Formal gardens by Edwin Lutyens and Mark Fenwick adjoining a C19 country house remodelled by Lutyens in 1901-1902, with other C19 and C20 gardens and parkland, and an earlier landscape park with C13 origins.
Reasons for Designation
The gardens and parkland at Abbotswood, established in the C13 and developed in the C17, C19 and C20, are registered at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Date: documentary evidence suggests that the wider estate - known as Lower Swell, or Swell Park - was created in 1253 by Richard, Earl of Cornwall;
* Designer: the work by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the early C20 complements the earlier C19 house, and is a good example of his garden design work;
* Design interest: the significance of the work by Mark Fenwick and Pulham and Sons, and the involvement of Russell Page in his early career. For the influence of Fenwick’s work on Lawrence Johnston, Graham Stuart-Thomas and Russell Page, and his early contributions to alpine and heather gardens and rhododendron growing, remain evident in the formal gardens;
* Degree of survival: the different areas of the estate are largely intact and reflect the different phases of its historic development. Attrition at the south east of the parkland is limited and the character of the C13 phase of the estate can be read;
* Group value: the contribution of the C19 listed buildings and early-C20 garden features (several by Lutyens, complimented by Fenwick’s planting) and scheduled Monuments at Abbotswood enhance the significance of the estate and are important to the understanding of its development.
Now commonly known as Abbotswood, historically this area of land bounded by modern-day roads was called Lower Swell, or Swell Park, substantiating evidence that there was a park or land under formal ownership here from the mid-C13. In 1275 surveys into local liberties and land ownership commissioned by Edward I (the Hundred Rolls) stated that 22 years earlier Richard, Earl of Cornwall had made a park at Lower Swell through the middle of which ran the King’s Highway. This dates the creation of Lower Swell park to 1253 when its extent was 200 acres (81 ha), enlarged by a further 40 acres in 1294. In the C19, the local vicar and historian Rev David Royce noted that traces of the road could still be seen in the midst of the park, although this is not clearly evident today. The King’s Highway was later re-routed to the south, originally leading directly from the road bridge to St Mary’s church, and was turnpiked in 1755. It defines part of the present perimeter boundary. Richard died in 1272, leaving his son Edmund to endow ‘his park of Swelle by Stowe, with growing wood and all the pasture of the said park’ of around 200 acres to the Cistercian abbey estate he had founded nearby at Hailes in 1246. In 1321 ‘le Parke’ was 250 acres of land, meadow, wood and pasture, suggesting that the enclosed area was not one undivided sweep. In the early C16 the park was used for sheep pasture, and on its conveyance to the Bishop of London in 1545 following the dissolution of Hailes Abbey in 1539, a ‘sheep house’ was recorded in the park.
Following several exchanges of ownership after 1545, including between the Crown and Church, and Giles Carter and Sir William Courteen, in 1659 the manor was purchased by Sir Robert Atkyns (1621-1710), lawyer and MP. His house was probably located at the southern edge of today’s park at a moated site to the west of the River Dikler, which survived until at least 1671. On Sir Robert’s death in 1710 the manor was inherited by his son, also Sir Robert Atkyns (1647-1711), the author of ‘The Ancient and Present State of Gloucestershire’. Published posthumously in 1712 it contains a modest description of the estate, describing it as ‘a pleasant seat, situated upon the Bank of a delightful River, and a large Park of rich Ground adjoining it’. The description is accompanied by an engraving of a house at Lower Swell. This replaced the older house to the south, and appears to have been in the Queen Anne-style with formal gardens, orchards, woodland and a deer park. The latter was in the field today known as Lady’s Well and an adjacent plantation can be identified as Searcham Coppice. This places the late C17/early C18 house in the location of the present Bowl Farm (about 1800, Grade II-listed), but facing east. Other documentation from Sir Robert the younger’s ownership of Lower Swell provides further details of the park, including leases which divide the land into ‘Upper’ and ‘Middle’ park, and other smaller divisions.
