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Fine Herbes in April: Adding Flavor to your Pot

Fine herbes

Fine Herbes Abound

One of the joys of April is the appearance of green and growing gardens after the chill of winter. In her quintessential guide to English cooking, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse offers a round of up all the dainties one might expect to harvest this month. She does not offer hopes that one has a garden or tips for growing the garden of fine herbes — these are already assumed– she merely states what might be found in the garden. Estates and even cottages relied on their gardens for fresh produce throughout the year and the lack of a garden was one annoyance of city living.

In her book, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse offers an overview of the kitchen garden, month by month.
In her book, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse offers an overview of the kitchen garden, month by month.

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Strawberry Hill: A Gothic Fantasy

Strawberry Hill House, often referred to simply as Strawberry Hill, is the Gothic Revival villa that was built in Twickenham, London by Horace Walpole beginning in 1749. It is the type example of the “Strawberry Hill Gothic” style of architecture, and it prefigured the nineteenth-century Gothic revival. Walpole, an author in his own right (among many other things) was said to have been inspired by his home, to write the  novel, “The Castle of Otranto” generally regarded as the first gothic novel.

800px-Strawberry_Hill_House_from_garden_in_2012_after_restoration
Strawberry Hill House in 2012 after restoration

Walpole rebuilt the existing house in stages starting in 1749, 1760, 1772 and 1776. These modifications added gothic features such as towers and battlements outside and elaborate decoration inside to create “gloomth” to suit Walpole’s collection of antiquarian objects, contrasting with the “riant” (smiling) garden. The interior included a Robert Adam fireplace; parts of the exterior were designed by James Essex. The garden contained a large seat shaped like a Rococo sea shell.

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Lancelot “Capability” Brown and Humphry Repton

Humphry Repton

Who were Lancelot Brown and Humphry Repton? And what did they bring to the modern Georgian garden?

He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side-screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape.
Northanger Abbey


Lancelot Brown

Lancelot Brown (1716 – 6 February 1783), more commonly known as Capability Brown, was an English landscape gardener. He is remembered as “the last of the great English eighteenth-century artists to be accorded his due”, and “England’s greatest gardener”. He designed over 170 parks, many of which still endure.

Born in Kirkharle, Northumberland, and educated at Cambo School, he began work by serving as a gardener’s boy in the service of Sir William Loraine. From there he moved on to Wotton, owned by Lord Cobham. He then joined Lord Cobham’s gardening staff, at Stowe, Buckinghamshire. There he served under William Kent, one of the founders of the new English style of Landscape Gardening. Whilst at Stowe, Brown married a local girl named Bridget Wayet and had the first four of his children.

As an exponent of the new English style, Brown became immensely sought after by the landed families. By 1751, Horace Walpole wrote of Brown’s work at Warwick Castle:

The castle is enchanting; the view pleased me more than I can express, the river Avon tumbles down a cascade at the foot of it. It is well laid out by one Brown who has set up on a few ideas of Kent and Mr. Southcote.

It is estimated that Brown was responsible for over 170 gardens surrounding the finest country houses and estates in Britain. His work still endures at Blenheim Palace, Kew Gardens, Warwick Castle, Bowood House, Milton Abbey (and nearby Milton Abbas village) and many other locations. This man who refused work in Ireland because he had not finished England was called “Capability” Brown because he would tell his landed clients their estates had great “capability” for landscape improvement.

His style of smooth undulating grass in which would run straight to the house, clumps, belts, scattering of trees and his serpentine lakes was a new style within the English landscape, and hence opened Brown to criticism by many landscape theorists. However, Brown has not only been criticised, he has also been praised by many.

His landscapes were at the forefront of fashion and they were fundamentally different to what they replaced. The well-known formal gardens of England that were the predominant style before his time were criticized by Alexander Pope and others in the early 1700s. Starting in 1719, William Kent, and then later Brown, replaced these with more naturalistic compositions, which reached their greatest refinement in Brown’s grammatical landscapes.

Russell Page described Brown’s process as “encouraging his wealthy clients to tear out their splendid formal gardens and replace them with his facile compositions of grass, tree clumps and rather shapeless pools and lakes”. Richard Owen Cambridge, the English poet and satirical author, declared that he hoped to die before Brown so that he could “see heaven before it was ‘improved'” this was a typical statement reflecting the controversy about Brown’s work, which has continued over the last 200 years. By contrast, a recent historian and author, Richard Bisgrove, described Brown’s process as perfecting nature by judicious manipulation of its components, adding a tree here or a concealed head of water there. His art attended to the formal potential of ground, water, trees and so gave to English landscape its ideal forms. The difficulty was that less capable imitators and less sophisticated spectators did not see nature perfected… they saw simply what they took to be nature.

This deftness of touch was not unrecognized in his own day; one anonymous obituary writer opined: “Such, however, was the effect of his genius that when he was the happiest man, he will be least remembered; so closely did he copy nature that his works will be mistaken”. Brown’s popularity declined rapidly after his death, because his work was seen as a feeble imitation of wild nature. During the nineteenth century he was criticised by almost everyone but during the twentieth century his popularity returned. Tom Turner has suggested that this resulted from a favourable account of his talent in Marie-Luise Gothein’s History of Garden Art which influenced Christopher Hussey’s positive account of Brown in his book on The Picturesque.

