Gardens and a landscape park surrounding a country house, incorporating the remains of an early C18 formal layout.
The manor of Cokenach, owned by Royston Priory before the Dissolution, was bought in 1540 by Robert Chester. Cokenach was subsequently used by the family as a subsidiary property to their main house in Royston, until, in 1669, Edward Chester inherited the Cokenach property, where he lived until his death in 1718. In 1700 the house consisted of an imposing gatehouse flanked by ranges of lodgings, with enclosed formal gardens, and, west of the house, a substantial canal, running alongside an open lawn (Chauncy 1700). The house was rebuilt by Edward Chester c 1716, and the plan form of this new building, still flanked by the earlier ranges, appears on an estate map of 1728. The map shows regular garden compartments, developed from the elements present in 1700, including a network of canals and formal ponds encircling the garden compartments, with parkland adjacent to the south and west. By the mid C18 the formal lines of the canal network in the garden were extended into the surrounding park by the use of single and double avenues aligned with the canals (Dury and Andrews, 1766). Sir John Chapman bought the estate in 1780.
In 1823 General Sir William Henry Clinton (1769-1846) rented the estate from his uncle, Sir Francis Willes. Clinton inherited the estate in 1827, when he embarked on a programme of remodelling the house, together with improvements to the gardens and park. This work reached its zenith in the mid 1830s but continued until his death in 1846. The house and estate work is recorded in detail in his diary and accompanying memorandum (Clinton Papers, John Rylands Library; R M Healey pers comm, June 1999). William Sawrey Gilpin (1762-1843) visited and advised Clinton about works on the grounds in the 1830s (Diary entry, 7-9 March 1836), but little of his advice seems to have been executed (Memorandum entries, 16 and 22 March 1836). Clinton met and was supplied with trees by William Cobbett during the late 1820s and early 1830s. Upon Clinton's death in 1846, his son Henry Clinton III (d 1881) inherited Cokenach, it being sold in 1890 to the Crossman family, in whose ownership it remained until the 1940s. Henry Clinton III renamed the estate Earlsbury Park, but the name Cokenach was reinstated by the Crossmans in the later C19. The estate remains (1999) in private ownership.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Cokenach lies close to the north boundary of Hertfordshire, immediately to the north-east of the village of Barkway, 5km south-east of Royston. The c 85ha site is bounded largely by agricultural land, with the north-west boundary marked by the B1368 Barkway to Barley lane, and Earl's Wood lying adjacent to the south boundary. The site covers both level and undulating ground, with a slope running down to the north from the main drive in the north-west corner, and a valley extending parallel to the north-west boundary. The setting is largely agricultural, with long views south-west from the house and gardens across agricultural land towards distant woodland.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The main entrance is set back off the B1368, 500m north-west of the house. The gateway is flanked by brick piers, these in turn being flanked by brick screen walls curving out to the roadside. Formerly a lodge stood on the north side of the entrance (OS C19). From here the drive runs south-east flanked by strips of mown grass, on which is set a broad avenue of trees. Views extend north-east from the northern end of the drive, across the park to a rising hillside, at the top of which stands a woodland called The Clamp (outside the area here registered). Some 150m north-west of the house the drive turns east, after a further 75m entering via a late C20 brick gateway the pleasure grounds surrounding the house. From here the drive curves north-east between mature trees, then turns south-east; to the north-east an informal lawn leads to a roughly rectangular pond backed by further mature trees on its east side. The drive opens out into a forecourt lying adjacent to the north-east front of the house, where a turning circle encloses an oval panel of lawn. A spur off the turning circle leads east into the adjacent stable yard and stable block.
An avenue is shown on the 1728 estate map on the course of the present main drive, flanking what was then, as now, the main drive leading from the Barkway lane to the house, giving access to an enclosed, rectangular forecourt on the north-east front of the house, with the stable yard to the south-east. Before this, c 1700 (Chauncy), a walled forecourt enclosed a straight approach to the gatehouse (which formerly stood on the site of the main block of the present house), flanked by panels of lawn. By 1766 (Dury and Andrews) the forecourt walls had gone and the present oval turning circle had been created.
Cokenach House (1716 and later, listed grade II*) stands towards the centre of the site. The two-storey, brick-built house comprises a central block with a service wing attached to the south corner, extending south-west. The north-east, entrance front overlooks the level forecourt. The south-west, garden front overlooks the garden terrace and beyond this the east canal and parkland to the south, with extensive views across distant countryside.
The two-storey, brick-built stable block (c 1716, extended C19, listed grade II) stands 20m north-east of the house and has been converted to office accommodation. Its main entrance front overlooks the forecourt on the north-east side of the house, from which it is divided by the stable court.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
The gardens lie to the west and south of the house. The main garden door, on the south-west front, opens out to a stone loggia, beyond which a stone-flagged path extends south-west between mixed borders, these in turn flanked by clipped yew hedges, leading to an open gravel plat. The gravel plat, crossed by stone-flagged paths in cruciform pattern, is bounded to the south-west by a stone balustrade above a retaining wall flanking a short flight of steps (wall, steps and balustrade C18, listed grade II) leading down to the c 80m long, rectangular east canal. The canal is set between informal grassed banks, with a gravel path leading from the north-west side of the gravel plat south-west along the canal's west side. Some 150m south-west of the house, the southern end of the canal joins the 150m long south canal, running from west to east, separated from the hedged garden boundary to the south by a grassed bank. At a point 170m south-west of the house, a short arm of this canal, containing a small island, leads 40m north. At the west end, the south canal joins the south end of the west canal. The west canal forms the west boundary of the garden, and runs approximately north for 270m, bounded to the west by parkland. A gravel path leads around the inner sides of the canals: south along the west side of the east canal, west along the northern bank of the south canal, and north along the east side of the west canal. The area enclosed by the canals and the house is level, the southern half being largely planted with mature ornamental woodland with some shrub underplanting, traversed by a network of informal paths. Adjacent to this, to the north, an open lawn links the west canal with the north-west front of the house to the east, where a garden door opens onto a flight of stone steps down to the lawn. The lawn is bounded by woodland to the north, through which the drive leads to the house.
