Not far from Helmsley, in North Yorkshire, are the dramatic ruins of a Cistercian abbey. Named after the valley of the river Rye in which is sits, Rievaulx Abbey is backed by a huge wooded cliff which rises high above the stonework. Look up and you can just see a glimpse of a classical temple, one of two which ornament the curving grassed terrace which overlooks the abbey.
In the 1760s Sir Thomas Wentworth* (1726-1792) of Bretton Hall, near Wakefield, set about landscaping his park. Initially, he employed Richard Woods, a professional landscape designer, but soon decided he could manage just as well on his own. In the 1770s he added to his grand design without recourse to even the most eminent landscaper of the age: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. A second lake would, he told friends, be completed without the help of ‘Capability or any such pretending Rogues’.
Duddon Grove was once in Cumberland, separated from the Furness peninsula and Lancashire by the river Duddon. A few miles from Broughton-in-Furness, it is tucked away in a quiet corner of the county that is largely free from the tourist hordes. Since the county boundary changes of 1974 it has been in Cumbria. The present house, originally called Duddon Grove, was built by Richard Towers in around 1805, soon after he came into possession of the estate. In the garden stands a very ornate temple with a pediment supported by pillars with Corinthian capitals, and a level of ornamentation not seen on the austere mansion.
Root houses, so named because they incorporated natural materials such as tree trunks, branches, bark, moss or heather, became key features of gardens and parks in the 18th century. Richard Payne Knight summed up the genre in his poem The Landscape in 1794
The cover’d seat, that shelters from the storm,
May oft a feature of the landscape form,
Whether composed of native stumps and roots,
It spreads the creeper’s rich fantastic shoots;
Born 200 years ago this month, on 8 February 1819, John Ruskin was a polymath; an artist, writer and critic who believed that culture should be available to all, not just the elite. As a new exhibition in London beautifully illustrates, Ruskin had strong opinions on most subjects. As he thought the architecture of Palladio ‘virtueless and despicable’, and the Houses of Parliament ‘effeminate and effortless’, we can probably assume that garden ornaments such as classical temples and gothic towers would not be his ‘thing’.
By the early 18th century Hornby Castle was a seat of the D’arcy family, earls of Holderness. Robert D’arcy, the 4th earl, began to improve the estate from around 1750 with John Carr of York remodelling the castle and associated buildings, including three eye-catcher farmhouses to be viewed from the castle and the network of rides around the estate. Capability Brown was paid for his services in 1768 and although it’s not known exactly what he proposed, as no plan survives, the series of lakes in a very Brownian style were constructed over the next decade.
Clarkson’s History of Richmond, revised in 1821, recounts that Cuthbert Readshaw created a ‘highly romantic walk’ by the Swale in 1760. Cuthbert Readshaw, who died in 1773 was a merchant who lived in the Bailey (ie the market place) in Richmond, and according to his will he was in ‘the business of wine and spirits and other branches of trade’.
To access the walk 18th century visitors would have travelled downhill from the town centre and crossed the river via the Green Bridge. Promenading along the south bank of the River Swale they would have encountered the picturesque scene of leafy Billy Bank Wood (aka Bordel Bank) and occasional artful outbreaks of the craggy rock face behind. Tucked in the woods was the cleft or cave known as Arthur’s Oven, conjuring romantic images of ancient and wilder times.