to behave as designed and built. Introducing steel would have resulted in an element of rigidity in a very small structure and could potentially have created subsequent problems. Instead the cracks were repaired using brick stitching, to fully re-bond the brickwork making use of a non-hydraulic lime mortar to ensure flexibility. Associated with this was the removal of roof coverings to enable discreet tying together of roof timbers, principally rafter to purlin connections.  The nest boxes that housed first floor joists were bricked in to improve the tying in of the structure; and secondary cross beams were introduced to strengthen the existing decayed beams supporting the glover. 

The essential repairs associated with weathering included ensuring a weather-tight roof covering, reinstatement of missing brickwork particularly that associated with high level gable work and decorative recessed panels; re-bedding coping stones to gables; replacement of damaged and eroded stone to the south door reveal and window cill; and repointing including removal of hard cement pointing which was causing localised weathering and deterioration of the bricks. In addition to this, was the modification of the glover structure to allow for traditional lead flashing and weathering details with the junction of the roof in order to prevent water ingress at this location. (A defect in the existing detail which had led to the decay of the existing cross beams owing to wet rot.)

Both the extent of the re-pointing and the type of lime mortar mix underwent a considered review process. A few areas of existing pointing survived and were acknowledged as significant. Initially, in accordance with SPAB principles of minimum intervention, these were to be retained as archaeological evidence. However, the majority of the walls had suffered excessive weathering of the joints whilst other areas would need repointing associated with the re-bonding of brickwork and large areas had been affected by poor cement pointing, now to be replaced. Once these had been addressed, there was the risk that the walls would appear very patchy if isolated areas of surviving pointing were retained. This would detract from the reading of this small building as a coherent and unified piece of design. Therefore in this instance it was agreed that the entire structure was to be re-pointed. The existing mix had variable sized hot lime fragments/deposits running through, and fortunately for the project a source of hot lime was found nearby following a recent traditional firing of lime at the Much Wenlock kilns. The approved mix was 1 part hot lime: 1 part sharp sand: 2 parts Condover building sand. 

Essential to health and safety was the pinning and repairing of a coping stone to the southeast corner and the re-boarding of the loft floor which had decayed to the point of collapse in areas. 

The repairs classed as ‘necessary’ were primarily related to ensuring that the original design intention was retained and reinstated where threatened with loss.  This was to safeguard the architectural significance of this richly decorated small agricultural building as seen in the round and standing within a prominent setting. These included the replacement of the heavily eroded stone string course all round the building before the moulded detail and profile were completely lost, the reinstatement of the render to the decorative recessed panels (Fig. 2) again before evidence of this feature was entirely lost, joinery repairs to the north door and repairs associated with the 1950s remedial structural works which consisted of removing the  secondary purlins (primarily acting as firring pieces) and replacement with a more discrete detail.‘Desirable’ work undertaken was the re-opening of the North door and introducing a new iron gate to the south door. 

The building now stands conserved as a fine example of an important and rare 17th century rural building type, situated in the Hodnet Hall Garden and Park, which is open to the public.

(www.hodnethallgardens.org

Sarah Butler Donald Insall Associates 


Shifnal Manor Gazebo

The grade II listed gazebo in the garden of Shifnal Manor is probably one of the oldest garden buildings in our county. Very little of the original Manor house survives, but the framework of the gardens to the south and south-west, albeit in an overgrown state, still remain. The main garden on a level with the house is surrounded on three sides by a sandstone and brick retaining wall. In the centre of the southern wall is the octagonal two storey gazebo. The upper storey is brick built, topped with a slated ogee roof and can only be accessed from the main garden. There are three windows and a possible fourth to the west which appears to have been bricked up. The remaining windows look out over the once manicured gardens below and to the surrounding landscape so wonderfully depicted on the 1635 map (see below).  Above the door is a weathered stone relief of an animal.  It is possible that this is a 'Talbot', an extinct breed of white hunting dog which the Earls of Shrewsbury, owners of Shifnal Manor, adopted as a rebus or canting device.

