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Plumpton Rocks

Case study: Wetherby Road, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG5 8NA (Yorkshire)

List entry number: 1000535

Plumpton Rocks park and garden at risk, the Turner view
One of the views of Plumpton Rocks painted by J M W Turner as his first commission in oils

Background and history

Plumpton Rocks has been called "the epitome of the picturesque garden". Queen Mary is reported to have said it was "the nearest place on earth to heaven".

The gardens are centred on natural rock formations and an artificial lake, with winding paths. They originally featured a collection of trees and flowering shrubs, some of which survive.

The site was once the seat of the Plumpton family. It was purchased in 1755 by Daniel Lascelles, who created the present gardens. On his death they were passed to his brother and became part of the Harewood Estate.

In the 1950s, part of the registered park and garden was purchased by descendants of the Plumpton family. 

JMW Turner painted two views of the lake and rocks in 1798. Both of these still hang in Harewood House. This was Turner's first commission in oils. He also did a number of studies and sketches which also survive.

Plumpton was visited by picnic parties from Goldsborough and Harewood in the 18th century. It was also considered "an essential site for genteel folk" visiting Harrogate and Knaresborough.

In the 19th century more visitors arrived with railway access from Knaresborough. The striking rocks were given names such as Lion's Den, Echo Rock and Needle's Eye.

Plumpton Rocks park and garden at risk, finial from dam wall on ground
The grade II listed dam is in need of repair. Lying on the ground is one of the massive ball finials that used to ornament the dam wall.

Is it at risk?

Plumpton Rocks registered park and garden was added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2012.

This was due to the progressive silting of the lake, encroaching self-set trees and spread of invasive Rhododendron ponticum. There has been a gradual loss of designed views and relationships between the planting, rocks and lake. 

Plumpton Rocks park and garden at risk, path through gardens
Winding paths were threaded through Plumpton’s natural rock formations as part of the design of the picturesque pleasure grounds in the 1750s

What's the current situation?

Work has begun to secure the future of the garden. A Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement from Natural England has provided much needed funding. New tree planting, scrub clearance and opening up of some key views was undertaken in 2015. In 2015-2016 there will be further opening up of views, tree planting and works to the dam and the lake. Under the HLS scheme, there also will be improved conditions for and management of wildlife and biodiversity.

Historic England is working closely with the owner, Natural England and other stakeholders to ensure the project's success. 

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