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Experimentation in 18th Century Horticulture

The influence of the Kennedy family at Croxdale Hall.

Proposals to restore the parkland and gardens at Croxdale Hall, County Durham, have created an opportunity to understand the history, layout and function of a very large three-walled garden dating from the mid-18th century. The research has thrown new light on the Kennedys, an important family of gardeners who probably influenced its design and used it for horticultural experiments.

Croxdale Hall lies a short distance from the cathedral city of Durham. This magnificent country house has been home to the Salvin family since the early 15th century. The majority of the building and its immediate surrounding gardens and parkland date from the 18th century and were probably instigated by Bryan Salvin (1676‒1751) and completed by his son William (1723‒1800). It is likely, however, that Lewis and John Kennedy played a key role in the design of the gardens, particularly the large three-walled garden and its associated structures.

Lewis (1721‒82) was one of the pioneering horticulturalists and landscape gardeners of the 18th century, while his brother John (1719‒90) was head gardener at Croxdale between 1748 and 1771, and author of the Treatise upon Planting and Gardening (Kennedy 1776 and 1777). The brothers were part of a long line of Kennedy gardeners and landscape designers. Members of the family often had the same forenames, and as a result, research has sometimes confused one Kennedy with another, making it difficult to corroborate the work of each member of the family and thus to place their work within the context of 18th century horticulture and garden design.

View of a pavilion and adjacent lake at Croxdale Hall, County Durham
The walled garden at Croxdale Hall, showing the pavilion and the lakes. © Historic England, Alun Bull, DP174232

An ambitious design

The surviving 18th-century gardens at Croxdale comprise fragments of former avenues and planting, as well as a particularly large walled garden, complete with pavilion and lakes. The parkland and gardens are Grade II*-registered; the pavilion and associated garden walls are listed at Grade II.

Deterioration in the late 20th century has affected some of the historic garden structures and features, and the park and garden are currently on the Heritage at Risk register. To understand the significance of the walled garden and to inform its future repair and management, the Historic England Historic Places Investigation Team (North) undertook a photographic record and an analytical assessment of the fabric of the walled garden in the spring of 2016. The accompanying documentary research helped to clarify the Kennedy family tree, and to understand the broader significance of the Kennedys as gardeners and landscape designers during the 18th century.

The walled garden has walls on its west, north and east sides. Each of these three walls is constructed of brick on its inner face and stone on its outer one; the brick would have absorbed and retained heat from the sun, with a beneficial effect on the plants growing against it. The north wall plays a central role in the composition, having a two-storey pavilion at its centre, the scars of former hothouses on either side, and two sets of four triangular projections (making a total of eight) to the east and west. These south-facing projections were probably designed to display the plants as well as to amuse the eye.

A section of walling at Croxdale Hall Walled Garden
Section of one of the ‘hot walls’, showing scars of the former hothouse. © Historic England, Alun Bull, DP174227

The walls to either side of the central pavilion, where the former hothouses were located, have internal flues which would have carried hot air from former furnaces at the back of the wall through to chimneys above it. While the garden was clearly productive, it contains a terraced walk, a pavilion and lakes, indicating that it was also used as a pleasure ground within which the Salvins could display their wealth and intellect through their collection of exotic plants. Three-walled gardens are not unusual, but that at Croxdale is considerably larger than any contemporary example yet found.

A triangular brick projection in the walled gaeden at Croxdale, County Durham
One of the triangular projections along the north wall. These not only offered additional support to this long wall, but also provided an excellent way of displaying the plants, particularly so they could be admired from the terraced pathway. © Historic England, Alun Bull, DP174211

The Kennedy connection

Our research suggests that the west wall of this garden was constructed during the lordship of Bryan Salvin. However, the remaining walls, pavilion and lakes were probably added by his son William, who made vast improvements to the hall and the estate following his marriage to Catherine Thornton in 1758. Certainly the 1771 Plan of the Lordship of Croxdale shows that the walled garden, with its triangular projections, central pavilion and flanking hothouses, had been laid out by this date, although the design of the pavilion depicted differs significantly from the building seen today.