A gate in the west wall leads down to a terrace which runs around the three retaining outer walls of the garden above. This path gains access to the lower floor of the gazebo which is of sandstone. There is a large fireplace and several niches in the interior walls; this is where any refreshments required upstairs would have been prepared and served. Steps from the gazebo and diagonally adjacent to each corner of the retaining walls lead down to a second terrace which would have given the visitor further opportunities to enjoy the rest of the gardens. 

The date of the gardens is debateable. Paul Stamper, in his 1997 Historic Parks and Gardens of Shropshire, proposed that much of the garden layout dated from the 1590s. This would be a logical assumption since it is known that Gilbert Talbot, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury (1552-1616), carried out repairs and improvements to the house at about this time. Gilbert's daughter Alathea, Countess Arundel, inherited Shifnal Manor in 1616 and shortly after, her mother in law Anne Dacre took up residence. Dr. Stamper acknowledges that, although unlikely, the gardens may have been created for the Dowager Countess. 

In 2005 a tree-ring analysis was conducted on 10 oak timbers from the gazebo. The findings were summarised as follows: Interpretation of the sapwood would indicate that all the dated timbers, representing both floor joists and window lintels, were cut in a single phase of felling in AD 1628.   Such a date would indicate that the gazebo is not part of Gilbert, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury's late sixteenth century improvements, but was undertaken when Anne Dacre, the Dowager Countess of Arundel (1557-1630), was living at Shifnal.

Therefore, the tree-ring analysis would seem to indicate indeed that Thomas Howard, the 2nd Earl of Arundel (1585-1646) created or embellished the gardens for his devoutly Catholic mother. The following quotation is from a transcript of an original manuscript,  The lives of Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel and Anne Dacre, his wife: 

 ‘[Anne] she  decay'd daily more and...from about the latter end of September 1629, till February: and in all that time tho' she went not abroad, nor seldom came down stairs into the gardens.’

In 1630 aged 73 Anne Dacre died. Regardless for whom this incredible landscape was created, the historic value of the gazebo and remaining gardens cannot be underestimated. The gazebo is in a sad state, however it is not considered 'at risk'. Unfortunately this situation can change all too rapidly and without external funding it remains vulnerable to becoming at risk. By then it may be too late for this remarkable building and certainly so for the gardens.

Advolly Richmond

A fuller article will appear in the Autumn Newsletter 


Meres and Mosses Landscape Partnership

Formed during the Ice Age, the Meres and Mosses of the Marches, an area between Crewe in Cheshire and Ellesmere in Shropshire, comprise the largest and most ecologically diverse cluster of wetlands in lowland England.  The area, one of Defra’s 12 designated Nature Improvement Areas, holds large peat deposits plus Europe’s greatest concentration of farm ponds, glacial lakes and floating bogs, which are also home to the raft spider, Britain’s largest.

However, extensive drainage over the centuries has shrunk the extent of the wetlands to 10% of that which existed in the 1500s, leaving a fragmented landscape.  Mature trees have shaded out marginal vegetation and plants such as the beautiful globeflower and the Least water lily, plus wading birds such as snipe and lapwing, face extinction in the area.

Now the Meres and Mosses Landscape

Partnership has been set up under the auspices of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust, which will seek to address some of these conservation issues.  The project is supported by Defra, DCLG, the Environment Agency, Forestry Commission and English Nature. Local partners include Shropshire Council, Cheshire Wildlife and Harper Adams University College, as well as national organizations such as the RSPB and the new Canals and Rivers Trust.

The Heritage Lottery Fund, along with several other organizations, is backing this £2 million project over a 5 year period.  It will also link into Defra’s Nature Improvement programme in the same area, which extends into South Cheshire, Wales and Staffordshire – in all about 250 square miles of wetland.

Over 270 separate projects make up this programme, which will include increased provision for public access and new facilities for schools.  The involvement of local communities is central to the project, as well as engaging with landowners and collaborating to achieve the varied conservation benefits that have been identified.  Work has already started on 3 key sites: Colemere, Brown Moss and Whitemere. 