Brown died in 1783, in Hertford Street, London, on the doorstep of his daughter Bridget who had married the architect Henry Holland. Horace Walpole wrote to Lady Ossory: “Your dryads must go into black gloves, Madam, their father-in-law, Lady Nature’s second husband, is dead!”. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Peter and St. Paul, the parish church of Brown’s small estate Fenstanton Manor.

Humphry Repton

Humphrey Repton (April 21, 1752 – March 24, 1818), was the last great English landscape designer of the eighteenth century, often regarded as the successor to Capability Brown; he also sowed the seeds of the more intricate and eclectic styles of the nineteenth century. His first name is often incorrectly rendered “Humphrey”. Early life

Repton was born in Bury St Edmunds, the son of a collector of excise. In 1762 his father set up a transport business in Norwich, where Humphry attended the Grammar School. Aged 12 he was sent to Holland to learn Dutch and prepare for a career as a merchant. However, Repton was befriended by a wealthy Dutch family and the trip may have done more to stimulate his interest in ‘polite’ pursuits such as sketching and gardening.

Returning to Norwich, Repton was apprenticed to a textile merchant, then, after marriage to Mary Clarke in 1773, set up in the business himself. He was not successful, and when his parents died in 1778 used his modest legacy to move to a small country estate at Sustead, near Aylsham in Norfolk. Repton tried his hand as a journalist, dramatist, artist, political agent, and as confidential secretary to his neighbour William Windham of Felbrigg Hall during Windham’s very brief stint as Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Repton also joined John Palmer in a venture to reform the mail-coach system, but while the scheme ultimately made Palmer’s fortune, Repton again lost money.

His capital dwindling, Repton moved to a modest ‘cottage’ at Hare Street in Essex. In 1788, aged 36 and with four children and no secure income, he hit on the idea of combining his sketching skills with his limited experience of laying out grounds at Sustead to become a ‘landscape gardener’ (a term he himself coined). Since the death of Lancelot ‘capability’ Brown in 1783, no one figure had dominated English garden design; Repton was ambitious to fill this gap and sent circulars round his contacts in the upper classes advertising his services. His first paid commission was Catton Park in 1788.

That Humphry Repton, with no real experience of practical horticulture, became an overnight success, is a tribute to his undeniable talent, but also to the unique way he presented his work. To help clients visualise his designs, Repton produced ‘Red Books’ (so called for their binding) with explanatory text and watercolours with a system of overlays to show ‘before’ and ‘after’ views. In this he differed from Brown, who had worked almost exclusively with plans and rarely illustrated or wrote about his work.

To understand what was unique about Repton it is useful to examine how he differed from Brown in more detail. Brown had worked for many of the wealthiest aristocrats in Britain, carving huge landscape parks out of old formal gardens and agricultural land. While Repton worked for equally important clients, such as the Dukes of Bedford and Portland, he was usually fine-tuning earlier work, often that of Brown himself. Where Repton got the chance to lay out grounds from scratch it was generally on a much more modest scale. On these smaller estates, where Brown would have surrounded the park with a continuous perimeter belt, Repton cut vistas through to ‘borrowed’ items such as church towers, making them seem part of the designed landscape. He contrived approach drives and lodges to enhance impressions of size and importance, and even introduced monogramed milestones on the roads around some estates, for which he was satirised by Thomas Love Peacock as ‘Marmaduke Milestone, esquire, a Picturesque Landscape Gardener’ in Headlong Hall.

Capability Brown had been a large-scale contractor, who not only designed, but also arranged the realisation of his work. By contrast, Repton acted as a consultant, charging for his Red Books and sometimes staking out the ground, but leaving his client to arrange the actual execution. Thus many of Repton’s 400 or so designs remained wholly or partially unexecuted and, while Brown became very wealthy, Repton’s income was never more than comfortable.

Early in his career, Humphry Repton defended Brown’s reputation during the ‘picturesque controversy’. In 1794 Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price simultaneously published vicious attacks on the ‘meagre genius of the bare and bald’, criticising his smooth, serpentine curves as bland and unnatural and championing rugged and intricate designs, composed according to ‘picturesque’ principals of landscape painting. Repton’s defence of Brown rested partly on the impracticality of many picturesque ideas; as a professional, Repton had to produce practical and useful designs for his clients.

Paradoxically, however, as his career progressed Repton drew more and more on picturesque ideas. One major criticism of Brown’s landscapes was the lack of a formal setting for the house, with rolling lawns sweeping right up to the front door. Repton re-introduced formal terraces, balustrades, trellis work and flower gardens around the house in a way that became common practice in the nineteenth century. He also designed one of the most famous ‘picturesque’ landscapes in Britain at Blaise Castle. At Woburn Abbey, Repton foreshadowed another nineteenth century development, creating themed garden areas including a Chinese garden, American garden, arboretum and forcing garden.

Buildings played an important part in many of Repton’s landscapes. In the 1790s he often worked with the relatively unknown architect John Nash, whose loose compositions suited Repton’s style. Nash benefited greatly from the exposure, while Repton received a commission on building work. Around 1800, however, the two fell out, probably over Nash’s refusal to credit the work of Repton’s architect son John Adey Repton. Thereafter John Adey and Repton’s younger son George often worked with their father, although George continued to work in Nash’s office as well. It must have been particularly painful for Repton when Nash secured the prestigious work to remodel the Royal Pavilion at Brighton for the Prince Regent, for which Repton had himself submitted innovative proposals in an Indian style.