The manor remained in the Atkyns family until 1844 when it was sold to John Hudson. The sales particulars include a schedule of fields and a map on which many of the buildings around Bowl Farm as shown on the 1712 engraving can be identified, as they do on a sales particulars map from 1865 when most of the estate was sold to Alfred Sartoris (1826-1909). Sartoris, of the 7th Queen’s Own Hussars and a Justice of the Peace and Sherriff of Gloucestershire, bought around 162 ha of land including the park and Bowl Farm, to add to land he already owned at Upper Swell. In 1867 he built a new house, Abbotswood (the name which the park was also commonly known from the C17), on an elevated site at the north of the park, away from the river and Bowl Farm. The 1865 sales particulars map shows that the park was wholly pasture, apart from two fields to the north west, and it is suggested that this area also represents the medieval park (Jones, 2013).
In 1901 Abbotswood was sold to Mark Fenwick, a keen gardener wealthy from his family's coal and mineral interests in Northumberland and from the sale of Lambton's Bank in Newcastle. The house, 'far too ugly to be lived in as it was' (Brown, 1996), was extended and remodelled by Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), whose initial advice to the Fenwicks about the existing house was to 'blow it up, and start again!'. Instead, from 1902, the existing house was reordered by Lutyens both internally and externally, especially the north and west elevations. The south garden front was changed little, if at all, and instead Lutyens planted it with climbers and creepers. West and south of the house Lutyens designed strongly architectural gardens, with further rockery gardens to the north east. All of the gardens contain Pulhamite features; and Hitchens (2012) suggests that James Pulham the fourth may have been working at Abbotswood from as early as 1901, possibly alongside Lutyens. Some of the garden features, such as the sundial and spouting head to the terrace lily pool, may be Pulhamite as they are similar to features at other sites where the Pulhams are known to have worked (Hitchens, 2012). The Spring Garden was probably created later, by Pulham and a young Russell Page who was employed as the Fenwick’s gardener, in around 1920. The planting of those gardens, and the creation of others, was apparently by Fenwick himself, who was described by Lord Redesdale in 1913 as ‘by far the best amateur gardener I know’ (Hitching, 2012). Fenwick’s planting is considered to have influenced Lawrence Johnston in his planting at Hidcote, Russell Page’s later work, and Graham Stuart-Thomas’ involvement in gardens for the National Trust.
Fenwick remained at Abbotswood until his death in 1945 when it was sold to Harry Fergusson (d 1960), the tractor manufacturer and inventor. Robin Scully, the race horse trainer, bought the house in 1970 and remained there until his death in 2013. It remains (2018) in private ownership.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Abbotswood house stands within its park, which extends north-south to the east of the villages of Upper and Lower Swell. Both villages stand on roads from Stow-on-the-Wold, 1 mile to the east: Upper Swell on the B4077 to Broadway, and Lower Swell on the B4068 to Cheltenham. The same roads bound the park, as does a minor road between the two villages down the west side of the park. Running from north to south through the centre of the park is the River Dikler, and the house stands on the east side of its shallow valley with views, especially from the south garden, west and south. The park continues east towards Stow-on-the-Wold along a wooded valley, rising up at its far end to the town’s edge. The area here registered is around 100ha.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The principal approach to the house is via an entrance on the B4077 400m south-east of Upper Swell. The Lodge (listed Grade II) is a one-and-a-half-storey, L-plan building of 1869 by Haywood in the Cotswold style. The adjoining gate piers with wrought-iron gates (listed Grade II) and 2.5m high, snecked rubble, semicircular flanking walls are by Lutyens and of 1902. From here a 200m long drive winds downhill, through shrubberies and specimen trees, to the north forecourt of the house. Some 50m north of the house that drive is joined by one from Lower Swell. This enters the park at the east end of the village where a C19 lodge stands alongside stone gate piers. From here the 1km long drive runs north-east through the park, midway passing the Bowl Farm complex, and across the River Dikler via a stone bridge.