Colemere (Shropshire Wildlife Trust)

At Whitemere we are working with landowners to improve the condition of this SSSI, which will potentially include bank reprofiling, tree management and wetland creation. At Colemere we have engaged the local community and are hoping to set up a ‘Friends of Colemere’ group who, with the necessary support and training, can become the guardians of this beautiful site into the future. We have been thinning fringing vegetation for the benefit of the Least Water Lily and removing Rhododendron from Yell wood on the Northern shore. Over the summer we will be working on improving the management of the meadows to encourage the March violet – food plant of the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary Butterfly.

Belinda Cousens with Luke Neal, Shropshire Wildlife Trust


Woodland at The Mount, Shrewsbury

In 2012 the Shropshire Wildlife Trust launched an appeal for £75,000 to enable it to purchase and manage the riverside slope forming part of the garden belonging to the Darwin family home at The Mount in Shrewsbury.  The Trust is at present applying for grants from the Shropshire Horticultural Society and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and it is hoped that by the summer the WildlifeTrust will be the owners of this significant piece of Charles Darwin’s former home.

Robert and Susannah Darwin moved to the Mount in 1800, having commissioned the substantial new house shortly after their marriage in 1796.  It was here that Charles Darwin was born and raised, and the steep wooded slope between the house and the River Severn was to play a powerful role in his upbringing and influencing his future career.  For it was here that his father used to take daily walks and carefully plan his tasks for the day, and in due course he encouraged his children, or rather his sons particularly, to follow his example.

Staff at the Wildlife Trust see this aspect of the property as a significant factor in their purchase of the property, which will inspire an education programme based on the principles of observation and thinking that Dr. Darwin inculcated to such effect in his son.

In 1880 Darwin’s daughter, Henrietta, visited the old family home after it had been sold following the death of Susan, Darwin’s sister who continued to live at The Mount, and manage the garden, after her parents had died. Henrietta wrote “All the pretty walks in the bank have been let grow up so that you don’t see the river and are stuffy and dank. The little summerhouse where all the children used to play, is in ruin.  Poor old house.”

1880 OS map showing The Mount, Shrewsbury, with the wooded slope lying to the north, traversed by the Terrace walk and lower ‘Thinking’ path. 

As those who have visited the site will know, the slope at present is densely treed, rather precariously so given the steepness of the slope.  The Trust’s first aim therefore would be to rationalise the tree planting, and negotiations are already under way with the various authorities, this site being part of a Conservation Area and subject to TPO’s.  The aim will be to restore some of the open views to the river, and within the site itself.   

In the course of this work, the Trust expect to find the route of the Middle path which formed a circular walk with the more formal Terrace which still runs in front of the house at the top of the slope. At the same time they will be seeking the best route for a link to what is now part of the Severn Way, formerly the tow path alongside the River Severn.  The original access at the western end, where the Darwin’s kept a small boat on the river, now lies in different ownership.

All the above work needs to take place before visitors can be welcomed on a regular basis.  Provided that the purchase by the Trust is successful, they would aim to start the tree work this autumn.  However, the Wildlife Trust hope to be in a position to participate in a Garden Trail being organized around several gardens on The Mount in aid of roof repairs for St. George’s Church in Frankwell. This is planned to take place on Sunday,  2nd June, 2013.

Belinda Cousens with John Hughes,

Shropshire Wildlife Trust

The Appeal is still open and donations would be welcome, which should be addressed to the Shropshire Wildlife Trust at 193 Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury, SY2 


Gardens on The Mount, Shrewsbury

Visit 21st July 2012

Our visit commenced when we met at the Valuation Office, the present occupants of The Mount , the former home of Dr Robert Darwin and his family, and the birthplace of his son, Charles.  Michael Tunnicliffe, a committee member of the Parks & Gardens Trust , who works at the Valuation Office, gave us some information on the building.  The main body of the house is Grade 2* listed, but has undergone maintenance and repair, and minor modifications, over the last 200 years. 