In 1811 Repton suffered a serious carriage accident which often left him needing to use a wheelchair for mobility. He died in 1818 and is buried in the Churchyard at Aylsham.

Three roads close to the vicinity of his cottage at Hare Street (now renamed Main Road) in Essex have been named after him; Repton Avenue, Repton Gardens and Repton Drive repectively. A small plaque was unvield in his memory on 19th April 1969 on the site of his cottage, now rebuilt as a branch of Lloyds TSB, situated on the junction of Hare Street and Balgores Lane.

Repton published three major books on garden design: Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening (1795), Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1803), and Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1816). These drew on material and techniques used in the Red Books. Several lesser works were also published, including a posthumous collection edited by John Claudius Loudon. More information and excerpts from Repton’s books may be found at www.mkheritage.co.uk.

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Kensington Gardens

Your lilacs are in leaf, ours are in bloom. The horse-chestnuts are quite out, and the elms almost. I had a pleasant walk in Kensington Gardens on Sunday with Henry, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Tilson; everything was fresh and beautiful.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
April 25, 1811

The following article is excerpted from Old and new London: a narrative of its history, its people, and its places …, which was printed in 1898. Here you will find a history of the Gardens up to that point, a great deal of which is drawn from historical documents of Jane Austen’s time, 1802-1806, specifically. Here is a period look at the Garden Jane Austen knew and enjoyed!

Kensington Gardens
The gardens attached to Kensington Palace, when purchased by William III., did not exceed twentysix acres. They were immediately laid out according to the royal taste; and this being entirely military, the consequence was that closely-cropped yews, and prim holly hedges, were taught, under the auspices of Loudon and Wise, the royal gardeners, to imitate the lines, angles, bastions, scarps and counter-scarps of regular fortifications. This curious upper garden, we are told, was long “the admiration of every lover of that kind of horticultural embellishment,” and, indeed, influenced the general taste of the age…Addison, in No. 477 of the Spectator, thus speaks of the horticultural improvements of this period :—” I think there are as many kinds of gardening as of poetry: your makers of pastures and flower-gardens are epigrammatists and sonneteers in this art; contrivers of bowers and grottoes, treillages and cascades, are romantic writers; Wise and Loudon are our heroic poets ; and if, as a critic, I may single out any passage of their works to commend, I shall take notice of that part in the upper garden at Kensington which was at first nothing but a gravel-pit. It must have been a fine genius for gardening that could have thought of forming such an unsightly hollow into so beautiful an area, and to have hit the eye with so uncommon and agreeable a scene as that which it is now wrought into.”

In 1691 these gardens are thus described:— ” They are not great, nor abounding with fine plants. The orange, lemon, myrtle, and what other trees they had there in summer, were all removed to London, or to Mr. Wise’s greenhouse at Brompton Park, a little mile from there. But the walks and grass were very fine, and they were digging up a plot of four or five acres to enlarge their gardens.” Queen Anne added some thirty acres more, which were laid out by her gardener, Wise. Bowack, in 1705, describes here “a noble collection of foreign plants, and fine neat greens, which makes it pleasant all the year. . . . Her Majesty has been pleased lately to plant near thirty acres more to the north, separated from the rest only by a stately greenhouse, not yet finished.” It appears from this passage that, previous to the above date, Kensington Gardens did not extend further to the north than the conservatory, which, as stated in the previous chapter, was originally built for a banqueting-house, and was frequently used as such by Queen Anne. This banquetinghouse was completed in the year 1705, and is considered a fine specimen of brickwork. The south front has rusticated columns supporting a Doric pediment, and the ends have semi-circular recesses. ” The interior, decorated with Corinthian columns,” Mr. John Timbs tells us in his ” Curiosities,” ” was fitted up as a drawing-room, music room, and ball-room ; and thither the queen was conveyed in her chair from the western end of the palace. Here were given full-dress fêtes à la Watteau, with a profusion of ‘ brocaded robes, hoops, fly-caps, and fans,’ songs by the court lyrists, &c.” When the Court left Kensington, this building was converted into an orangery and greenhouse.

Just within the boundary of the gardens at the south-eastern corner, on slightly rising ground, is the Albert Memorial, which we have already described, and not far distant is the statue of Dr. Jenner, the originator of vaccination. This statue, which is of bronze, represents the venerable doctor in a sitting posture. It is the work of William Calder Marshall, and was originally set up in Trafalgar Square in 1858, but was removed hither about four years afterwards.

The eastern boundary of the gardens would seem to have been in Queen Anne’s time nearly in the line of the broad walk which crosses them on the east side of the palace. The kitchen- gardens, which extended north of the palace, towards the gravel-pits, but are now occupied by some elegant villas and mansions, and the thirty acres lying north of the conservatory, added by Queen Anne to the pleasure-gardens, may have been the fifty-five acres “detached and severed from the park, lying in the north-west corner thereof,” granted in the reign of Charles II. to Hamilton, the Ranger of Hyde Park, and Birch, the auditor of excise, ” to be walled and planted with ‘pippins and redstreaks,’ on condition of their furnishing apples or cider for the king’s use.”

