Heritage Category: Park and Garden
List Entry Number: 1000417
Date first listed: 11-Jun-1987
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: St. Albans (District Authority)
District: St. Albans (District Authority)
Parish: St. Michael
National Grid Reference: TL 11322 07678, TL 12324 07297
A country mansion surrounded by an C18 landscape park created from C16 park and woodland associated with Old Gorhambury house, the remains of which exist as a park feature. Sir Francis Bacon, the writer of the influential essay 'Of Gardens' (1625), created elaborate early C17 water gardens, the earthwork remains of which survive, to surround his summerhouse (now gone). William Sawrey Gilpin laid out formal gardens around the house in the 1820s, much of which well-documented work remains.
Sir Nicholas Bacon (1509-79), Lord Chancellor and Lord Keeper of the Seal, built a house at Gorhambury, 1563(8, which was visited by Queen Elizabeth in 1572 and 1577. Upon Sir Nicholas' death, his son Anthony inherited the estate, it passing in somewhat dilapidated state to Anthony's brother Francis (1561-1626) in 1601. Francis was knighted at James I's accession in 1603, holding a succession of official posts including Privy Councillor (1616) and Lord Chancellor (1618), in which year he was created first Baron Verulam. In 1621 he was created Viscount St Albans and his career collapsed, with charges of bribery and corruption and brief imprisonment in the Tower. From then until his death he spent much of his time at Gorhambury. His highly influential work on the design of gardens, the essay 'Of Gardens', was first published in Essays in 1597, and in final form in 1625 (Spedding et al 1857(74). Bacon began work on the Pondyard water gardens in 1608, building a supplementary house to be lived in during the summer, Verulam House, overlooking them. Old Gorhambury house (as it became known in the late C18) was retained, with a formal, avenue approach (possibly combined with a deer course) connecting the two. A 1634 estate map (HRO) shows the layout shortly after Bacon's death, complete with a viewing mount topped by a pavilion, overlooking the Old House and St Albans cathedral. The water gardens fell into disuse during the mid C17, and were described as such by John Aubrey in 1656. The summerhouse was demolished in 1665-6.
A new mansion was built in the 1770s by the third Viscount Grimston, east of what then became known as Old Gorhambury. A landscape park was laid out around the new mansion using the ruins of Old Gorhambury as an eyecatcher. In the mid 1820s William Sawrey Gilpin (1762-1843) laid out formal gardens around the house, including a long, straight, terrace walk, and a new approach drive for the first Earl of Verulam. The house remains (1999) in private ownership.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING Gorhambury lies 3km west of the centre of St Albans. The c 230ha site is bounded largely by agricultural land and woodland, and occupies hilly ground with two major valleys running from south-west to north-east close to the north and south boundaries. The setting is rural, with remains of the Roman town of Verulamium lying close by to the east, partly in Prae Wood. Views extend west, south and east from the centre of the site over adjacent agricultural land and woodland.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES The main approach enters off the A4147 Hemel Hempstead to St Albans road, passing St Michael's Lodge, a C19, two-storey, flint and stone cottage in Tudor style. The drive, at this point outside the area here registered, runs north-west through farmland, crossing the Roman Fosse embankment 1.5km east of the mansion, overlooking the River Ver in the valley to the east. North of this the drive is flanked by a mixed avenue of mature trees. Some 1.25km east of the mansion a long view briefly opens up westwards to its east front, along a grass plateau framed by a Wellingtonia avenue. The drive curves west, past Mayne's Farm to the north, arriving at Nash's Lodge (listed grade II), standing 700m north-east of the mansion at the entrance to the park and the area here registered. It is a two-storey, stuccoed and white-painted building of the 1830s-40s. From here the drive continues south-west, ascending a gentle hillside, curving south to arrive at a gravel carriage sweep on the east, entrance front of the mansion, set in informal lawn on a plateau which extends east for 600m, flanked by the Wellingtonia avenue (mid-late C19). A long, broad flight of steps leads up to a deep, two-storey portico at first-floor level, with broad views back across the park and farmland to the hillside beyond the River Ver.
The main approach was designed by William Sawrey Gilpin in 1827, although actually not carried out until 1829, in order to allow better views of the mansion. Nash's Lodge was built in association with this drive. Formerly the drive had assumed a curving line directly from the east off the approach road, past a group of cottages now known as Shepherd's Cottages standing 650m from the mansion. In the late C19 the course was still visible in outline, marked by a line of trees (OS 1883). The drive arrived at the south-east corner of the mansion (Bryant, 1822).
