18th Century Landscape

Thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund we have discovered that Great Linford Manor Park was once home to an 18th century English Pleasure Garden. Although we don’t know exactly what this garden would have looked like, some clues have been left behind which give us an idea of how different features were laid out.

Formal gardens, early 18th century

In the land immediately around the manor there were once formal gardens. Remains of them are still preserved in the manor's private garden today where there is a surviving parterre or sunken garden (this is not publicly accessible). In the early years of the 18th century, formal planting was all the rage and neatly trimmed avenues of topiary were popular. Wealthy estates would have also had some exotic specimen trees to show off, brought back by plant hunters who travelled the world. These were spaced apart from one another so that visitors could walk all the way around and admire them. As the century went on the formality of this style went out of fashion and more natural planting styles came in.

'The Topiary Arcades and George II Column, Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire' by Balthasar Nebot (c.1700-1770), ©Bucks County Museum, via Art UK.

Note the formal topiary hedges at Hartwell Hall, near Aylesbury, and contemporary with Great Linford Manor.

The Doric Seat,  early 18th century

Hidden deep inside the Wilderness area in the northwest of the park, ornamental garden buildings like the Doric Seat were popular in the gardens of the wealthiest families in 18th century England. In the days before the canal and railway, an open lawn would have led down from the Doric Seat to the River Ouse below. You can appreciate a similar view today from Stanton Low, by the children's play area.

We think that there may have been a matching Doric Seat at the neighbouring Little Linford Hall which once stood on the other side of the River Ouse. Catherine Uthwatt of Great Linford Manor married Matthew Knapp of Little Linford Hall in the mid-18th century. The story goes that the two Doric seats were for Catherine and her mother to gaze at one another across the valley.

Our Doric Seat survived until the 1980s when it was vandalised and destroyed by a fire. For a time in the 1960s it was home to some cows, as seen in the black and white photo below. In 2019 the ruins of the Doric Seat were excavated by a team from Cotswold Archaeology.

As part of our National Lottery Funded project, we have now reinterpreted the Doric Seat. It now survives as a knee-height brick seating area capped with slabs of local limestone. The classical style Doric columns, which give the seat its name, have been reinterpreted through a beautiful metal frame decorated with climbing plants motifs.Click here to find out more about the works at the Doric Seat.

Do you have memories of the Doric Seat? If so, we'd love to hear them! Email us on glmp@theparkstrust.com to tell us your stories.

The Doric seat in the 1960s (via Bucks Archives).

The Wilderness,  late 18th century

The Doric Seat is found in the Wilderness area of the park. A natural area such as this, thick with trees was popular in 18th century gardens and is even referenced in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice when Lady Catherine de Bourgh visits Elizabeth Bennet at Longbourn:

"Miss Bennet, there seemed to be a prettyish kind of a little wilderness on one side of your lawn. I should be glad to take a turn in it, if you will favor me with your company."

Taking a turn around the Wilderness was a common pastime for friends, families and courting lovers. We have now installed meandering paths through the Wilderness and a set of Lime Leaf stepping stones as an interactive play sculpture. Click here to find out more about the works in the Wilderness. The Wilderness offers a shady retreat on a hot day as well as an enchanting stroll along the woodland path at the edge of the canal.

'The Wilderness, Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire' by Balthasar Nebot (c.1700-1770) ©Bucks County Museum. Via Art UK.

This painting by Nebot was commissioned to document the gardens at Hartwell House, near Aylesbury. Richard Woods is known to have worked on the gardens there. If Great Linford Manor's gardens were also created by Woods, they probably looked quite similar. Note the Ha-ha at the bottom of the painting, keeping the sheep out of the Wilderness.

The Haha

Named after the surprised expression of those stumbling upon it, the Haha is a hidden wall sunken into a ditch that was designed to keep out sheep and cattle from the gardens closest to a house, whilst providing unspoiled views from the house out over the parkland. For many years the Haha at Great Linford was hidden beneath thick foliage and was noticeable only as a slight dip in the ground running from the manor to the canal and the high street in either direction. In 2019 Cotswold Archaeology excavated the Haha at the edge of the Wilderness, next to the canal and revealed the stone wall nestled inside the ditch.

Excavation of the haha in 2019 (photograph by Hugh Robinson).

Cascading ponds

Group walking over cascade, Great Linford Manor Park.

The restored Grand Cascade, located on the North side of the canal, off the Redway.

No 18th century garden would be complete without a water feature and one of the most popular options to movement and a sparkle to the water was a cascade. These devices were favoured by Capability Brown as seen at Blenheim Palace and Richard Woods' handiwork at Cusworth.

We think that once upon a time there were 4 ponds in the park, which had probably been converted from a medieval stream or fishponds. They were, and still are, fed from the natural Hine Spring outside the Almshouses, and water cascaded between them and down into the Ouse Valley beyond. In 1800 the Grand Union Canal was dug through the park, possibly destroying one pond and isolating another on the other side of the canal. In the 250 years since the gardens were laid out at Great Linford Manor, the ponds became silted up with tree debris and overcrowded by overhanging trees. Thanks to our National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, we have been able to remove many of the self-seeded trees, restore the stone walls around the ponds and dredge out the organic matter. The ponds are now a beautiful sight and water flows freely from the Hine Spring, through the Round Pond, into the Canal Pond, under the canal and into the Cascade Pond on the other side. Here it tumbles away under the Railway Walk redway and out to meet the River Ouse.

Ponds in alignment at Great Linford Manor Park.

The three surviving ponds in alignment.

And what about Richard Woods?

Our research has hinted that prolific 18th century landscape designer Richard Woods may be connected to the park. We know that he drew landscaping plans for the Little Linford estate, but we don't know how much of them were implemented. His design of the Little Linford estate is very similar to the existing features we see at Great Linford so perhaps Woods made designs for Great Linford too. The 18th century features surviving at Great Linford are mirrored at Woods' confirmed estates, for example cascades at Cannon Hall (South Yorkshire) and Audley End (Essex), Doric features at Audley End, and ha-ha ditches at sites like Cusworth Hall (South Yorkshire).

Richard Woods designed the landscape at the Cusworth Hall estate.

The Uthwatt Family and their garden

Sadly, very little information survives about the Uthwatt family and the development of their garden. We know that Henry Uthwatt (manor resident 1754-57) made payment to Henry and Samuel Hewitt, gardeners in Middlesex, of £25-9-4 (about £3000 today). The Hewitts ran a nursery and seed business supplying bulbs, shrubs and ornamental trees. However, this is the only record linking Henry Uthwatt to the development of the pleasure garden.

Henry’s widow Frances lived at the manor from 1757-1800. This would have been the time when the 18th century garden features at Great Linford were created. Interestingly, Frances grew up at Chicheley Hall in Northamptonshire which has curiously similar features to Great Linford: a wilderness, 18th century pavilion and a ‘descending line of four rectangular ponds’. However, it is unlikely that a single woman at that time would have commissioned substantial garden works, even if she was wealthy. Nevertheless, Henry had made Sir Roger Newdigate trustee of the estate to look after Frances. He was a wealthy landowner who had notable gardens at his own estates. Therefore, it is possible that the gardens at Great Linford were designed under Newdigate’s control with Frances’ wealth.

By the later 18th century, fashions were evolving, and informal, loosely planted styles referred to as English Landscape Style became popular. This was most likely the time when more natural features like the Wilderness were added.

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