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Posts Tagged ‘Humphry Repton’

On a visit to see my relatives in Warwick, England, last month, I stopped at Stoneleigh Abbey. It was late in the day and the house tours had concluded, so I purchased a garden ticket and stepped through the wide, low door from the Gatehouse into the garden. Once inside, I followed a small path, lined on one side with tall flowers and a wooden fence. As the imposing front face of Stoneleigh came into view, I stopped and stared. In person, Stoneleigh Abbey is absolutely stunning.

1 Stoneleigh Abbey-View from lane

Stoneleigh Abbey: View from lane

[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

 

Jane Austen went to Stoneleigh Abbey in 1806 with her mother and Cassandra during a visit to Mrs. Austen’s first cousin, Reverend Thomas Leigh. The Austen women stayed at Leigh’s Adlestrop estate. During their visit, they also went with him to Stoneleigh Abbey, which he had just inherited. It’s believed that Austen drew inspiration from that trip for the Sotherton outing in Mansfield Park.

During the Regency period, the trend in landscape gardening aimed to make the gardens and surrounding land of grand estates look more natural and inviting. Enclosure walls were taken down, streams were redirected, long avenues of trees were chopped down, and new trees were planted in natural clumps. The orderly borders and rows of previous generations gave way to open spaces, grazing sheep or cattle, Grecian urns, and playful fountains.

2 Stoneleigh Abbey-River Avon views

3 Stoneleigh Abbey-River Avon views

Stoneleigh Abbey: River Avon views

[Photos: Rachel Dodge]

 

In Jane Austen and the English Landscape, Mavis Batey closely chronicles the landscape changes made to Adlestrop and Stoneleigh during Thomas Leigh’s day as well as the Red Book design plans proposed by Humphrey Repton. Austen was familiar with Repton’s Red Books, in which Repton presented clients with detailed drawings and paintings of his proposed changes.

During her visit to Adlestrop, Austen had access to Repton’s book, Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, which features examples of his “before and after” overlays, including his design plans for Adlestrop: “Jane Austen’s first real acquaintance with Repton’s work was at Adlestrop in Gloucestershire, where her cousin the Revd Thomas Leigh had consulted him in 1799” (Batey 81). By the time Austen visited Adlestrop in 1806, the improvements were complete.

 

When Austen saw Stoneleigh, no alterations had been made. Her brother, James, visited Stoneleigh in 1809, just after Repton had completed the Red Book for Stoneleigh (89). It’s likely that James provided the Austen women with updates on the progress there.

4 Stoneleigh Abbey-Front Approach (close-up)

Stoneleigh Abbey: Front Approach (close-up)

[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

5 Stoneleigh Abbey- Front

Stoneleigh Abbey: Front

[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

 

Often, Repton’s improvements included redirecting nearby bodies of water, as Repton’s Red Book shows in this “before and after” of the flow of the River Avon next to Stoneleigh Abbey:

6 Stoneleigh Abbey-Repton_s Red Book “Before and After” (River Avo)

Stoneleigh Abbey: Repton’s Red Book “Before and After” (River Avon)

[Pith+Vigor, May 8, 2013]

 

Austen was evidently inspired by Repton’s Red Books and the changes made to Adlestrop, as well as those proposed at Stoneleigh. During the group outing to Sotherton in Mansfield Park, Repton’s name is mentioned in reference to the changes Mr. Rushworth is considering:

Now, at Sotherton we have a good seven hundred [acres], without reckoning the water meadows; so that I think, if so much could be done at Compton, we need not despair. There have been two or three fine old trees cut down, that grew too near the house, and it opens the prospect amazingly, which makes me think that Repton, or anybody of that sort, would certainly have the avenue at Sotherton down: the avenue that leads from the west front to the top of the hill . . . (Mansfield Park)

 

There are also similarities between the Stoneleigh improvements and those Austen describes in Mansfield Park, such as the removal of a walled enclosure:

Stoneleigh had a walled entrance forecourt on the imposing west front, which had been added by Smith of Warwick in 1726. A walled enclosure was the first object for “fault-finding” when Jane Austen’s improver, Henry Crawford, led the party out to ‘examine the capabilities of that end of the house.’ Anticipating Repton he exclaimed, “I see walls of great promise.” Repton’s before and after illustrations show how essential the removal of these walls were. (Batey 90)

7 Stoneleigh Abbey-Repton_s Red Book “Before and After” (stone wall) (2)

Stoneleigh Abbey: Repton’s Red Book “Before and After” (stone wall)

[Pith+Vigor, May 8, 2013]

 

In The World of Jane Austen, Nigel Nicolson also provides a history of the Stoneleigh architecture: “It had been a Cistercian Abbey . . . founded in 1143” (141). When it came into the Leigh family after the Dissolution, an Elizabethan mansion was built. “The gatehouse was built by the sixteenth Abbot of Stoneleigh in 1346, and is the only substantial structure of the medieval abbey to survive” (146). The gatehouse still stands today (pictured below). The “entrance front” to the Great House was built in 1714.