At the end of the avenue leading from the south part of the palace to the wall on the Kensington Road is an alcove built by Queen Anne’s orders ; so that the palace, in her reign, seems to have stood in the midst of fruit and pleasure gardens, with pleasant alcoves on the west and south, and the stately banqueting-house on the east, the whole confined between the Kensington and Uxbridge Roads on the north and south, with Palace Green on the west ; the line of demarcation on the east being the broad walk before the east front of the palace. Bridgeman, who succeeded Wise as the fashionable designer of gardens, was employed by Queen Caroline, consort of George II., to plant and lay out, on a larger scale than had hitherto been attempted, the ground which had been added to the gardens by encroaching upon Hyde Park. Bridgeman’s idea of the picturesque led him to abandon ” verdant sculpture,” and he succeeded in effecting a complete revolution in the formal and square precision of the foregoing age, although he adhered in parts to the formal Dutch style of straight walks and clipped hedges. A plan of the gardens, published in 1762, shows on the north-east side a low wall and fosse, reaching from the Uxbridge Road to the Serpentine, and effectually shutting in the gardens. Across the park, to the east of Queen Anne’s Gardens, immediately in front of the palace, a reservoir was formed with the ” round pond ; ” thence, as from a centre, long vistas or avenues were carried through the wood that encircled the water—one as far as the head of the Serpentine ; another to the wall and fosse above mentioned, affording a view of the park ; a third avenue led to a mount on the south-east side, which was raised with the soil dug in the formation of the adjoining canal, and planted with evergreens by Queen Anne. This mount, which has since been levelled again, or, at all events, considerably reduced, had on the top a revolving “prospect house.” There was also in the gardens a ” hermitage : ” a print of it is to be seen in the British Museum.

On King William taking up his abode in the palace, the neighbouring town of Kensington and the outskirts of Hyde Park became the abode of fashion and of the hangers-on at the Court, whilst the gardens themselves became the scene of a plot for assassinating William, and replacing James II. on the throne. The large gardens laid out by Queen Caroline were opened to the public on Saturdays, when the King and Court went to Richmond, and on these occasions all visitors were required to appear in full dress. When the Court ceased to reside here, the gardens were thrown open in the spring and summer ; they, nevertheless, long continued to retain much of their stately seclusion. The gardens are mentioned in the following terms by the poet Crabbe, in his ” Diary : “—” Drove to Kensington Gardens : … effect new and striking. Kensington Gardens have a very peculiar effect ; not exhilarating, I think, yet alive [lively] and pleasant.”

According to Sir Richard Phillips, in ” Modern London,” published in 1804, the gardens were open to the public at that time only from spring to autumn ; and, curiously enough, servants in livery were excluded, as also were dogs. Thirty years later the gardens are described as being open ” all the year round, to all respectably-dressed persons, from sunrise till sunset.” About that time, when it happened that the hour for closing the gates was eight o’clock, the following lines, purporting to have been written ” by a young lady aged nineteen,” were discovered affixed to one of the seats :—

“Poor Adam and Eve were from Eden turned out,
As a punishment due to their sin ;
But here after eight, if you loiter about,
As a punishment you’ll be locked in.

It may be added that now, on stated days during the ” London season,” the scene in these gardens is enlivened by the exhilarating strains of military bands. It is stated by Count de Melfort, in his ” Impressions of England,” published in the reign of William IV., that the Duke of St. Albans—we suppose, as Grand Falconer of England—is the only subject, except members of the royal family, who has the right of entering Kensington Palace Gardens in his carriage. The fact may be true, but it wants verifying.

Of the Bridge over the Serpentine, at the northeast corner of the Gardens, we have already given an illustration [elsewhere in the book]. At some distance on the west side of this bridge, as it leaves the Uxbridge Road, the Serpentine has been divided into a series of four large basins or reservoirs, of octangular form, each of which has a small fountain in the centre, encompassed with marble. In the central pathway, above the water-level. At the other end of the reservoirs is an engine-house, containing engines for working the fountains. This building is of Italian design, and roofed with red Italian tiles. It stands just within the Gardens, at a short distance from the Bayswater Road.

Kensington Gardens have been celebrated by [Thomas] Tickell in the poem which bears their name, and from which we have quoted above ; ” verses,” says Charles Knight, ” full of fairies and their dwarfs, and Dryads and Naiads ; verses made to order, and which have wholly perished as they deserve to perish.” His poem on ‘ Kensington Gardens,’ with the fairy tale introduced, is much admired; the versification is smooth and elegant . He is said to have been a man of gay conversation, but in his domestic relations without censure.” Kensington Palace and its Gardens were the first places where the hooped petticoats of our greatgrandmother’s days were displayed by ladies of fashion and ” quality.” We do not purpose giving here a history of Englishwomen’s dress; but it may be as well to record the fact that the hoop appears to have been the invention of a Mrs. Selby, whose novelty is made the subject of a pamphlet, published at Bath, under the title of ” The Farthingale Reviewed; or, more Work for the Cooper:a “Panegyrick on the late but most admirable invention of the Hooped Petticoat.” The talented lady who invented it died in 1717, and is thus mentioned by a Mrs. Stone, in the ” Chronicles of Fashion :” ” How we yearn to know something more of Mrs. Selby, her personal appearance, her whereabouts, her habits, and her thoughts. Can no more be said of her, whose inventive genius influenced the empire for well-nigh a century, who, by the potency of a rib of whalebone, held the universal realm of fashion against the censures’ of the press, the admonitions of the pulpit, and the common sense of the whole nation ? Mrs. Tempest, the milliner, had her portrait taken by Kent, and painted on the staircase of Kensington Palace ; and what was Mrs. Tempest that her lineaments should be preserved, whilst those of Mrs. Selby, the inventor of the hoop, are suffered to fall into oblivion ? ” It was during the reign of George I. that the fashionable promenades in the Gardens became so popular, and the glittering skirts, which still lived in the recollection of our grandparents, would seem to have made their first appearance. Caroline of Anspach, the Prince of Wales’s consort, probably introduced them, when she came with her bevy of maidens to Court. People would throng to see them ; the ladies would take the opportunity of showing themselves, like pea-hens, in the walks ; persons of fashion, privileged to enter the Gardens, would avail themselves of the privilege ; and at last the public would obtain admission, and the raree-show would be complete. The full-dress promenade, it seems, was at first confined to Saturdays ; it was afterwards changed to Sundays, and continued on that day till the custom went out with the closing days of George III.