Abbotswood (listed Grade II) was built in 1867 and remodelled from 1902 by Edwin Lutyens. It is a modestly sized, L-plan building of Cotswold stone, its two arms running around the south and east sides of its forecourt. The main entrance, on the north side of the south wing, comprises Lutyens' most dramatic contribution: a doorway framed by a projecting two-and-a-half-storey gable whose eaves drop almost to ground level. Lutyens also considerably remodelled the west end of the south wing, adding narrow gables to compliment the lily pond terrace which he laid out beneath it. The south, garden front (from the 1867 construction) is fairly plain, with a central door flanked by double-storey bay windows. At the east end of the south range, opening onto the south garden, is a loggia. Although of Lutyenesque style, this post-dates 1913 (CL, 1913). The house is currently (April 2018) undergoing renovation.
The main house to the south of Abbotswood at Bowl Farm dates from around 1800 (listed Grade II), and the farm has several outbuildings including stables around a yard (the north range listed Grade II). To the east of the drive is a creamery by Lutyens of 1912 (listed Grade II) and Kitchen Garden Cottage (early C20) with an associated walled garden (probably constructed at the same time as Bowl Farmhouse).
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
An arch in a buttressed yew hedge against the north-west corner of the south range of the house gives access to a flight of steps down into the garden. A short path leads to the west end of a flagged terrace abutting the west end of the south range. The terrace is 25m long from east to west and 14m wide, and has 2.5m high buttressed walls of rubble stone down its north and south sides. Running down the centre of the terrace is a rectangular lily pond (called the 'lily tank' in CL, 1913). At the end of this, set into the house's gable wall, is a semi-circular dripping well with a head of Neptune as the keystone and source of the water which falls into the circular pool below. Herbaceous borders run around the edge of the compartment.
The main formal garden is the roughly square compartment against the south front of the house, overall 65m long north-south by 60m wide. Steps (some semi-circular) from the gardens west of the house lead up to a terrace across the front of the house, from which the whole of the south garden and the parkland beyond is the main view. At the west end of the terrace, looking south, is a summerhouse with two Roman Doric columns to the front and a hipped stone tile roof, originally open-sided but glazed in the mid-C20.
A drystone terrace wall divides the south garden into two halves: north (upper), and south (lower). The north half of the garden is itself subdivided by clipped yew hedges into three compartments. To the centre, and reached by a short flight of steps off the terrace, is a 30m square formal Flower Court, with numerous small flower beds arranged symmetrically around domed yews in the centre of each quarter. Down its west side, and overlooked from the summerhouse at the end of the terrace, is the Rose Garden, 8m wide internally, with box-edged beds. At its north end is a small apsidal pool. Down the east side of the Flower Court, again 8m wide, is the Flagged Parterre, with L-plan rose beds, originally hedgeless (CL, 1913 and 1958).
Steps from the centre of the Flower Court lead down to the Sunk Tennis Lawn, 60m east-west by 35m. A 0.5m tall and 5m wide raised grass walk runs around its edge retained by drystone walls, and around the edge of the raised walk are narrow herbaceous borders. At the south-west corner of the garden, looking back across it and to the house, is an open-fronted, six-sided garden summerhouse, its hipped tile roof supported on circular rustic stone piers. A short flight of semi-circular steps leads down to the tennis lawn. In the centre of that lawn, aligned east-west, is a narrow, rectangular, apsidal-ended lily pool. This post-dates 1913, a photograph of that date (CL, 1913) showing the lawn in use for tennis. In the centre of the south side of the Sunk Tennis Lawn (and hence south garden compartment) are wrought-iron gates on 2.5m high stone piers surmounted with balls. The iron gates give access to a 15m wide lawn, divided from the parkland beyond by a sunk fenced area, almost a shallow ha-ha.
A path runs down the whole of the east side of the garden, flanked by a low stone wall, and aligned on the loggia at the east end of the house. Originally, a pergola rose over the north half of this path, its stone piers (the same as those at the south end of the garden) rising off the wall. Running uphill along the east side of this path is the Heath Garden, part of the original planting. Rock steps carry a path eastwards through this to the Arboretum at the northern boundary.