8 Stoneleigh Abbey-Gatehouse

Stoneleigh Abbey: Gatehouse

[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

 

Behind the gray-stoned front face of Stoneleigh Abbey stands an older, Elizabethan house (142). The internal courtyard in the latter “was once the cloister of the medieval Abbey . . . remodeled to form the sixteenth-century house” (145). During their visit, Mrs. Austen commented on the interior of Stoneleigh, describing “the state bedchamber with a dark crimson Velvet Bed: an alarming apartment just fit for a heroine” (Batey 88).

9 Stoneleigh Abbey-Red brick Elizabethan portion of house

Stoneleigh Abbey: Red brick Elizabethan portion of house
[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

Today, visitors to Stoneleigh may enjoy an afternoon Cream Tea (tea and scone with clotted cream and jam) or a more elaborate Jane Austen Tea (http://www.stoneleighabbey.org/afternoon-tea) in the outdoor Orangery Tea Room. For those who want to spend more time on the grounds, there is a Jane Austen-themed tour of the house and a Repton Walk landscape tour available on certain days and times (reservations are encouraged for each).

10 Stoneleigh Abbey-Side view (from River Avon walk)

Stoneleigh Abbey: Side view (from River Avon walk)
[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

11 Stoneleigh Abbey-Orangery Tea Room

Stoneleigh Abbey: Orangery Tea Room
[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

One of the many delights of the Stoneleigh gardens is the lavender that grows alongside the walks. I visited on a stormy, breezy summer afternoon, and the smell of lavender filled the air. The Gatehouse has a small gift shop, and I bought dried lavender and Stoneleigh Abbey honey there, which I took as a hostess gift to my cousin that evening.

12 Stoneleigh Abbey-Lavender plants

Stoneleigh Abbey: Lavender plants

[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

Landscape architects still refer to Repton’s Red Books today. On Pith + Vigor, you can view an entire gallery of Repton’s Red Book images in Rochelle Greayer’s article, “Before & After: Humphry Repton.” [http://www.pithandvigor.com/garden/before-after/before-after-humphry-repton]

To view all of the original images from Humphrey Repton’s Red Book for Stoneleigh Abbey, please visit: http://www.stoneleighabbey.org/red-book.

 

Rachel Dodge is an author, college English instructor, and Jane Austen speaker. A true Janeite at heart, she loves books, bonnets, and ball gowns. For more of Rachel’s literary ramblings, you can follow her at www.racheldodge.com or on Facebook or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/kindredspiritbooks/). Her book, Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen releases October 2, 2018 (Bethany House Publishers).

Works Cited:

Batey, Mavis. Jane Austen and the English Landscape. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1996.

Greayer, Rochelle. “Before & After: Humphry Repton.” Pith + Vigor, 8 May 2013, http://www.pithandvigor.com/garden/before-after/before-after-humphry-repton.

Nicholson, Nigel. The World of Jane Austen. London: Orion Publishing Group, 1991.

 

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Great landed estates were symbols of the owner’s wealth and status in British society. Everything was put on grand display – from the exquisite architecture of the house itself to the furniture, jewels, silver plate, servants, books, carriages, horses, deer, game, forests, fields, and splendid grounds and gardens.

Longleat House in Wiltshire Image @www.longleat.co.uk

A fine estate certainly elevated a man in a lady’s estimation. Take this passage in Mansfield Park, written from Mary Crawford’s point of view:

Tom Bertram must have been thought pleasant, indeed, at any rate; he was the sort of young man to be generally liked, his agreeableness was of the kind to be oftener found agreeable than some endowments of a higher stamp, for he had easy manners, excellent spirits, a large acquaintance, and a great deal to say; and the reversion of Mansfield Park, and a baronetcy, did no harm to all this. Miss Crawford soon felt that he and his situation might do. She looked about her with due consideration,and found almost everything in his favour, a park, a real park, five miles round, a spacious modern-built house, so well placed and well screened as to deserve to be in any collection of engravings of gentlemen’s seats in the kingdom, and wanting only to be completely new furnished—pleasant sisters, a quiet mother, and an agreeable man himself—with the advantage of being tied up from much gaming at present, by a promise to his father, and of being Sir Thomas hereafter. ” – Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

(It is to Mary’s credit that, after this consideration, she prefered Edmund, the younger son, until she discovered that he intended to become a man of the cloth, and even then she did not give him up so easily.)

Visitors arriving at a landed estate took a circuitous route to the house along winding paths that were designed to show the grounds to their best advantage. They would pass through wooded areas and open fields, past lakes and rivers and herds of deer or cattle, and through a controlled wilderness area.