In fact, during the last century the broad walk in Kensington Gardens had become almost as fashionable a promenade as the Mall in St. James’s Park had been a century earlier, under Charles II. There might, probably, have been seen here, on one and the same day, during the portentous year 1791, Wilkes and Wilberforce ; George Rose and Mr. Holcroft ; Mr. Reeve and Mr. Godwin ; Burke, Warren Hastings, and Tom Paine ; Horace Walpole and Hannah More (whom he introduced to the Duke of Queensberry) ; Mary Wollstonecraft and Miss Burney (Madame d’Arblay), the latter avoiding the former with all her might ; the Countess of Albany (the widow of the Pretender); the Margravine of Anspach ; Mrs. Montagu ; Mrs. Barbauld ; Mrs. Trimmer ; Emma Harte (Lady Hamilton), accompanied by her adoring portrait painter, Romney ; and poor Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis XV., come to look after some jewels of which she has been robbed, and little thinking she would return to be guillotined. The fashions of this half century, with the exception of an occasional broad-brimmed hat worn both by gentlemen and ladies, comprised the ugliest that ever were seen in the old Court suburb. Headdresses became monstrous compounds of pasteboard, flowers, feathers, and pomatum ; the hoop degenerated into little panniers ; and about the year 1770, a set of travelled fops came up, calling themselves Macaronis (from their intimacy with the Italian eatable so called), who wore ridiculously little hats, large pigtails, and tight-fitting clothes of striped colours. The lesser pigtail, long or , curly, prevailed for a long time among elderly , gentlemen, making a powdered semicircle between the shoulders ; a plain cocked-hat adorned their heads ; and, on a sudden, at the beginning of the new century, some of the ladies took to wearing turbans, surmounted with ostrich feathers, and bodies literally without a waist, the girdle coming directly under the arms.

Lady Brownlow, in her ” Reminiscences of a Septuagenarian,” tells us that after the Peace of Amiens, in 1802, she here met the celebrated Madame Recamier, who created a sensation at the West-end, partly by her beauty, but still more by her dress, which was vastly unlike the unsophisticated style and poke bonnets of the English ladies. “She appeared in Kensington Gardens à l’antique, a muslin gown clinging to her form like the folds of drapery on a statue ; her hair in a plait at the back, and falling in small ringlets round her face, and greasy with huile antique; a large veil thrown over her head completed her attire, which not unnaturally caused her to be followed and stared at.” No doubt, dressed in such a costume, and at such a period, Madame Recamier might well have been the “cynosure of neighbouring eyes.”

In an article on Kensington Palace and Gardens, in the Monthly Register for September, 1802, the writer somewhat critically remarks : — “All the views from the south and east façades of the edifice suffer from the absurdity of the early inspectors of these grounds. The three vistas opening from the latter, without a single wave in the outline, without a clump or a few insulated trees to soften the glare of the champagne, or diminish the oppressive weight of the incumbent grove, are among the greatest deformities. The most exquisite view in the Gardens is near the north-east angle ; at the ingress of the Serpentine river, which takes an easy wind towards the park, and is ornamented on either side by sloping banks, with scenery of a different character. To the left the wood presses boldly on the water, whose polished bosom seems timidly to recede from the dark intruder ; to the right, a few truant foresters interrupt the uniformity of the parent grove, which rises at some distance on the more elevated part of the shore ; and through the boles of the trees are discovered minute tracts of landscape, in which the eye of taste can observe sufficient variety of light and shade of vegetable and animal life to gratify the imagination, and disappoint the torpor, which the more sombre scenery to the east is accustomed to invite.