A herbaceous bed runs along the outside of the west side of the south garden compartment. A path alongside this leads south to a door into the basement storey of the summerhouse whose upper level opens onto the Sunk Tennis Lawn. The lawn to the south of the formal garden continues along its west side. Here it is 50m wide, sloping downhill to the woodland and specimen trees fringing the Stream Garden which occupies the shallow valley running around the north and west sides of the lawn. The north-east end of the Stream Garden, with several small pools and Pulhamite rockwork, adjoins the west side of the north forecourt. West of the forecourt the ground runs uphill, and here the stream runs into the Spring Garden Pool, flanked by a rock garden of Pulhamite features and waterfalls. There is a distinct difference between the character of the rugged rockwork in the Stream Garden, and the sparser placing of rock in the Spring Garden, illustrating how the use of Pulhamite changed during the early C20 (Hitchens, 2012). At its upper, east end is a rustic summerhouse (date unknown). Shrubberies and specimen trees extend northward to the north lodge.
The house of 1867 apparently had little in the way of gardens, and was set in terraced lawns. The planting of the Lutyens garden was the work of Mark Fenwick, initially with Russell Page and later in conjunction with his gardener Fred Tustin who began work there in 1908 and remained into the Fergussons' time. Parts of the formal gardens, including the eastern pergola, are currently (April 2018) undergoing restoration.
Abbotswood house and its formal gardens stands in the centre-north part of the park, which is around one mile long from south-west to north-east and over half-a-mile at its widest point. The park has several distinct characters, from the shallow north-south valley along the River Dikler, prominent with parkland trees; to the east-west valley of open parkland where historic hedge lines and wooded belts are more characteristic. The west side of the park contains the drive north-south, carried over the narrow river by a small stone bridge, possibly early C20. South of Bowl Farm is a small lake, created in 1958, and surrounding the farm are coppices, including Searcham Coppice and ‘The Walks’, and areas of open grassland. Views from the farm to the south west are of the rooftops of Lower Swell, and a section of the parkland here is designated as a Scheduled Monument as evidence of medieval settlement remains on the village edge. A short distance north of the medieval moat on the southern edge of the park is Lady's Well, a so-called healing spring covered with a low, pitched, ashlar cover (listed Grade II).
The central part of the park, immediately south of Abbotswood, has many parkland and specimen trees, including some large veteran oaks and smaller trees planted in the late C20, alongside small groves of trees. It has the character of woodland pasture, and is probably a remnant of the historic parkland owned by the Atkyns family, and before. The principal views from the house are of this area of the park.
To the east of this parkland, the character changes again, to comprise a steep valley with a stream dropping from the east. The banks of the stream are wooded and form a belt through the central part of the eastern half of the park, ending with a coppice at the centre of the entire parkland. The King’s Highway (or Cotswold Ridgeway) was possibly located to the south of the stream, although no obvious evidence survives. In the 1920s a golf course was situated here. The fields running down to the stream are open pasture, with few trees, although remnants of hedge lines are defined by historic hawthorn and oak near to the southern boundary. Along the north boundary is a wooded shelterbelt with a modern gated entrance half way along. Within the field to its south, evidence of a Romano-British Villa was found when excavating for stone for the house in 1862; it is a scheduled monument. The south boundary also has a shelter belt of trees of a more recent date, and all boundaries to the park are defined by dry stone walls, approximately 1.5m high.
Brick-walled kitchen gardens stand 150m west of, and upslope from, Bowl Farm, their position relating to Bowl Farm rather than Abbotswood. The main walled garden is 70m square, and slopes downhill from north-west to south-east. The walls (that to the south fell down in the mid-C20 and was not rebuilt) appear to be of the C19 and C20. Lean-to glasshouses along the north wall were rebuilt in the 1990s and the garden remains (2018) in production. There are sheds along the rear of the north wall.
East of the kitchen garden, between it and the creamery, are some old orchard trees, and a new orchard has been planted to the north.