“The idea with Brownian landscapes is that you effectively go round them,” explains Mowl. “When [Capability] Brown did his landscape designs they would always have drives in them. They were an essential part of what he would do.” – The English Landscape Garden

Witton approach from Norwich, 1801, Humphrey Repton Red Book. Image @University of Florida Rare Book Collection

Groundskeepers of extensive parks that featured winding drives and a variety of formal and ornamental gardens employed several means of keeping grass under control. Grazing sheep and cattle represented the first lines of defense. These herds were allowed to roam over vast expanses of land. Eighteenth-century romantic sensibility required that nothing as obviously artificial as a visible fence be allowed to contain them.

Highclere Castle is surrounded by park land designed by Capability Brown. Grazing sheep in the foreground.

A landscape feature called a Ha-Ha prevented grazing herds from coming too close to the house. The Ha-Ha, which consisted of a deep trench abutting a wall and which was hidden from casual view even at a short distance, allowed for the naturalistic features of romantic landscape gardening to take hold.

The Ha-Ha prevented grazing animals from crossing from one area of the estate to another. Image © John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College

A Ha-Ha was so named because, as the myth goes, this landscape feature was so well hidden that an unsuspecting visitor would blurt out “ha-ha!” before falling into the trench.  This cross section shows how the system worked.

The trenches of a Ha-Ha could sometimes be 8 feet deep.The primary view is from the right and the barrier created by the ha-ha becomes invisible from that direction and sometimes from both directions, unless close to the trench. Image @Wikipedia

Not all Ha-Ha’s prevented deer, sheep, or cattle from grazing up to the front of the house (though considering their droppings, one would thinks that this would be highly preferred.) At Petworth, the Ha-Ha was placed at the side of the house.

Petworth with Ha-Ha on the side of the house. Image @The English Landscape Garden

Built at the edge of a pleasure grounds surrounding a house, the ha-aha made a virtually invisible barrier that kept the cows and sheep in their pastures yet allowed uninterrupted views from house into park of from park into distant countryside. It meant that pleasure grounds, park and landscape could seamlessly become one. It is probably French in origin. Charles Bridgeman is generally credited with it’s introduction, but the first remnants of a ha-ha had already been installed at Levens Hall in Cumbria in 1689. – Architessica: Gardens and Landscapes

The transitional area between the formal gardens and the large park surrounding the house was known as the wilderness. This area was as meticulously planned as the other areas of the estate, but here the plantings were more irregular and included native plants and trees; gravel walkways; a pond, lake or river or all three; waterfalls; lawns that resembled meadows; and areas where the vistas were framed to deliberately look natural. If cottages and villages were required to be moved to achieve this picturesque effect, then so be it. The master’s will was done.

In Pride and Prejudice 1995, Elizabeth Bennet and Lady Catherine de Bourgh conduct their heated discussion in Longbourn’s “wilderness”. No grazing required here.

These wilderness areas were unique to topography and region, for each estate was uniquely different.

Nature in Herefordshire is not like nature in Lancashire and the garden style that tries to emulate the same form everywhere (particularly
one imported from another country entirely) is destroying what Pope had called the genius loci.” – (Wildness in the English Garden Tradition: A Reassessment of the Picturesque from Environmental Philosophy Author(s): Isis Brook Reviewed work(s): Source: Ethics and the Environment, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Spring, 2008), pp. 105-119)

This plan of Paca Garden in Annapolis, MD, shows the formal gardens separated from the park by a wilderness area with pond, bridge, and follies. Image (a) Creating a Period Garden

Walking along a wilderness provided one with an endless variety of aesthetic experiences. Paths wended their way through woods that opened up to vistas. Large trees provided shelter for a bench or revealed moss growing on gnarly roots. Rivers, ponds, follies, and bridges provided natural sources of visual patterns. They were pleasant places to visit:

 A ‘pleasant place’ is supposed to be naturally crafted. It’s a balance between two opposites: wanting to cultivate the land and letting it grow freely.  However landscapers and architects finally accomplish this goal, the product always ends up being a beautiful oxymoron. – Landscape as Amenity

Chawton House grounds. One of the vistas from a gravel path. Image @Tony Grant

The exercise of walking along a wilderness ground was both visually and physically stimulating. These wilderness areas took years to design and arrange, with large trees moved from one area to another, buildings demolished or transported, and hillsides lowered or raised to “improve” the view.

Moving a full grown tree into place, Hayes, 1794

Such improvements, as they were generally known, required meticulous planning and strenuous effort. Master landscape gardeners like Lancelot “Capability” Brown and  Humphry Repton became household names. Jane Austen knew about such efforts and their resulting changes:

Mr. Rushworth, however, though not usually a great talker, had still more to say on the subject next his heart. “Smith has not much above a hundred acres altogether, in his grounds, which is little enough, and makes it more surprising that the place can have been so improved. Now, at Sotherton, we have a good seven hundred, without reckoning the water meadows; so that I think, if so much could be done at Compton, we need not despair. There have been two or three fine old trees cut down that grew too near the house, and it opens the prospect amazingly, which makes me think that Repton, or anybody of that sort, would certainly have the avenue at Sotherton down; the avenue that leads from the west front to the top of the hill, you know,” turning to Miss Bertram particularly as he spoke. But Miss Bertram thought it most becoming to reply—

“The avenue! Oh! I do not recollect it. I really know very little of Sotherton.”