“The pencil of Claude and Poussin was employed on general landscape ; and the transport inspired by their works is from the composition and general effect, not from the exact resemblance of objects, to which Swanevelt and Watteau were so scrupulously attentive. In the landscape of nature, as well as in the feeble imitations of the artist, individuals deserve some attention. The largest and most beautiful of all the productions of the earth is a tree. As the effulgent tints of the insect must yield to the elegance and proportion of the other orders of animals, when contemplated by our imperfect optics, so the gorgeous radiance of the flower must bend its coronal honours to this gigantic offspring of nature, whose ample foliage receives all the splendid effects of light and shade, and gives arrangement and composition to landscape. The trees that conduce to the sublime in scenery are the oak, the ash, the elm, and the beech. It is a defect in the gardens at Kensington that, excepting the elm, the whole of this beautiful fraternity is excluded, so that all the variety of tint in the spring and autumn is lost, and the gardens burst into the luxuriance of summer, and hasten to the disgrace of winter, without those gradations which indulgent Nature has contrived to moderate our transport on the approach of the one, and to soften our griefs on the appearance of the other. The dusky fir is the only melancholy companion the elm is here permitted to possess, who seems to raise his tall funereal head to insult his more lively associate with approaching decay. If in spring we have not here all the colours of the rainbow, in the forms of nascent existence ; if in autumn the yellow of the elm, the orange of the beech, and the glowing brown of the oak do not blend their fading honours, it must be acknowledged that the elm is one of the noblest ornaments of the forest ; it is the medium between the massive unyielding arm of the oak and the versatile pliancy of the ash ; it out- tops the venerable parent of the grove, and seems to extend its mighty limbs towards heaven, in bold defiance of the awful monarch of the wood.


Excerpted from Old and new London: a narrative of its history, its people, and its places … By Walter Thornbury; 1892

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Sydney Gardens, Bath

Sydney Gardens

I join with you in wishing for the environs of Laura Place, but do not venture to expect it. My mother hankers after the Square dreadfully, and it is but natural to suppose that my uncle will take her part. It would be very pleasant to be near Sydney Gardens; we might go into the labyrinth every day.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Wednesday, January 21, 1801

Sydney Gardens is the oldest park in the City of Bath. Planned and laid out by the architect Harcourt Masters in 1795, it quickly became a popular place to see and be seen by the ever arriving crowds of fashionable people freqenting the city. In 1909 the gardens were purchased by the city and in the same year a replica of the Temple of Minerva was built to commemorate the Bath Historical Pageant.

The Gardens were reached via the Sydney Hotel, in Sydney Place, at the end of Great Pultney Street. In 1801, the Austens, newly arrived in Bath, took lodgings at Number 4, Sydney Place, directly opposite the gardens. In describing their location to her sister, Jane Austen jokingly wrote, ‘There is a public breakfast in Sydney Gardens every morning, so we shall not be wholly starved.’ The public breakfast was only one of the many attractions the Gardens had to offer. Small orchestras performed on the balcony overlooking the grounds, and dining boxes, “a series of little shelters where private groups could take refreshments throughout the day” extended on either side of the main building.

In 1800 the Kennet and Avon Canal was dug through the gardens, depsite strong opposition. Built between 1796 and 1810, it connected the Avon at Bath with the Kennet at Newbury, as part of the major waterway connecting Bristol with London. In a sad twist of fate, this canal system was finished only years before steam engines, a faster and more efficient mode of transportation, made their way across the landscape, making the canals obsolete, except for lay travellers and sightseers.

The engineer of the canals, John Rennie, designed most of the elegant iron bridges seen in the park. Fortunatley, the canal only enhanced the charm of the gardens, being ” sunk low between stone embankments, so invisible from the gardens until the visitor passed over a bridge or came upon a balustrade, when they would be surprised by the winding expanse of water with its overhanging trees and pretty bridges. The foremost bridge in this view was built in the Chinese style. The two iron bridges carried the two footpaths, while the sturdier stone bridges carried the ride round the perimeter of the gardens.”

There is to be a grand gala on Tuesday evening in Sydney Gardens, a concert, with illuminations and fireworks. To the latter Elizabeth and I look forward with pleasure, and even the concert will have more than its usual charm for me, as the gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Sunday, June 2, 1799 (Find “Jane Austen Selected Letters” here

The Austens moved from Sydney Place to lodgings in Green Park Buildings in 1804. Shortly after that the Rev. Austen, Jane Austen’s father, died and the family left Bath forever in 1806. Still, the city would feature prominently in two of Austen’s six novels. Her time there was no doubt spent absorbing the sights, sounds and feel of the city, leaving a permanent record for generations to come.

In 1819, Pierce Egan published his Walks through Bath which included the following description of the gardens and walks Jane Austen would have been so familiar with.

Sydney Gardens – from Walks Through Bath

The Entrance to Sydney Tavern and Gardens has to boast of much respectability; and the tavern is a capacious and elegant erection. Sydney-Gardens is one of the most prominent, pleasing, and elegant features attached to the City of Bath.

The hand of taste is visible in every direction of it; and the plants and trees exhibit the most beautiful luxuriance. Upon gala-nights, the music, singing, cascades, transparencies, fire-works, and superb illuminations, render these gardens very similar to Vauxhall. The Orchestra is close to the back of the Tavern, neatly arranged and elevated, with a large open space before it, well gravelled. The gradual ascent of the principal walk, that leads to the top of the gardens up to a half-circular stone pavillion, which is paved and covered in, with a seat round it, and supported by several stone pillars, upon a gala-night has a most brilliant effect, from the numerous variegated lamps with which it is ornamented. The walks are all well rolled and gravelled; and seats and places for refreshment are to be met with in various parts of the gardens. The view, when seated in the above pavillion down to the orchestra, across the arches covered with lamps, gives it a very captivating appearance. Upon those nights set apart for promenading only, a military band attends; and music also enlivens the scene, when public breakfasts are given. There are also several swings, adapted for the ladies; and others for gentlemen. Numerous covered-in boxes; and several alcoves formed with much botanical taste, grottos, &c. render this promenade highly attractive during the summer evenings. In the most retired parts of the gardens one of these grottos, it appears, was once the happy meeting-place, and dedicated to the tender passion, with a sincerity and animation unrivalled, by one of the greatest geniuses that ever adorned this or any other country, but who is gone to that “bourne from whence no traveller returns,” following the superior, amiable, and affectionate object of his heart, who had also long been previously consigned to the icy tomb of death. The remembrance of the late Richard Brinsley Sheriden, Esq. and his wife, Miss Linley, (termed the syren and angel of the concerts at Bath,) must render this grotto a most interesting feature to every lover of talent, elegance, and virtue, and in which the following copy of verses were written by the above patriotic senator, and left for that lady’s perusal:

— Uncouth is this moss-covered grotto of stone,
And damp is the shade of this dew-dripping tree;
Yet I this rude grotto with rapture will own;
And willow, thy damps are refreshing to me.
In this is the grotto where Delia reclin’d,
As late I in secret her confidence sought;
And this is the tree kept her safe from the wind
As blushing she heard the grave lesson I taught.
Then tell me, thou grotto of moss-covered stone,
And tell me, thou willow with leaves dripping dew,
Did DELIA seem vex’d when Horatio was gone?
And did she confess her resentment to you?*

Upon the whole, Sydney-Gardens must be viewed not only as a great ornament to Bath, but is another, among the numerous proofs of the great anxiety of the inhabitants to render the amusements of this elegant City, without a parallel in the kingdom! The Kennet and Avon Canal runs through the gardens, with two elegant cast-iron bridges thrown over it, after the manner of the Chinese; and the romantic and picturesque scenery, by which they are surrounded, is fascinating beyond measure.

Great opposition, it seems, was originally made to the canal running through these gardens by the proprietor; but it gives such a variety to the walks, that its introduction is now viewed as a great addition. It would be a matter of some difficulty to point out a spot of ground so tastefully laid out as Sydney-Gardens. Vauxhall, it is true, may boast of its superiority for brilliancy, and number of lamps, and vocal performers; but, in other respects, viewed as a garden, the competition would be perfectly ridiculous. The Labyrinth, shown here at three-pence each person, is an object of curiosity. The inducement to enter it is one of Merlin’s swings, which appears not only very prominent, but easy of access. However, it might puzzle any cunning person, if left to himself and without a clue, for six hours, to acquire the much wished for spot; and it is rather a difficult task when the explorer of the Labyrinth has the direction pointed out to him from a man stationed in the swing. The inns and outs necessary to be made, it is said, measure half a mile. When the swing is made, and the secret unravelled, the guardian of this sort of Fair Rosamond’s bower conveys the visitor once more into the public walks; the variety of which, that continually meet the eye of the promenader are truly attractive. A most delightful piece of ground, like a bowling green, enveloped with trees, and a small natural cascade from a spring, cannot be passed with indifference. The company, generally, are of the most respectable description; and upon some of the gala-nights, upwards of 4000 persons have paid for admission, which is 2s. 6d. each. In fact, the most fastidious observer cannot find fault with Sydney-Gardens, which have also another advantage to recommend them to the visitors of Bath, namely, in having a surrounding ride, for the accommodation of ladies and gentlemen on horseback, that commands beautiful and romantic views, and of being free from dust in the summer, and dirt in the winter. The terms of subscription for walking are for one month, each person, 4s.; for 3 months, 7s. 6d.; and the season, 10s. If two in one family, each 7s 6d; if three or more, each 6s. Non-subscribers, for walking, 6d. each time. Nursery-maids with children in arms, one subscription. Gentlemen and families may be accommodated with elegant apartments at Sydney-House. The terms of subscription to the ride, one month, 2s. 6d. each person. Three months, 6s. Six months, 10s. The year, 15s. Non-subscribers, 6d. each time.


The majority of historical information is from The Holburne Museum of Art, Bath. The Holburne Museum owns the orignal prints of Sydney Gardens by J. G. Nattes, painted in 1806 and reproduced in this article.

*This poem continues on for about 10 more verses!

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June in Regency Bath

It would be very pleasant to be near Sydney Gardens. We might go into the labyrinth every day!”

Bath

This month, Jane Austen intends to give us the slip. We’ll have to be both nimble-footed and nimble-witted if we are not to lose sight of her in a maze of irony. For the well-bred, dutiful Miss Jane, the younger daughter [though not so very young at twenty-five] of the Rev. George Austen, is putting on a brave, bright face on her parents’ decision to retire to Bath. She fills her artificial days with busyness. There is so much to do – should her meagre allowance stretch to it. On the Fourth of June, for example, there will be the annual concert with illuminations and fireworks for his majesty King George’s birthday – you know, that royal personage with a rather slender hold on reason.

 

“Even the concert will have more than its usual charm with me as the gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound,” comments Jane, rather sourly.

