Heritage Category: Park and Garden
List Entry Number: 1001113
Date first listed: 01-Dec-1986
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Shropshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: SO 66997 95313
C18 gardens and C19 gardens and pleasure grounds designed in part by W A Nesfield, with a C17 avenue.
The manor of Aldenham was acquired by Thomas Acton in 1465, and a fortified manor house was built at about this period (CL 1977); the remains of this house, including a gatehouse and castellated wall, are shown in a drawing by E Hotchkiss (1756) which was based on a plan of 1625 (ibid). This view also shows an early C17 house built by Thomas' descendent, Walter Acton. Walter Acton's son, Edward (1600-59), was created a baronet in 1643. The second baronet, Sir Walter, succeeded his father in 1659 but died prematurely in 1665, when he was succeeded by his eldest son, Sir Edward. The third baronet, who served as MP for Bridgnorth between 1698 and 1705, married a wealthy heiress and in the late C17 began to remodel the early C17 house (ibid). This was continued by Sir Edward's son, Sir Whitmore Acton, who inherited in 1716 (ibid). Sir Whitmore also made alterations to the park and gardens, which are recorded by Thomas Burton on a plan of 1722 (SRO). Sir Whitmore died in 1736 and was succeeded as fifth baronet by his son, Sir Richard, who made few changes to the estate apart from building the stables c 1751 (CL 1977). When Sir Richard died without a direct heir in 1791, Aldenham passed to General John Acton, prime minister of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and a long-standing resident at Naples. General Sir John, sixth baronet, died at Palermo in 1811, having failed to realise his wish of retiring to Aldenham. His son, Sir Richard, was educated in England and attained his majority in 1822, at which time further alterations were made to the house and grounds. Sir Richard, seventh baronet, married the Duchess of Dalberg in 1832 but died five years later leaving an infant son, Sir John, who was created Lord Acton in 1865. Lord Acton, a noted politician and historian, built a substantial library c 1865; this was demolished in the early C20. Lord Acton, professor of modern history at Cambridge University from 1895, spent little time at Aldenham after 1878 (ibid), and died in 1902, when he was succeeded as second Baron by his son, Richard. The family occupied the house in the early C20, but subsequently it was let. In the mid C20 it was occupied by the third Lord Acton's step-mother-in-law, Lady Rayleigh, and her son, the Hon Guy Strutt. In 1959 the estate was sold to Mr and Mrs Christopher Thompson, who undertook a comprehensive scheme of restoration. The site remains (2000) in private ownership.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING Aldenham Park is situated c 4km west-north-west of the town of Bridgnorth and c 1km north of the village of Morville, to the north-east of the A458 road. The site comprises some 12ha of gardens and pleasure grounds. To the south-south-west the site is bounded by the A458, Bridgnorth to Shrewsbury road, while to the east, north, and west it adjoins agricultural land. Land to the west and north-west of the site lay within the early C18 park, Park Farm c 1.3km west-north-west of the house corresponding to the site of the lodge shown by Burton on his survey of 1722. The house stands on a ridge of high ground extending from north-west to south-east through the site, with the avenue falling gently away to the south-south-west. The gardens and pleasure grounds occupy a level site on the summit of the ridge. There are significant views south and south-west from the house and pleasure grounds to woodland and agricultural land on a north-facing escarpment c 2km south of the house, while there are further easterly views from the south-east terrace.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES Aldenham Park is approached from the A458 road to the south. The entrance is marked by a pair of rusticated ashlar piers, each surmounted by an heraldic achievement (all listed grade II*). The piers support quadrant, spear-headed railings set on low stone walls, which return towards the drive and incorporate single pedestrian gates. Attached to the quadrant railings, a further pair of rusticated ashlar piers surmounted by heraldic lions support a gate screen comprising flanking panels, square-section wrought-iron piers, and a pair of gates surmounted by an elaborate overthrow (gate screen, railings and piers all listed grade II*). The gate screen and railings were constructed by Robert Bakewell for Sir Whitmore Acton in 1718 (CL 1977) to enclose the forecourt south-west of the house; they are shown in this position on Burton's survey (1722) and a painting by William Daniell (c 1820). The gates were removed to their present position c 1825 by Sir Richard Acton, when a single-storey, hipped-roofed lodge was constructed immediately north-west of the gates.