Fanny, who was sitting on the other side of Edmund, exactly opposite Miss Crawford, and who had been attentively listening, now looked at him, and said, in a low voice—

“Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cowper ?’ Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.'”

He smiled as he answered, ” I am afraid the avenue stands a bad chance, Fanny.”

“I should like to see Sotherton before it is cut down, to see the place as it is now, in its old state , but I do not suppose I shall.” – Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

Sir Humphrey Repton, Whiton (Before) Image @British Architecture

Sir Humphry Repton left a valuable legacy with his Red Books. It was his habit to sketch before and after landscapes for his customers and present the drawings to them bound in red covers. His improvements for Whiton are subtle but important. Two parallel streams have been turned into a serpentine lake with a waterfall at one end. The distant fields provide a focal point with artfully arranged trees. If you look closely at the gravel path on the left, you can spy a gardener.

Sir Humphrey Repton, Whiton (After). Image @British Architecture

The samples below of Ferney Hall from The Morgan Library and Museum show the before and after drawing of an improved vista in which, using Jane Austen’s words, ” a prospect was opened”.

Ferney Hall by Repton. Image @The Morgan Library

The after image provides a glimpse of a folly. Instead of acting as a barrier, the woods give way to the scene, which provides a pleasant stopping point for the wanderer to sit and view. While such scenes looked natural, they were not.

Ferney Hall, After, by Repton. Image @The Morgan Library

Though visually the wild and the domestic were one is the same, “these were carefully managed scenes, designed to look natural, but actually contrived on a vast scale” – Landscape as Amenity

The wilderness was designed some distance from the house. Approaching closer, the visitor would see a more formal arrangement of fountains and shrubbery and mazes and flower gardens.

Chawton House: View from the wilderness towards the house and more formal plantings. Image @Tony Grant

The gentlemen who had these gardens designed for them had all been on the Grand Tour and learned the classics,” says Timothy Mowl of the University of Bristol. “It was part of their make-up and they wanted to display their taste and learning within gardens.” – The English Landscape Garden

Wrest Park, Bedfordshire. Image @The Telegraph UK

Landscape designs informed the process of maintaining the grounds. Large estates employed many gardeners to keep cricket and croquet fields in pristine condition, cultivate the ornamental and kitchen gardens, and oversee the orchards and hot houses. The question is: How did they do it?

Extensive gardens surrounding Wrest House in Bedfordshire. Wrest Park Gardens are spread over 150 acres (607,000 m²) near Silsoe, Bedfordshire, and were originally laid out in the early 18th century, probably by George London and Henry Wise for Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Kent, then modified by Capability Brown in a more informal landscape style, without sacrificing the parterres. Image from The Leisure Guide

As mentioned before, the first line of defense was allowing herds of sheep and cattle to graze. However, their by-products left something to be desired. (If anyone has ever walked through a cow pasture, they will know what I mean.)

English Garden at Leeds: Artfully contrived to look both contained and natural. Image @Landscape Into Land

Lawn mowing and ornamental landscaping held no particular interest to 99% of the people who lived during the Georgian era. Cottagers and town dwellers maintained small plots of vegetable gardens and laborers worked in the fields, using scythes to cut wheat and grain for their employers.

18th century method for harvesting grain with scythes. Image @Our Ohio

The laborers wielding scythes in the above image provide a clue to how grass was clipped – using a smooth, well-rehearsed motion, they worked in teams to cover large areas of ground. Their labor was cheap and they followed a system that included working in the morning when the ground was still damp.

Mowing Clover, late 19th c., by Arthur Verey

To prepare the lawn for scything, a gardener would:

“pole” the lawn first (swishing a long whippy stick across the grass to remove wormcasts) and … roll the ground to firm it and set the blades of grass in a uniform direction.” – Notes and Queries, The Guardian UK

19th Century Coalbrookdale Roller. Rolling the lawn tamped down the grass and seed, and promoted growth and strong roots. Image @jardinique.co.uk

The secret to maintaining a close-cropped lawn was to trim it frequently, about once a week. Lawn edges were best trimmed with sheep shearing clippers.

This gardening family is using shears, a rake, and a scythe in their cottage garden.

The grass was kept free of daisies with an instrument named a daisy grubber, which is the long-handled instrument with angled pick in the image below. Daisy grubbers are still sold today, as they apparently do the job well.

Dibbles and daisy grubber. Image @Garden History -Tools the Dibble

Dibbles were used to dig holes in the ground to plant seeds or bulbs, pry up roots, or jab weeds out between bricks and stone.

18th century gardener taking direction from a landscape designer. Note the man pruning the tree.

