Barbara Jones is best known to readers of these pages as the author of Follies & Grottoes (1953, revised 1974), the first book to consider the subject of garden and landscape buildings in any detail. She also wrote books about popular art, erotic postcards and furniture amongst other subjects, and as an illustrator and designer her work appeared in magazines, on calendars, dustjackets, greetings telegrams and much, much more.
In 1950 Barbara Jones sent this feline-themed Christmas card to her fortunate friends. Christmas Day was an auspicious date for the artist and writer, for it was also her birthday: Barbara Mildred Jones was born on 25 December 1912.
At Rydal Hall in Cumbria is an unassuming little garden building. It was built by Sir Daniel Fleming, in the last years of the 1680s, as a summerhouse from which to view of one of the series of cascades on the Rydal Beck that flowed though his estate.
Sir George Staunton bought the Leigh Park estate in 1820, and set to work remodelling the house and ornamenting the park with an eclectic range of garden buildings. Many are sadly lost today, but a programme of restoration, in what is now Staunton Country Park, is bringing some of the survivors back to life. One of the loveliest of the garden ornaments is this exquisite little Shell-House.
In the 18th century the Campbell family, Earls of Breadalbane, embellished the park around the family seat at Taymouth with temples and mock forts, complementing the natural beauties of the surrounding hills and the River Tay that flows through the estate. Just a couple of miles away, on the shores of Loch Tay, was a more dramatic feature, a rustic shelter and a roaring cascade, which added a sublime element to the beautiful policies of Taymouth.
Denton Welch was a talented artist and writer, but his career was sadly cut short by his early death in 1948. A few years before he died he described an ornate 18th century grotto in one of his novels: the fabulous grotto was for real, but it was demolished in the same year that Welch died, making his description all the more poignant.
In the early 1940s the artist Rex Whistler completed the illustrations for a book in his breaks from training with the Welsh Guards, working on the drawings in the army huts where he was stationed. The book was The Last of Uptake by Simon Harcourt-Smith, and the reviews agreed that here was ‘the perfect blend of artist and writer’.
In 1947, the British Government decided to mark the 100th anniversary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 with a Festival of Britain, scheduled to open 100 years to the day since the launch of the Great Exhibition, on 3 May 1951. The focus was an exhibition in London, and the area we now know as South Bank was chosen as the venue for the celebration of British achievements past, present and future. A little upriver at Battersea were the complementary Festival Pleasure Gardens. Whilst the tone on the South Bank was ‘intellectual seriousness’, at Battersea all was colour and whimsy, and a highlight was the sparkling grotto, sponsored by Schhh, you know who…
Gosford House, a seat of the Earl of Wemyss and March, is a stunning mansion which looks across the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh. Designed by the eminent architect Robert Adam (1728-1792) shortly before his death, building work began in the 1790s. The house sits in the prettiest of grounds, with watercourses, ponds, summerhouses and a sublime mausoleum. In the following century one of the summerhouses was given a new use by the Aberlady Curling Club, which held matches there whenever the pond was suitably frozen.
Constructed early in the 19th century, this rocky grotto was built in the grounds of Ingleborough Hall, home to the Farrer family. Later it was a favoured spot of Elizabeth Farrer (1853-1937), and has thus became known by the wonderfully comforting name of Aunt Bessie’s Grotto. Here tea was served by the staff, whilst the family enjoyed the wonderful view to Thwaite Scars.