Michael led us around the rear of the building, now much overshadowed by large trees growing on the steep bank above the river Severn.  The rear of the house would, when it was built, have commanded views across the river, to what is now the West Mid showground and to the hills and countryside beyond.  With the sale of the former gardens of The Mount house, the narrow strip of level land immediately behind the house is now a series of vegetable plots set in tarmaced paths which belong to one of the houses in Darwin Gardens.  The Wildlife Trust is hoping to purchase this land in due course.  On a map of the late 1800s a path behind The Mount house extends the width of the bank on 2 levels.  Although trees are drawn in this area on the map, no doubt they would have been planted in such a way as to leave the open and elevated views a striking feature of the walk.

We next crossed the busy road and entered the grounds of Millington’s Hospital through a door in the wall opposite the entrance to The Mount house.  Dr Darwin had this access made, to give him a convenient route to the establishment of which he was a trustee.  We walked from the back of the Hospital to the impressive front entrance where, Mrs Daphne Capps, the present chairman of the trustees, gave us a brief history of the founder James Millington [1661 – 1738].  She invited us into the Boardroom, which was little changed since it was built in 1748.  She generously gave each of us a copy of a small publication ‘Millington’s Hospital. A Brief History’ by George Alcock, from which some of this information has been gleaned.  

James Millington acquired a considerable fortune from association with the Drapers Guild, who bought cloth from Wales and the borders, which then underwent procedures to finish it for export to the peasant population in Russia and slave people in the Americas.  He subsequently bequeathed his fortune to provide alms houses for the elderly and schooling for the children of Shrewsbury, particularly those from Frankwell.  He himself lived in Dog Lane, now Claremont Street, in a house which was demolished to make way for the Victorian market hall in 1869.  He left bequests to his maidservant and also to his manservant, who among other items received his perukes (wigs).

Nowadays the hospital [as in hospitallers - never a medical institution] provides accommodation for a number of single men and women, and one or two couples.  In 1993 a new block of dwellings were built at the rear of the hospital, on land which was formerly allotments, but which had become neglected and abandoned.  The new building was financed by the sale of adjoining land.  The lawn and gardens around the hospital are beautifully kept with many pots of healthy plants.  The new dwellings, some with solar panels on the roofs, are set around an area of lawn with a central pergola with seating.  As George Alcock states ‘The landscaping creates an ambience of tranquility’ and several members of the group showed interest in making applications for future residence!  We returned to the main road by way of the avenue, known as The Bank at the front of the hospital.  The red chestnut trees were planted in 1922 by Murrell’s Nursery at a cost of £14.  To either side of the avenue are allotments, tended by residents and trustees.

We now made our way towards Darwin Gardens, the development built on the former kitchen gardens of Darwin’s home.  To get there we walked down Hermitage Walk, where part of the brick wall was pointed out as the rear of a building once within the garden of The Mount, but now part of another private garden.  Inevitably Charles Darwin would have been familiar with the building, possibly a potting shed, although suggestions that he carried out experiments there are unsubstantiated.  The housing development, following the sale of The Mount, makes its own contemporary contribution.  The quality houses on one side of the street were built by Morris’s in the 1920s to house workers employed at their premises situated on Victoria Quay, including The Armoury, which had been relocated there in 1919. The houses give an impression of the influence of the Garden Suburb and Arts and Crafts movements.  The attractive homes built on the other side of the street were constructed in the 1950s.  The designs of the houses in this pleasant residential area, although regrettably built on what we now regard as an historical kitchen garden, are good representatives of the decades in which they were constructed.

We now made our way down towards the river, following a path alongside the river, which despite the considerable rain of the previous weeks was not noticeable muddy.   We climbed the bank back out onto the Mount and made our way to Mount Cottage. We were invited to look around Mrs Capps garden – an attractive arrangement of lawns, trees, flowerbeds and fish ponds.  Most of us further explored the path down the ‘Darwin Steps’, unfortunately partly covered by earth from a recent partial collapse of a retaining wall.  The path zig-zagged down the bank towards the river with groupings of wild flowers, encouraged to naturalise by Mrs Capps’ son, Martin.  The path reminded me of John Ruskin’s home at Brantwood in Cumbria, which zig-zags downhill towards Coniston Water.  