Even with these instruments, maintaining these large gardens took intensive labor. One can just imagine how much work was involved in protecting tender plants from insects and marauders, early frosts, and dry spells; and forcing exotic fruits and vegetables to grow out of season in hot houses.

Engelbrecht. 18th century German print of gardening – planting.

While improvements were made over the course of the 19th century, some customs remained the same:

“rich people used to show their wealth by the size of their bedding-plant list: 10,000 plants for a squire; 20,000 for a baronet; 30,000 for an earl and 50,000 for a duke. ” – Ernest Fields, Life in the Victorian Country House by Pamela Horn, p. 75.

Engelbrecht’s plate of an 18th century gardener working with flowers

Landed owners showed off their wealth through a variety of means, including the number of servants they employed.

Master and mistress in discussion with the head gardener

It was not unusual for a great estate to employ 60 – 100 gardeners. There was the full-time staff, consisting of a master gardener, who had begun his apprenticeship as a boy, and his assistants.

Pruning

Scottish gardeners were preferred, as it was thought that they had received the best training. Unmarried apprentice gardeners moved from estate to estate in order to gain experience and be promoted.

Dungbarrow

Junior staff worked long hours, around 60 hours a week, for, in addition to their gardening duties, they had to maintain the temperatures in glassed-in conservatories and meticulously care for archery, cricket, bowling and croquet lawns.

Woman using a rake

The master gardener hired local labor seasonally to help during peak times, so the number of laborers fluctuated.

The head gardener at the Thornham estate in Sussex at the end of the 19th century. Image by kitchen915

18th century garden cart and basket

With improvements in gardening equipment, including the invention of the lawn mower in 1830 by Edwin Beard Budding, machines began to take over the hard work of the scythe men.

First lawnmower invented by Edwin Beard Budding. Image @The Chronicle of Andrew Jackson, Wikispaces

I imagined a Regency gentleman pushing one in his regalia, and found this wonderful advertisement. After Budding’s initial invention, a variety of lawn mowers were invented, each improving on the other.

Mowing a lawn in 1832. Credit: Ann Ronan Picture Library / Heritage Images

Needless to say, large areas of lawn needed a more efficient method of keeping the grasses trimmed. As the 19th century progressed, horses were employed to pull large lawn mowing machines.

Horse pulling a lawn mower. Image @The Cultural Landscape Foundation

They wore special leather over shoes to protect fragile lawns, such as those shown in the image below.

This short video on YouTube demonstrates how 18th century gardeners dealt with sudden cold snaps.

More on the topic:

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Repton's design for the gardens for the Royal Pavillion, Brighton

Sir Humphry Repton (1752-1818), who was mentioned in a previous post about the paint color Invisible Green was a famous landscape designer during the end of the 18th century and early 19th century. “In his day, [he]was equal in stature to Capability Brown or Gertrude Jekyll, but is now often-overlooked. However, he was once favoured by the Prince Regent (later George IV), drawing up plans for the Brighton Pavillion, as well as working at Woburn, in Londons Bedford Square, Sherringham in Norfolk and Ensleigh in Devon.”

This 1991 film about Repton’s career, which I found on YouTube and whose title I could not find, features Sir Michael Hordern as the narrator and John Savident as Repton. The special showcases Repton’s magnificent drawings for the redesign of many famous properties; some of his work can still be observed in their natural settings.

About the name: Is it Humphry or Humphrey? I have seen both spellings. The BBC spelled the name as Humprhey, whereas the National Portrait Gallery, Morgan Library, and the majority of sources use Humphry.

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Inquiring reader: This is the second post by historical paint expert Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints, who has carried out extensive research into the use of pigments in architectural and decorative paintings. He has kindly answered a question about the paint color “invisible green,” which was left on his previous post, Painting a House During the Regency Era.

Invisible Green was a favourite of Humphrey Repton, the famous landscape designer of the Georgian/Regency eras. (The image above shows his trellises painted in a dark, rich green.)

William Mason, in his poem “The English Garden” published in 1783, provides us with a very early reference to the Picturesque treatment of fences and to the colour that became know as “Invisible Green”. He describes in verse the preparation of a dark green oil paint based on yellow ochre and black with white lead. Great care was required in mixing the right colour:

‘Tis thine alone to seek what shadowy hues
Tinging thy fence may lose it in the lawn…”

and he concludes by saying:

the paint is spread, the barrier pales retire,
snatched as by magic from the gazer’s view”.

Patrick Baty, Green Schemes, Garden Door, Scottish Estate

In 1808, James Crease, the Bath colourman, described “Invisible Green” as a dark green:

so denominated from its being proper for covering gates and rails in parks, pleasure grounds, etc. by rendering them in a measure invisible at a distance on account of its approximation to the hue of the vegetation”.

