Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Garden History 18C Over There - Early 18C English Gardens & Grounds - Staunton Harold in the County of Leicester. England

Staunton Harold in the County of Leicester. EnglandLeonard Knyff (1652-1722) and Johannes Kip (1653-1722) 1709 Britannia Illustrata 1724 ed pub by Joseph Smith 

Parks & Gardens UK tells us that Staunton appears in the Domesday book as one of 210 "lordships" granted to Henry de Ferraris by William of Normandy, after the Conquest.  It was then ‘enfeoffed' (leased) to a feudal Saxon underling, Harold de Lecha.  It became known as Staunton Harold to distinguish it from other Stauntons (stony towns) throughout the country.

There was a deer park at Staunton by 1324 & later, two - the Little Park & the Great Park.  The Little Park is believed to have occupied the present parkland & therefore is of particular importance at Staunton Harold as a continuous feature of the landscape from that date.

In 1423, Ralph Shirley, one of Henry V's leading commanders at Agincourt, married Margaret, Heiress of John de Staunton.  The Staunton estate was then in the ownership of the Shirley family until 1954.

There is no documentary evidence to suggest any designed landscape at Staunton Harold before the mid to late 17C, although there would have been gardens, orchards & farms to support the community associated with the house.  In 1611, George Shirley was created 1st Baronet Ferrers by James I.  In 1623, the Great Park was turned into farms.

In 1653, Sir Robert Shirley, the 4th Baronet, built a church next to the Hall.  It is a significant building as it is the only church built in England during the period of the Commonwealth. Shirley's son, who was created Baron Ferrers in 1677, & Earl Ferrers in 1711, set about "aggrandising the hotch potch of Jacobean and earlier buildings which he had inherited." He added a new north-east front to the Hall & laid out extensive formal gardens around it. The location of the Church would have dictated the position of these gardens, which might otherwise have been positioned to the south of the house.

A contemporary described Shirley as "a great improver of gardening & parking." Country Life in 1913 states that "it is probable that George London who had laid out the neighbouring gardens at Melbourne may have advised him.  London certainly knew the garden & writes in 1701 to Thomas Coke of Melbourne of two visitors setting out to see gardens & plantations proposing to see "My Lord Chesterfield's, Lord Ferrers' & the Duke of Devonshire's."

The Hall & Gardens were illustrated by Leonard Knyff (around 1702) & engraved by Kip (1706).  A 1995 report describes them from the engraving: "The main garden, terraces ranged either side of a broad axial path & with a canal across the bottom, lay north-east of the Hall.  A summerhouse at the east end of the main cross axis adjoined the west end of a predecessor of the present causeway bridge, to the south of which, past the chapel, extended the rectangular Church Pool.  West of the southern part of the Pool was a roughly square block of woodland, possibly a wilderness.  Further pools lay along the valley bottom north of the Hall gardens." 

Nichols quotes a Mr Wooley's description of the garden in 1712, from his MS History of Derbyshire as follows:  "It has a handsome new front towards the gardens... the gardens are well-watered with fountains & canals, very good aviaries, a decoy, & stations for a great many exotic fowls.  The park & woods about it are large & reach within half a mile of Caulk (sic) & a mile of Melbourne but being seated in a clay soil, it is somewhat dirty coming to it....the east end of the church abuts on a very large canal, the biggest in all the county."  According to Nichols, the gardens lie on the north west side of the house, but, in fact, they lie to the north-east "consisting of several parterres in easy descents from the house, which add a gracefulness to the one & the other."

The height of one of the fountains was enhanced by the water being thrown from & then spilled down over a prominent stone column, not unlike the giulio in the Octagon Lake at Stowe.  This can be seen on the Kip engraving.  According to Nichols, MacKay in his tour through England early in the reign of George I, calls Staunton Harold "a noble seat... & the gardens adorned with statues"  For the first half of the 18C, there were few changes.