Our visit was completed with very welcome cups of tea and an assortment of delicious cakes provided by Mrs Capps, while sitting in the garden enjoying the sunshine of one of the few fine days of the summer.

Delaine Haynes 


Weston Park

Visit 25th August 2012

The visit to any garden after a break of some years is always a revelation and to revisit Weston Park’s splendid garden was no exception. The garden like the house itself is many layered and even more than the house is constantly changing, being regenerated.

Our guide for the morning’s session was Weston’s Head Gardener Martin Gee, who gave an introduction under cover before the rain lifted and we made our way via the Main Entrance court to a former Shrubbery on the south front. The first of the gardens we saw was very much a work in progress – in its ‘infant stage’, having been cleared of its overgrown shrubs and replanted only this year.  Recreated in memory of Lady Anne Cowdray, a relative of the present Earl of Bradford. A dedicated gardener, Lady Anne  had created a beautiful garden at Broadleas in Wiltshire, which was open to the public for many years. Upon her death funds became available to the Weston Park Foundation to create this new garden planted with her favourite plants – something to revisit in future years.  

A few yards further on we found ourselves on the terraces in front of the house, laid out between 1870-80 by Edward Kemp who had worked with Paxton.  Martin explained how this area had been replanted in recent years to the design of Nada Jennet; how the layout had been simplified for low maintenance, it now largely comprises box edged central beds filled with roses and a long herbaceous border against the retaining wall. Yet at the same time, like most of the floral displays at Weston, it had to provide the year round foliage which is required by the public who now visit for events held in the winter. 

 We were told that this was a garden that in its heyday employed 30 gardeners and currently employs 3 full time staff plus volunteers and students – how times have changed.  On to the West wing where the garden in front of the

Orangery Conference Centre was replanted in 1991. We were reminded that Weston has played host to several important conferences including that which resulted in Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement.

Through a wooded glade, where we glimpsed the herd of 45 fallow deer, the remnants of a herd that once boasted 500 beasts. A Hermit’s Cave, part of the landscaping created by Capability Brown, was the next port of call before entering a more intimate area known as the Tear Drop Garden, again remodelled in 1991 by Nada Jennet with a border in the shape of a teardrop around the statue of a weeping girl, hence its name. Onwards along the Rose Walk lined on one side with old Dorothy Perkins roses and on the other by a high brick wall with yew buttresses. At the end of the walk we entered an area of almost villagey character, behind the mansion with views of the Parish Church, and here the Church Pond provided a delightful setting especially when seen from the greenhouse built in 1935. 

The morning’s walk ended with a visit to the Walled Kitchen Garden, partially laid to orchards with heritage varieties and partially home to a maze which was originally planted as a visitor attraction in 2006 and now due to re-open in 2013. A stroll, in the pouring rain, through woodland brought us to the Temple of Diana where we were met by our host / guide for the afternoon Jeffrey Howarth , a former Curator with the National Trust.  Jeffrey not only invited us to take our lunch in the Temple but took us on a guided tour of his delightful if idiosyncratic home. 

The Temple actually comprises two buildings built 1765 -70 by James Paine. One front, the Orangery, overlooking the Brown Landscape, the other, now enclosed by woodland, would have originally overlooked the Temple Pool. This would have been the domestic or family rooms of the Bradford’s classical hideaway. 

These intimate rooms, whose disposition proved almost indecipherable, began with a circular, domed dining room with fine plasterwork and wall paintings by an Italian artist, depicting the exploits of Diana, goddess of the hunt. Next came the octagonal Music Room, and in both these rooms we were treated by Jeffrey to a musical accompaniment!! Down some spiral steps to the former Dairy (now a Kitchen) and then up again to Jeffrey’s Sitting Room. A truly original house and a splendid end to a fascinating day.