In 1829, T.H. Vanherman, the London colourman, described Invisible Green as follows:

“The Invisible Green is one of the most pleasant colours for fences, and all work connected with buildings, gardens, or pleasure grounds, as it displays a richness and solidity, and also harmonizes with every object, and is a back-ground and foil to the foliage of fields, trees, and plants, as also to flowers.”

One of my early projects was at Uppark, where the young Emma Hamilton is alleged to have danced naked on the dining room table.  The wonderful Lucy Inglis has written very well in her blog Georgian London about the concept of prostitution in the eighteenth century in Frances Barton – Alimony and Acting: The Life of Nosegay Fan.

More information on this topic:

Second image by Sir Humprhy Repton of a garden building for the Royal Pavillion at Brighton. The design was not used.

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This weekend as we celebrate Mother’s Day, my thoughts turn to Cassandra Austen,  wife of Rev. George Austen and mother of Jane Austen. Cassandra was related to the Leighs of Stoneleigh Abbey.  In 1806, the recently widowed Mrs. Austen visited Adlestrop Rectory in Gloucestershire with her two daughters, where they stayed with her cousins Rev. Thomas Leigh and his sister Elizabeth.  During their visit,  Rev. Thomas Leigh learned that the Hon. Mary Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey had died and that he would inherit the great house, whose origins go back to 1154. The Austen women traveled with Rev. Leigh to Warwickshire. In the following letter, Mrs. Austen writes glowingly about their stay at the mansion:

“STONELEIGH ABBEY,
“August 13, 1806.

“MY DEAR MARY, – The very day after I wrote you my last letter, Mr. Hill wrote his intention of being at Adlestrop with Mrs. Hill on Monday, the 4th, and his wish that Mr. Leigh and family should return with him to Stoneleigh the following day, as there was much business for the executors awaiting them at the Abbey, and he was hurried for time. All this accordingly took place, and here we found ourselves on Tuesday (that is yesterday se’nnight) eating fish, venison, and all manner of good things, in a large and noble parlour, hung round with family portraits. The house is larger than I could have supposed. We cannot find our way about it – I mean the best part; as to the offices, which were the Abbey, Mr. Leigh almost despairs of ever finding his way about them. I have proposed his setting up direction posts at the angles. I had expected to find everything about the place very fine and all that, but I had no idea of its being so beautiful. I had pictured to myself long avenues, dark rookeries, and dismal yew trees, but here are no such dismal things. The Avon runs near the house, amidst green meadows, bounded by large and beautiful woods, full of delightful walks.

Stoneleigh Abbey, 1808, Humphrey Repton

“At nine in the morning we say our prayers in a handsome chapel, of which the pulpit, &c. &c., is now hung with black. Then follows breakfast, consisting of chocolate, coffee, and tea, plum cake, pound cake, hot rolls, cold rolls, bread and butter, and dry toast for me. The house steward, a fine, large, respectable-looking man, orders all these matters. Mr. Leigh and Mr. Hill are busy a great part of the morning. We walk a good deal, for the woods are impenetrable to the sun, even in the middle of an August day. I do not fail to spend some part of every day in the kitchen garden, where the quantity of small fruit exceeds anything you can form an idea of. This large family, with the assistance of a great many blackbirds and thrushes, cannot prevent it from rotting on the trees. The gardens contain four acres and a half. The ponds supply excellent fish, the park excellent venison; there is great quantity of rabbits, pigeons, and all sorts of poultry. There is a delightful dairy, where is made butter, good Warwickshire cheese and cream ditto. One manservant is called the baker, and does nothing but brew and bake. The number of casks in the strong-beer cellar is beyond imagination; those in the small-beer cellar bear no proportion, though, by the bye, the small beer might be called ale without misnomer. This is an odd sort of letter. I write just as things come into my head, a bit now and a bit then.

Stoneleigh Abbey, Gatehouse. 1807

“Now I wish to give you some idea of the inside of this vast house – first premising that there are forty-five windows in front, which is quite straight, with a flat roof, fifteen in a row. You go up a considerable flight of steps to the door, for some of the offices are underground, and enter a large hall. On the right hand is the dining-room and within that the breakfast-room, where we generally sit; and reason good, ’tis the only room besides the chapel, which looks towards the view. On the left hand of the hall is the best drawing-room and within a smaller one. These rooms are rather gloomy with brown wainscot and dark crimson furniture, so we never use them except to walk through to the old picture gallery. Behind the smaller drawing-room is the state-bedchamber – an alarming apartment, with its high, dark crimson velvet bed, just fit for an heroine. The old gallery opens into it. Behind the hall and parlours there is a passage all across the house, three staircases and two small sitting-rooms. There are twenty-six bedchambers in the new part of the house and a great many, some very good ones, in the old.

Bedroom, Stoneleigh Abbey

There is also another gallery, fitted up with modern prints on a buff paper, and a large billiard-room. Every part of the house and offices is kept so clean, that were you to cut your finger I do not think you could find a cobweb to wrap it up in. I need not have written this long letter, for I have a presentiment that if these good people live until next year you will see it all with your own eyes.