The entrance leads to a tarmac drive which ascends gently for c 730m north-north-east through a double avenue of mature limes; the trees are set behind wide grass verges. The avenue is of C17 origin and corresponds to that shown by Burton (1722). A further wrought-iron gate marked by Burton c 450m north-north-east of the entrance does not survive. The avenue frames a distant view of the south-west facade of the house and, in reverse, a view of woodland and agricultural land south of the A458 road. The drive enters the pleasure grounds c 100m south-south-west of the house, where it crosses a late C20 stone-faced ha-ha on a cattle grid flanked by a pair of low, late C20 wrought-iron fences. The drive continues c 50m north-north-east before entering a gravelled forecourt below the south-west facade of the house. Immediately south-west of the forecourt a service drive leads west to reach the mid C18 brick stables (listed grade II) c 50m north-west of the house. The stables were constructed for Sir Richard Acton c 1751 to a design by William Baker of Audlem, Cheshire (ibid), and comprise a single range with a central arched opening surmounted by a pediment and cupola; the stables were converted to domestic use in 1990.
A secondary drive approaches the site from a minor road c 1km to the north. This drive sweeps south and south-west through meadows before crossing the dam which separates two informal pools c 600m north-west of the house. The lower, south-east pool adjoins the site of an C18 or C19 icehouse, while Icehouse Coppice, an area of mixed woodland on a north-facing slope c 320m north of the house, is significant in views from the north. This northern approach is recorded on the OS Surveyor's Drawing of 1817.
PRINCIPAL BUILDING Aldenham Park (listed grade II*) stands on a level terrace surmounting a ridge of high ground towards the centre of the site. The house, which is constructed in ashlar, comprises two storeys under a hipped slate roof partially concealed by a parapet. The entrance or south-west facade has a projecting centrepiece lit by tall arch-headed windows. The principal door is set within a pedimented doorcase ornamented with rampant lions and is approached by a flight of stone-flagged steps with early C18 wrought-iron balustrades by Robert Bakewell (CL 1977). The garden or south-east facade is symmetrical, with a double flight of stone steps leading from a central ground-floor door to the gardens; these steps have early C18 wrought-iron balustrades by Robert Bakewell (ibid). The south-west and south-east facades were constructed by William Smith for Sir Whitmore Acton between 1716 and 1720 (ibid). The north-west facade comprises a pair of hipped-roofed pavilions flanking a central ground-floor door; this facade was built by an unknown architect for Sir Edward Acton in 1691 (date stone), and may have been intended as a new entrance front (ibid). The north-east facade is of irregular appearance and retains stone mullion windows which survive from the C16 manor house which is shown in a painting of 1756 by Edward Hotchkiss which is based on a plan of 1625. The gabled C16 house was built around a central courtyard, and was approached from a C15 walled forecourt to the south-west, which was entered through a gatehouse (Hotchkiss, 1756). This house was remodelled in two principal phases, by Sir Edward Acton in 1691, and by his son, Sir Whitmore in the early C18. A substantial cruciform library added to the north-east corner of the house by the first Lord Acton c 1865 does not survive.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS The formal terraced gardens are situated to the south-east and south-west of the house, with informal pleasure grounds to the south-west and north-west.
A gravelled terrace lies below the south-west or entrance facade of the house above the forecourt. The terrace is retained by a low stone wall planted with a lavender hedge. The terrace is approached from the forecourt by a flight of stone-flagged steps; a further flight of stone steps ascends to the principal entrance. The terrace leads north-west to an area of informal lawns planted with specimen ornamental trees below the north-west facade of the house, while to the south-east the retaining wall extends c 50m beyond the south-east corner of the house before returning north-east to enclose two sides of the south-east terrace.
The south-east terrace comprises outer lawns which surround a central, sunken rectangular lawn which is enclosed by yew hedges c 2.5m high. The hedges have chamfered corners and entrances placed centrally in each side. These lead to a rectangular lawn, in the centre of which is a late C20 stone-edged swimming pool. The sunken lawn was laid out as a geometric parterre by W A Nesfield (1794-1881) for the Duchess of Dalberg in 1843 (Tooley 1994); the parterre was removed in 1939, at which date the yew hedges enclosing the lawn were planted (photograph, SLSL). To the north-east of the swimming pool a flight of stone-flagged steps ascends from a paved terrace to the outer lawn. The steps are aligned on the south-east facade of an early C19 Roman Catholic chapel (listed grade II). The structure is today (2000) used as a bathing pavilion, the larger part of the chapel having been demolished in the mid C20. The pedimented facade is supported by four engaged Ionic columns, and the central doorway is approached by a flight of stone steps. A pair of windows is surmounted by arched niches. The facade is flanked by quadrant walls which terminate in piers. The chapel was constructed c 1825 by extending a small gardener's house attached to the north side of a classical portico built by Sir Richard Acton c 1780 (CL 1977). The chapel is flanked to north-west and south-east by deep herbaceous borders backed by a high yew hedge and evergreen shrubbery. To the north-west the footings and the remaining walls of Lord Acton's mid C19 library are planted as a late C20 garden; there are further borders below the south-east facade of the house. To the south-east of the sunken lawn is a stone column which formerly supported an early C18 lead figure of Neptune attributed to Van Nost (ibid). To the south-east of the terrace, below the stone retaining wall, a mid C20 hard tennis court is partly screened by conifers and shrubbery; there are views east across surrounding agricultural land. A pair of low, mid C19 wire gates set in the terrace wall at the southern corner of the terrace lead to the informal pleasure grounds.