Jeremy Cragg


Capability Brown’s Tercentenary

2016 will bring the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot Brown and already plans are being made to celebrate this remarkable man whose towering influence on our landscape – and abroad – we are still able to enjoy today.  Already the County Garden Trusts have been involved in a national conference, out of which comes the proposal of a series of ‘hubs’ around which smaller events can be arranged.  Weston Park, on the Shropshire-Staffordshire border has been offered as our regional hub, linking us with Hereford and Worcester, and Wales too, where Wynnstay is a significant Brown landscape.  More information about the plans for CB300 will be on the website of the Landscape Institute which has agreed to host the administration of this project: www.landscapeinstitute.org.  


Georgian Garden Buildings

by Sarah Rutherford with Jonathan Lovie, Shire Publications 2012, 128 pp £8.99

The English landscape park is, arguably, the greatest contribution made by this nation to the world of the visual arts. Eighteenth century wealth and a relatively settled political world provided the opportunity for a frenzy of creativity in the landscape not seen before or since in Britain. The range of structures that the Georgians erected to embellish their landscape parks and gardens was extraordinary. 

Members will, of course, have seen and understood many such buildings, but this useful little volume provides a thematic overview (from Arches and Beastly Buildings to Towers and Watery Diversions) and addresses how and why the Georgians placed their garden buildings in the landscape. Clearly and concisely, it introduces us to the main sorts of buildings commonly encountered in Georgian landscapes. In doing so it explains the precedents (including Classical, medieval, Oriental, even Druidic) and the variety of ways in which they were used to punctuate landscapes and convey allusions to the visiting cognoscenti. This is supplemented by a concise introductory overview of the reasons why the wealthy Georgians were seemingly fixated on garden buildings (much influenced by the Grand Tour), where they obtained their ideas, and who executed them on the ground. A short glossary at the end and a list of places to visit completes the book in the usual competent Shire fashion, which we would expect from authors who are established garden historians and who have worked for English Heritage on the Register of Parks and Gardens. 

There is a broad geographical range of examples throughout the British Isles and it is useful to keep the book in the car or day-pack to refer to when visiting parks and gardens. It is interesting to know whether the grotto or pagoda we are looking at is a typical or exceptional one, or whether it is unusual to find Venus or Hercules occupying a rotunda (no and yes, respectively), and whether our building has a Classical, medieval or Oriental precedent. The book is illustrated with many excellent photos and historic images of both the great examples, and obscure but still interesting ones. This is a good, inexpensive introduction to what can be a daunting subject, and not just for those who are new to the subject, but it broadens the horizons of even those of us who have been in the field for many years.

Christopher Gallagher 


FORTHCOMING EVENTS

Saturday, 13th April, at 1.30pm

Following his excellent talk to SPGT members about the restoration of the 18th century arcadian landscape at Hagley Hall, Joe Hawkins, Head of Landscape at Hagley, has generously offered to give us a guided tour of the site.

The visit is early in the season for us but necessarily so because massive mechanical work will be starting on the site early this Spring and Joe is anxious to show us what he has been able to deduce from the surviving landscape during his 18 month residency.  Those who attended the lecture will have some idea of what to expect, but be prepared for some fairly robust walking – Joe calls it a country ramble – through a moderately steep site and one which, in parts, will be looking very raw.  We are privileged to be able to see the historic landscape at this stage and to have Joe to interpret it for us.  It will be interesting to revisit sometime in the future to see the restored landscape in its full arcadian glory.

Meet at 1.30 pm at the Church of St. John the Baptist, where we can leave our cars.  Hagley Hall lies about 3 miles south of Stourbridge, east of West Hagley and close to the intersection of the A456 and A491.  From this roundabout turn eastward into Park Road, continue on to Hall Lane and into Hall Drive to Hagley Hall and church. 

Postcode for satnav:  DY9 9LG  Grid reference:  SO 921 807.  
Cost of visit, including tea - £10; 
Guests welcome - £15

Please book by 8th April. 
Confirmations will only be sent if email address or sae enclosed.
Kathryn Herbert, 
8 Sutton Road,
Shrewsbury, SY2 6DD
Tel. 01743 236127
Email:  a.herbert@bham.ac.uk 


Please note that the opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of the contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Shropshire Parks & Gardens Trust or the Editor   

 

Newsletter No. 23, Winter 2011/12

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