Arch, Stoneleigh Manor, Repton, 1807

“Our visit has been a most pleasant one. We all seem in good humour, disposed to be pleased and endeavouring to be agreeable, and I hope we succeed. Poor Lady Saye and Sele, to be sure, is rather tormenting, though sometimes amusing, and affords Jane many a good laugh, but she fatigues me sadly on the whole. To-morrow we depart. We have seen the remains of Kenilworth, which afforded us much entertainment, and I expect still more from the sight of Warwick Castle, which we are going to see to-day. The Hills are gone, and my cousin, George Cook, is come. A Mr. Holt Leigh was here yesterday and gave us all franks. He is member for, and lives at, Wigan in Lancashire, and is a great friend of young Mr. Leigh’s, and I believe a distant cousin. He is a single man on the wrong side of forty, chatty and well-bred and has a large estate. There are so many legacies to pay and so many demands that I do not think Mr. Leigh will find that he has more money than he knows what to do with this year, whatever he may do next. The funeral expenses, proving the will, and putting the servants in both houses in mourning must come to a considerable sum; there were eighteen men servants.” – Letter, Hill, Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends

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Wentworth Before, Humphry Repton

Wentworth Before, Humphry Repton

One of the biggest names in landscaping during the late 18th and early 19th centuries was Humpry Repton (1752-1818), a self-made man who transformed the formal landscapes around England’s great houses along more natural, fluid, and graceful lines. Repton, who saw the relationship between house and landscape as a picturesque whole, wrote:

Wentworth After, Humphry Repton

Wentworth After, Humphry Repton

“In landscape gardening everything may be called a deception by which we endeavour to make our works appear to be the product of nature only. We plant a hill to make it appear higher than it really is, we open the banks of a natural river to make it appear wider, but whatever we do we must ensure that our finished work will look natural or it would fail to be agreeable.” Agreeable meant adding cattle or deer as focal points, and architectural structures that drew the eye. At times, entire villages were transported away from the great house and mature trees were transplanted so that the bucolic vision of manse and land could remain unspoiled and natural.

Transplanting trees, 1794, Hayes

Transplanting trees, 1794, Hayes

In following his vision, Repton moved roads,  created ponds, planted copses,  and built architectural structures. An artist, he painted his vision of how the property would look in 50 years in a series of red books, many of which still survive. Stoneleigh Abbey,  the ancestral home of Jane Austen’s mother’s family, was one of Repton’s most important commissions. Those who are planning to visit Stoneleigh Abbey will have an opportunity to view Repton’s red book for the Leighs, which took him a year to create and which will be on exhibit through 2009. Repton’s famous red books  showed painted scenes of the landscape before and after his transformations. In Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, he wrote:

“The perfection of landscape gardening consists in the four following requisites. First, it must display the natural beauties and hide the defects of every situation. Secondly, it should give the appearance of extent and freedom by carefully disguising or hiding the boundary. Thirdly, it must studiously conceal every interference of art. However expensive by which the natural scenery is improved; making the whole appear the production of nature only; and fourthly, all objects of mere convenience or comfort, if incapable of being made ornamental, or of becoming proper parts of the general scenery, must be removed or concealed”.

In 1796, following his own advice, Repton painted two watercolours for Whiton, the seat of Samuel Prime, esq., as seen below – (Images from Plants and Gardens Portrayed.)

Whiton, View from the Saloon Before, Humphry Repton, 1796

Whiton, View from the Saloon Before, Humphry Repton, 1796

Whiton, View from the Saloon After, Humphry Repton, 1796

Whiton, View from the Saloon After, Humphry Repton, 1796

Jane Austen famously mentioned Repton and the vogue for landscape transformations in Mansfield Park:

“Mr. Rushworth,” said Lady Bertram, “If I were you, I would have a very pretty shrubbery. One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fine weather.”

Mr. Rushworth was eager to assure her ladyship of his acquiescence, and tried to make out something complimentary; but, between his submission to her taste, and his having always intended the same himself, with the superadded objects of professing attention to the comfort of ladies in general, and of insinuating that there was one only whom he was anxious to please, he grew puzzled, and Edmund was glad to put an end to his speech by a proposal of wine. Mr. Rushworth, however, though not usually a great talker, had still more to say on the subject next his heart. “Smith has not much above a hundred acres altogether in his grounds, which is little enough, and makes it more surprising that the place can have been so improved. Now, at Sotherton we have a good seven hundred, without reckoning the water meadows; so that I think, if so much could be done at Compton, we need not despair. There have been two or three fine old trees cut down, that grew too near the house, and it opens the prospect amazingly, which makes me think that Repton, or anybody of that sort, would certainly have the avenue at Sotherton down: the avenue that leads from the west front to the top of the hill, you know,” turning to Miss Bertram particularly as he spoke. But Miss Bertram thought it most becoming to reply—

“The avenue! Oh! I do not recollect it. I really know very little of Sotherton.”