Detail of a map from 1771 of Croxdale Hall garden showing a pavilion.
Extract from the Plan of the Lordship of Croxdale, drawn in 1771 by J Hunter. It shows a pavilion at the centre of the north wall of the walled garden. © Gerard Salvin

The plan shows a central block flanked by two wings, covered with bars which may imitate glazing; this feature may represent a sloping roof or perhaps netting for an aviary. The distinctive three arches seen today are not shown, yet they are characteristic of a mid- to late-18th century date.

A brick-built pavilion in the walled garden at Croxdale Hall, County Durham
The pavilion located in the centre of the north wall of the walled garden. © Historic England, Alun Bull, DP174224

In 1862, Francis Henry Salvin, William Salvin’s grandson, explains in his autobiography that the gardens and parkland at Croxdale were influenced by the Kennedys, ‘From whom spran [sic] the London Nurserymen Lee and Kennedy’ (Durham Record Office D/X/871/9).

Two members of the Kennedy family are mentioned in documents relating to Croxdale Hall. These are the brothers John and Lewis Kennedy, who were born in Muthill, Perthshire, Scotland in 1719 and 1721 respectively. Their grandfather, also Thomas, was one of a long line of Kennedy gardeners who worked at Drummond Castle, Perthshire with later generations also returning to work there in the 19th century.

Interestingly, the walled garden at Drummond also has three sides and, like Croxdale, is open to a watercourse on its south side; the 1866 Ordnance Survey map of the site suggests the north wall of the garden also featured a central building, perhaps a pavilion, and flanking hothouses. The garden at Drummond, although undated, was probably built before 1750, when the estate was forfeited to the crown. Its arrangement is so similar to Croxdale that it is possible that Lewis and John Kennedy relayed the design of the garden at Drummond to the Salvins at Croxdale.

Correspondence held amongst the Salvin papers shows that Lewis Kennedy organised the appointment of his brother John as head gardener at Croxdale while he was working at Chiswick in 1748.

John appears to have already built a strong reputation, and this would have encouraged Bryan Salvin to seek his services. At around the same date Lewis is believed to have co-founded the Vineyard Nursery at Hammersmith together with his partner and fellow botanist, James Lee. A receipt dated 1750 indicates that the business was certainly operating by this date; it grew to become one of the best-known in the country, acquiring many of the new species from voyages and introducing Budleia Globosa and fuchsia into Britain. The receipt shows that Lewis Kennedy supplied an extensive array of plants – both productive and decorative – to Croxdale, including a variety of fruit trees, vegetable seeds and herbs.

John continued to work at Croxdale until 1771 when he moved to become gardener at Parlington Hall (West Yorkshire). In 1776 he published the first edition of his Treatise upon Planting and Gardening in which he mentions his experiments in the hothouses at Croxdale, particularly with the growing of pineapples. He also explained how his ideal hot wall and hothouse should be constructed, further suggesting that he advised the Salvins on the design of the walls at Croxdale. This makes the three-walled garden at Croxdale both aesthetically and historically significant.

The results of our research into Croxdale Hall walled garden were published as an Historic England Research Report in 2016. It will be used to inform the future management and conservation of this important walled garden for future generations to enjoy.


Clare Howard


Clare Howard MA, CIfA, IHBC, joined English Heritage (now Historic England) as an Architectural Investigator in March 2014 following a number of years working in commercial archaeology and heritage consultancy. In her current role, Clare specialises in the research and investigation of heritage assets of various periods.

Further reading

Harvey, J H 1974 Early Nurserymen. London: Phillimore

Howard, C 2016 Croxdale Hall, County Durham: An Assessment of the Walled Garden. Fort Cumberland: English Heritage Research Report Series 37/2016

Kennedy, L and Lee, J 1774 A Catalogue of Plants and Seeds, sold by Kennedy and Lee, Nurserymen at the Vineyard. Hammersmith. London: Hooper

Kennedy, J 1776 A Treatise upon Planting and Gardening, and the Management of the Hot-house, 1 edn. York: A Ward

Kennedy, J 1777 A Treatise upon Planting and Gardening, and the Management of the Hot-house, 2 edn. London: Hooper

Willson, E J 1961 James Lee and the Vineyard Nursery, Hammersmith. London: Hammersmith Local History Group

Willson, E J 1982 West London Nursery Gardens. Greenwich: Fulham and Hammersmith Historical Society

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