A second drive approaches from the south via the A4147, passing Hill End Farm, entering the area here registered 900m south of the mansion at Stud Cottages, a two-storey, white-painted, C19 brick building. From here the drive rises up a gentle hillside, passing Temple Cottage (mid C18, extended late C19, listed grade II) 600m south-west of the mansion. The Cottage, built as a Palladian temple, has a Doric portico on its north-east front and is designed to be visible in the view south-west across the park from the mansion and garden (this view now, 1999, obscured by trees). From here the drive continues north to the ruins of Old Gorhambury (1563, extended 1570s, scheduled ancient monument, listed grade I), built by Sir Nicholas Bacon. The brick and flint ruins are dominated by a two-storey porch at the centre of the south front, which formerly overlooked a rectangular forecourt entered via a straight drive from the south (estate map, 1634). From here the drive extends north-east, passing between the walled kitchen garden and Gilpin's Wood lying west of the mansion, arriving at the north side of the stable block, from here running south to the east front of the mansion.
In the late C19 two drives left Stud Cottages. One approached the mansion directly, by crossing the parkland north of the Cottages, while the other gave access to the kitchen garden. From Temple Cottage it ran north, passing the west side of Old Gorhambury, to enter the outer kitchen garden at the south-west corner. An extension of this drive left the north-east side of the kitchen garden, entering the garden west of the mansion (OS C19). A further drive from Stud Cottages provided a direct link to Shepherd's Cottages.
PRINCIPAL BUILDING Gorhambury mansion (Sir Robert Taylor 1774-84, listed grade II*) stands at the centre of the park. The three-storey, rectangular, stone-faced building is linked to an adjacent service wing to the north. A service yard lies adjacent to the north of this. When built, the mansion had low wings connecting the main building with side blocks to the north and south. The north wing was replaced by the precursor of the present service wing, 1816-17, and the south wing and block were demolished in 1826. The remaining west range of the c 1830 brick stable courtyard (listed grade II) stands 50m north of the mansion, the other three ranges having been demolished in the C20. This range overlooks the northern section of the garden.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS The gardens lie to the south, west and north of the mansion. A curved, stone, double staircase leads down from the first-floor garden door at the centre of the west front to a broad gravel path which runs along the bottom of the west and south fronts. The balcony affords long views over the park to the west and south, particularly along a central axis westwards aligned on a ride cut through Gilpin's Wood, terminated by the east wall of the walled garden. The north-east front of Temple Cottage (600m to the south-west) is aligned on, and was formerly visible from (OS C19), the west front and gardens, the view now (1999) partially blocked by a plantation. Beyond the path adjacent to the west and south fronts lie lawns. A gravel path aligned on the centre of the west front leads c 30m west to a short flight of stone steps leading up to a raised garden terrace. The path is flanked by circular beds enclosing stone urns, and beyond this a line of yews clipped into geometrical shapes. To the north of the yews lies a croquet lawn, and to the south a grass tennis court. South of the mansion lies a formal garden (late 1980s), enclosed by clipped yew hedges, set in lawn.
The c 1m high garden terrace runs along the west boundary of the garden, topped by a broad gravel path, with stone steps leading down at the north and south. The terrace overlooks to the east the garden and west front of the mansion, with views south over the south park to woodland on the hillside beyond. To the west it overlooks the west park, the main features in this view being the remains of Old Gorhambury standing 400m to the south-west, and Gilpin's Wood 100m west of the mansion. The north end of the terrace leads down to informal lawns planted with several fine cedars of Lebanon. The Dairy (c 1830, possibly W Atkinson, listed grade II) lies at the north end of the mansion, on the west side of the service yard, overlooking the lawns and north end of the terrace. It is a square, single-storey, stuccoed building, entered from the garden via a central door, with a small verandah created by the overhanging eaves. Beyond the cedars, to the north, lies a further open lawn with a tennis court at the east side. The northern area is surrounded by informal planting, bounded to the east by the stable block and to the north by the drive from the kitchen garden. Beyond the drive lies a wooded area, now (1999) detached but formerly part of the pleasure ground circuit (OS C19).
The garden and pleasure grounds were laid out in 1825 to designs by William Sawrey Gilpin (Piebenga 1994) who designed the terraced walk specifically to give good views of the western park, together with walks in the adjacent pleasure grounds and flower beds (now gone) sited close to the mansion. Gilpin also advised on the siting of Gilpin's Plantation, designed to screen the kitchen garden beyond. By the late C19 (OS) the informal pleasure grounds flanked the formal layout west of the mansion, with serpentine paths enclosed by trees, and a conifer avenue running parallel with the north boundary. A glasshouse/conservatory stood west of the stables, against a wall to the north (both glass and wall now gone). The south-west drive was driven through the northern pleasure ground in the early C20 (OS), and the eastern section of the southern pleasure ground was taken into the park in the late C20.