Fanny, who was sitting on the other side of Edmund, exactly opposite Miss Crawford, and who had been attentively listening, now looked at him, and said in a low voice—

“Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cowper? ‘Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.’”

He smiled as he answered, “I am afraid the avenue stands a bad chance, Fanny.”

“I should like to see Sotherton before it is cut down, to see the place as it is now, in its old state; but I do not suppose I shall.”

“Have you never been there? No, you never can; and, unluckily, it is out of distance for a ride. I wish we could contrive it.”

“Oh! it does not signify. Whenever I do see it, you will tell me how it has been altered.”

“I collect,” said Miss Crawford, “that Sotherton is an old place, and a place of some grandeur. In any particular style of building?”

“The house was built in Elizabeth’s time, and is a large, regular, brick building; heavy, but respectable looking, and has many good rooms. It is ill placed. It stands in one of the lowest spots of the park; in that respect, unfavourable for improvement. But the woods are fine, and there is a stream, which, I dare say, might be made a good deal of. Mr. Rushworth is quite right, I think, in meaning to give it a modern dress, and I have no doubt that it will be all done extremely well.”

Miss Crawford listened with submission, and said to herself, “He is a well–bred man; he makes the best of it.”

“I do not wish to influence Mr. Rushworth,” he continued; “but, had I a place to new fashion, I should not put myself into the hands of an improver. I would rather have an inferior degree of beauty, of my own choice, and acquired progressively. I would rather abide by my own blunders than by his.”

“You would know what you were about, of course; but that would not suit me. I have no eye or ingenuity for such matters, but as they are before me; and had I a place of my own in the country, I should be most thankful to any Mr. Repton who would undertake it, and give me as much beauty as he could for my money; and I should never look at it till it was complete.”

“It would be delightful to me to see the progress of it all,” said Fanny.

“Ay, you have been brought up to it. It was no part of my education; and the only dose I ever had, being administered by not the first favourite in the world, has made me consider improvements in hand as the greatest of nuisances. Three years ago the Admiral, my honoured uncle, bought a cottage at Twickenham for us all to spend our summers in; and my aunt and I went down to it quite in raptures; but it being excessively pretty, it was soon found necessary to be improved, and for three months we were all dirt and confusion, without a gravel walk to step on, or a bench fit for use. I would have everything as complete as possible in the country, shrubberies and flower–gardens, and rustic seats innumerable: but it must all be done without my care. Henry is different; he loves to be doing.” – Mansfield Park, Chapter 6

Repton's suggested improvements for house and landscape, p. 48, The Landscape Gardening and the Landscape Garden of the Late Humprhey Repton

Repton's suggested improvements for house and landscape, p. 48, The Landscape Gardening and the Landscape Garden of the Late Humprhey Repton

Repton, who was prolific in his thirty year career, taking on over 400 commissions, believed in providing picturesque vistas that included focal points from certain stops along a circuitous path wending its way through the landscape. He wrote how he accomplished this:

First, by collecting the wood into larger masses and distinguishing the lawns in a broad masterly manner without the confused frittering of too many single trees;

Secondly, by the interesting line of road winding through the lawn;

Thirdly, by the introduction of cattle to enliven the scene; and

Lastly, by the appearance of a seat on the knoll and a part of the house with its proposed alterations displaying its turrets and pinnacles amongst the trees. –  The Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the Late Humphrey Repton, Esq Being His Entire Works on These Subjects By Humphry Repton, John Claudius Loudon

Learn More About Humphry Repton by clicking on these links:

Hayes Image: Lasdun, Susan. The English Park, Royal, Private and Public. London. 1991, p 103. Print.

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The Gardens of Jane Austen’s England are a series of photos taken on a tour group in 2007. Click on the site to find images of Jane Austen’s houses and locations of her film adaptations.

The Royal Horticultural Society writes about the Royal pavilion’s restored Regency gardens, and defines the Regency garden style in this short article.

Beautiful black and white photographs of the architectural details of Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire are featured in Art and Architecture. Stoneleigh Abbey was the county seat of Cassandra Austen’s (nee Leigh’s) family. (Click on family tree to see the connection.)


Famed landscape architect Humphry Repton worked on the gardens at Stoneleigh Abbey. These images show the mansion and its surroundings before and after Repton’s changes, in which the house becomes integral to a natural looking landscape.
Jane Austen’s Life and Works in Google Earth is an amazingly detailed site that lists every location Jane visited, lived in, or mentioned in her novels. Download Google earth, and see images of these sites as taken from above. Find a direct link to the site here.

Mansion Illustrations from: Humphry Repton at Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, by Edward Malins, Garden History, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring, 1977), pp. 21-29, Published by: The Garden History Society.

Mother and child illustration: Maternal love, from: Kate Greenaway. Language of flowers. London: G. Routledge and Sons, [1884]

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