The earliest of the canal features appears to be the west canal, which is depicted by Chauncy (1700). At this time the site of the east canal appears to have been occupied by a walk from an enclosed formal garden compartment adjacent to the south-west side of the house, along an avenue. A lawn stretched between the north-west side of the house and the west canal, along the east side of which ran an avenue. The west canal was probably constructed after 1669, when Edward Chester (early 1640s(1718) inherited Cokenach and made it his principal residence; the network of canals was probably completed by the time of his death (Fletcher 1994).
By 1728 (estate map) the garden was laid out in similar fashion to now (1999), but the east canal was self-contained (that is, not linked to the south canal), with small curved projections at either end (it was linked to the south canal by 1766; Dury and Andrews). A path led around the inner sides of the main canals, overlooking the parkland to the west and south. West of the forecourt, within the presently wooded area at the north end of what is now the open lawn, lay a further enclosed compartment containing a canal aligned approximately west to east, of similar shape to the east canal. To the west and south of this compartment was a further, less formal water course. The canal survived until at least the early C20 (OS 1898).
In the 1820s and 1830s General Sir William Henry Clinton carried out work within the gardens, including much tree planting, and was supplied with many ornamental trees by William Cobbett from his nursery at Kensington. These included American species such as the honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), black walnut (Juglans nigra), hickory (Carya sp), tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) and North American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) (order of trees from William Cobbett, December 1828 (Clinton Papers)).
The park surrounds the house and gardens and is laid to pasture and arable, with scattered woodland blocks together with clumps of trees and singles. The southern half contains few park trees, but it is crossed by the remains of a late C18 or C19 avenue (OS 1880(3) connecting the kennels 200m south of the house with Earl's Wood on the southern boundary. Walk Wood and Five Acre Wood occupy the north-east corner, and are separated from the house and stables by farm buildings.
In the early C18 (estate map, 1728) the park lay to the south and west of the gardens, and was traversed by various informal lines and avenues of trees. Most of the other areas of the present park were large, enclosed fields, except for the area adjacent to Barkway lane south of the drive, which was unenclosed and strip farmed. Walk Wood (then known as Falken Wood) and Five Acre Wood (then known as Cokenhatch Wood) occupied a similar position to now (1999). By the mid C18 (Dury and Andrews, 1766) the park had been extended north of the house, and formal avenues and rides had been laid out aligned on the garden canals. William Cobbett's nursery at Kensington also supplied trees for the park during the 1820s and 1830s (Clinton Papers).
The kitchen garden lies 30m south of the house, surrounded by brick walls and divided into three compartments. The garden is entered from a service yard lying adjacent to the south of the stable yard, through a range of potting sheds which open into the north-western compartment. This ornamental area is laid out in a late C20 design of beds surrounded by paths, with a wood and stone pergola running along the northern wall. South-east of this is a further enclosure, in which lies a swimming pool. The southernmost, and largest, compartment, is largely cultivated as a vegetable garden. It is surrounded by brick walls arranged in an irregular rectangle (early C18, listed grade II), with a curved south-west corner. A gravel perimeter path is surrounded by flower beds lying at the bottom of the wall, these enclosing a lawn on which vegetable beds are laid out.
West of the walled garden, adjacent to the east canal, lies an area of replanted orchard (late C20), with a central path running parallel to the wall. At the north end of this compartment stands a late C20 glasshouse, rebuilt on the site of an earlier glasshouse (OS C19).
East of the walled garden lies a further canal, reached via a doorway in the east garden wall which opens onto a grass bank above the 80m long canal running parallel below the wall. South of the walled garden lies a paddock containing the remains of an orchard, with to the south of this, the kennels and a further yard. The east end of the south canal extends into the orchard, parallel to the south wall of the walled garden.
The kitchen garden was present in this position by 1700 (Chauncy). By the early C18 the south-east corner was divided off as the 'Mellon Ground', and the north half of the present orchard to the west, leading towards the site of the present glasshouse, was a narrow, rectangular 'Green', probably a bowling green (estate map, 1728). The canal east of the kitchen garden had a spur west into the main body of the kitchen garden, which had disappeared by the late C19 (OS). In the 1820s and 1830s General Sir William Henry Clinton was also supplied with many apple trees by William Cobbett (Clinton Papers).
Chauncy, Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire (1700), p 102
Victoria History of the County of Hertfordshire 4, (1914), pp 32-3
B Cherry and N Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Hertfordshire (1977), p 88
Cobbett's New Register 8, no 4 (April 1993), pp 6-10
Alan Fletcher, Report on Cokenach, Barkway (June 1994), (Herts Gardens Trust file), (Hertfordshire Record Office)
Plan of the estate of Robert Chester, 1728 (Hertfordshire Record Office)
Dury and Andrews, A topographical Map of Hartford-shire, 1766
OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1880-3
2nd edition published 1899
3rd edition published 1919
OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition surveyed 1877
2nd edition published 1898
The Clinton Papers are held at the John Rylands Library, Deansgate, Manchester. The various papers include General Sir William Henry Clinton's Diary (1786-1845) and Memorandum book and papers relating to the gardens at Cokenach. Transcripts of the Diary and Memorandum book are held by R M Healey, Department of History, University of Manchester.
Description written: June 1999
Register Inspector: SR
Edited: October 2000