PARK The park surrounds the mansion and gardens and is laid to pasture and arable, with scattered woodland blocks together with clumps of trees and singles. The north-west quarter occupies a plateau which extends as an arm east from the mansion, laid to grass and planted with the Wellingtonia avenue. Valleys run along the south boundary of the park, and east from Windmillhill Wood on the north boundary. Part of the west boundary south of Brickkiln Wood is marked by a further line of mature Wellingtonias, visible from the mansion and garden. An avenue of walnut and lime trees runs along the north boundary for 1.2km, flanking a largely level, straight strip of grass formerly known as the 'race course' (OS). This arrangement is shown on the 1634 estate map, the course aligned at the east end on the site of Sir Francis Bacon's early C17 Verulam House at the north-east corner of the park. The exactly one-mile-long feature seems to have been part of a formal avenue approach from Old Gorhambury to the Pondyards, and may possibly also have been a deer course (estate map, 1634; Garden Hist 1995).
The Pondyards, the remains of Sir Francis Bacon's water garden associated with Verulam House (now gone), lie 1.3km north-east of the mansion. The water garden occupies a valley, the sides rising up to the north to the C17, brick Pondyard Cottage (listed grade II), and to the south towards the site of the former house, which stood in what is now parkland c 50-100m south of the garden, and c 450m east of the end of the 'race course'. Verulam House was a square, three-storey brick building, with a cupola and a balustraded viewing platform on the roof overlooking the water garden; as Aubrey (1656) noted 'from the Leads was a lovely Prospect to the Ponds' (Garden Hist 1992).
The Pondyards are now (1999) entered from east of a lodge at the north-east corner, via a lime avenue leading south along the east boundary. A path on a bank leads from the avenue c 70m west between two roughly square ponds with central islands, to a series of water-filled canals enclosing adjacent square 'islands', the area currently (late C20) being planted with poplars. The second 'island' from the east is approached from west and east by earth bridges, with a depression at its centre indicating the site of a 'curious banqueting-house of Roman architecture, paved with black and white marble' (Aubrey 1656). The canals become less substantial towards the west end.
Some 1.1km south-east of Gorhambury mansion lies Lord Bacon's Mount (scheduled ancient monument), a square earth mound with graded sides leading up to a level platform at the top, planted with several mature trees. It stands on a plateau within woodland, formerly within a clearing (OS C19) at the north end of Prae Wood. At that time it enjoyed views north-west across wooded slopes towards the mansion and Old Gorhambury, and south-east towards St Albans and the cathedral. In the C17 it lay surrounded by The Mount Field, supporting a small viewing pavilion (estate map, 1634). Prae Wood still retains rides radiating from the centre which appear to relate to the course of those shown in similar positions on the 1634 estate map.
KITCHEN GARDEN The brick-walled, rectangular kitchen garden (C16 and later, listed grade II) lies c 300m west of the mansion, now (1999) in use as a paddock and laid to grass. It is approached from the drive to the south, and entered through a central gateway in the south wall. A second compartment lies adjacent to the north, reached through a central gateway in the north wall. A brick-built gardener's cottage stands at the north-west corner of the northern compartment, with, to the east of this, the remains of heated, brick, lean-to glasshouse walls. Formerly (OS C19) the walled garden was surrounded by a further enclosure, an irregular oval in shape, which contained a range of glasshouses and service buildings in a yard to the north, and cold frames or pits to the south, the remainder of the space having been cultivated. The walled kitchen garden was erected in the C16 by Sir Nicholas Bacon, when it was associated with Old Gorhambury.
James Spedding et al (eds), The Works of Francis Bacon VI, pt ii, (1857-74), p 485 Victoria History of the County of Hertfordshire 2, (1908), pp 394-7 Country Life, 73 (25 November 1933), pp 556-61; (16 December 1933), pp 649-51 B Cherry and N Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Hertfordshire (1977), pp 147-8 R Strong, The Renaissance Garden in England (1979), pp 126-7, 129 Garden History 20, no 2 (1992), pp 116-31; 23, no 2 (1995), pp 133-44 S Piebenga, William Sawrey Gilpin, (English Heritage Designer Theme Study 1994)
Maps The Mannour of Gorham-Burry ... , 1634 (Hertfordshire Record Office) Dury and Andrews, A topographical Map of Hartford-shire, 1766 A Bryant, The County of Hertford, 1822
OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1883 2nd edition published 1899 OS 25" to 1 mile: 2nd edition published 1898
Description written: March 1999 Amended: October 2000 Register Inspector: SR Edited: November 2000
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 1383
Legacy System: Parks and Gardens
This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.
End of official listing