BathAt the far end of Pulteney Street, just across from the smartest pleasure grounds outside London’s Vauxhall, we’ll find 4, Sydney Place. It bears the only plaque to Jane in the entire city. Here she lived from 1801 until late 1804. The architect responsible for this part of Bath, Thomas Baldwin, clearly wore out his set-square when he did his planning. A balloonist’s view would resemble nothing so much as a pair of straight-laced spinster sisters who have turned their backs on each other, lain their heads on the fountain at Laura-Place, and, at the far end of the boulevard, angled their prim knees at 45 degrees to form the perfect diamond of Sydney Place. But times and tastes changed, and in the wilder 1790s, one Charles Harcourt-Masters planned Sydney Gardens in accordance with the new fashion for serpentine paths, shady bowers and “deep romantic chasms”.

Oh, and labyrinths.

Jane was to forge a love-hate relationship with such paradoxically cultivated wildernesses. When this strange, benighted interlude in Bath was over, she would write in “Mansfield Park” of her hot and morally confused characters winding in and out of such paths in a tedious great house’s park.

We looked down the whole vista and found it enclosed in iron gates.”

Bridged Path Never mind, for surely the essence of civilisation is the control over nature? Here are sweet woods and verdure enough to calm the restlessness that seems to afflict the younger Miss Austen. The walk along the new canal, for instance, offers a tantalising glimpse of the distant hills beyond Bathampton, as if seen through the wrong end of a telescope. And here, too, are attractive little cast-iron bridges springing forth from the thick vegetation over the tow-path, carrying one across the span of the wonders of the new technology, saving one’s summer slippers and the muslin hem of one’s sky-blue gown from mud. And here is a tempting tuffet where one can sit, like not-so-little Miss Muffet, and await the descent of the inevitable spider of anxiety from the tree above.

No, Cassandra, I do not want you to draw my portrait. Do I speak clearly for once? Is that view of my back in my blue gown and bonnet a talking silence or a silent silence? Perhaps my unspoken opinion will linger in the air of Sydney Gardens longer than my letters to you, so easily destroyed at the touch of a match.

Jane AustenWhy did Jane turn her back on Cassandra in that blue-gowned portrait of 1804? It seems she did want to be invisible, to escape the quizzing glasses of what she would call in “Northanger Abbey” a neighbourhood of voluntary spies. And to quote from another child of the future: And this iron gate, this ha-ha, give me a sense of restraint and hardship. I cannot get out, as the starling said.

In Jane’s head the ironies must have been buzzing like a migraine. She had ideas, yes, but not ideas for a new story, so much as ideas that she really ought to be writing a new story, which is the worst of all worlds.

And all she could think of was the symbolism of the labyrinth.
Gated
In Jane’s day, the labyrinth extended over a large area on the left-hand side of the upward-sloping gardens, between the bowling green and the canal. It included some deliciously Gothic features, such as the moss-covered grotto with its underground passage leading to the centre of the maze. A revolving wheel would take you up in a dizzy ride above the trees and hedges where you could see the lost souls still wandering around below. How she must have longed for distant Hampshire, to feel the rush of fresh air, to sniff the haymaking, the wild garlic, the violets – the quiet things, the true things she ached for in the “white glare” of the artificial city.

And as she rode, she might have counted the revolutions of the massy wheel, like the years that are constantly turning. Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven and no protection against the “years of danger”. No interest from baronet blood or even clergy blood, thin as it was, for the second daughter of the elderly George Austen.

Sir Philip Sidney What should she do? Sir Philip Sidney- were the Gardens named for him, she wonders- said “Look in thy heart and write”. Very well. In her heart then, are all single women. Imagine a family of – not two, but four single, penniless spinsters, with an elderly father, say a clergyman. What should be their name? Why, the Watsons of course. What sons – she smiles thinly at the poor pun – would go through such stasis, such doubts? She thinks enviously of her brothers, so free to take on the world. Let a spirited Watson sister speak: she has a voice. She says “I had rather be a teacher in a school – and I can think of nothing worse – than marry a man I did not like.” But another one says: “You know we must marry. It is very bad to grow old and be poor and laughed at.”

She must name these sisters, these voices. Elizabeth? Emma? Yes, Emma. I’m a… I’m..I…I…I…

 

The very heart of Jane’s labyrinth has been reached.

 

There are very few letters and nothing except the fragment called “The Watsons”Dove from Jane’s time in Bath. Jane Austen simply disappears from view among the foliage. We lose her voice altogether, and all the eager would-be biographer is left with in this leafy month is the soft-brained mocking coo of a pigeon.

Sue Le Blond has been a teacher since 1973. She loves to teach and enjoys enthusing about JA and literature in general. While now working a few days each week at the Jane Austen Centre, she spends the rest of the week at Chippenham College teaching English. At present she is studying Creative Writing for therapeutic purposes at University of Bristol. Sue lives in Bradford-on -Avon with her husband, two teenage children, and lovely cats.
Sue is always happy to receive email feedback and comments.

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Down the Kennet and Avon Canal with Jane Austen

Kennet and Avon Canal

Time to take a trip down the Kennet and Avon Canal with Jim Shead and Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a lady novelist in possession of a good reputation, must avoid commercial waterways.

However little known the feelings or views of Jane Austen may be, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of her readers, that they may assume the illustrious author would no more be seen by a canal than she would be seen smoking a pipe. But Jane Austen’s association with the Kennet and Avon Canal is much stronger than the casual reader could imagine. Take a trip with me down the canal and I hope to convince you of this long before we reach Bath. Continue reading Down the Kennet and Avon Canal with Jane Austen