The pleasure grounds to the south of the house comprise gently sloping lawns planted with mature specimen trees, conifers, and evergreen shrubbery. The pleasure grounds are enclosed to the south-east and east by C19 metal estate fencing, and there are views south-east across surrounding agricultural land towards Morville and the wooded hills beyond. The drive to the south-west of the house is flanked by wide lawns, with a further area of C19 conifers, specimen trees, and shrubbery to the south-west. Some 130m south-west of the house the ground falls from the boundary of the pleasure grounds, revealing views west and south-west across agricultural land which was, until the C20, parkland. The secondary drive adjacent to the stables c 80m south-west of the house is flanked by late C20 specimen shrubs and mixed borders created from 1986 by the present owners.
The gardens and pleasure grounds assumed their present form in the early and mid C19 as part of the improvements undertaken by Sir Richard Acton and his wife, the Duchess of Dalberg with the advice of W A Nesfield; this scheme took as its basis the early C18 layout shown by Burton in 1722. Burton shows the forecourt to the south-west enclosed by Bakewell's elaborate wrought-iron screen, while to the south-east of the house a formal enclosure corresponds in broad outline to the C19 terrace. The early C18 south-east garden is balanced by a kitchen garden placed symmetrically to the north-west of the house. Both gardens have gates placed in the walls opposite the house allowing vistas east along a short avenue extending through farmland, and west to the park. The early C18 scheme may have been related to the early C17 layout recorded by Hotchkiss (1756, based on a plan of 1625), who shows an orchard to the south-east of the house, a formal garden and enclosed forecourt to the south-west, and a further formal enclosed garden to the north-west.
PARK The park was situated to the west of the house and south avenue. Today (2000) the former park (outside the site here registered) is predominantly in mixed agricultural use. Some 250m south-west of the house, a south-west-facing slope remains pasture with scattered mature deciduous trees and a number of late C20 trees. Shore Pool, an irregular-shaped lake c 430m south-west of the house lies below this meadow; views to the pool are framed by woodland to the north-west, north, and south. Shore Pool is retained to the south-west by a dam; this artificial pool is shown on Burton's survey of 1722. Hotchkiss' painting (1756) based on a survey of 1625 shows a park enclosed by timber paling to the north-west of the C16 house. This arrangement is reflected on Burton's survey of 1722 which shows the park extending north-west of the house for c 1.5km to Little Acorn Coppice. Park Farm c 1.3km west-north-west of the house corresponds to the site of the lodge shown by Burton, while the pond north of Sarahspool Plantation c 1.4km north-west of the house corresponds to the northern pool in a chain of four ponds shown by Burton. The early C18 park was characterised by a series of avenues radiating west and north-west from the house; these were partly reflected by tracks which survived to be shown on the late C19 and early C20 OS maps (1892, 1903). The eastern half of the early C18 park was divided into several areas of deer coppice, while to the south-west it was characterised by scattered trees. In the early C18 Shore Pool lay outside but immediately adjacent to the park, while to the south a strip of agricultural enclosures separated the park from the Bridgnorth to Shrewsbury road. Land to the west of the south avenue was similarly in agricultural use, while the enclosure opposite the southern end of the south avenue, enclosed by the Mor Brook to the south and the Bridgnorth to Shrewsbury road to the north, was 'The Conery' or warren (Burton, 1722). During the C18 and C19 the park boundaries were moved east of Park Farm, while land to the west of the south avenue and to the south of Shore Pool were taken into the park. Ornamental planting to the east of the south avenue framed views across surrounding land, while to the north of the house Icehouse Coppice was planted. These improvements probably date from the early C19.
KITCHEN GARDEN The kitchen garden lies c 30m north-west of the house. The garden, which is approximately square on plan, is enclosed to the north-west and north by brick walls c 3m high, while to the east it is enclosed by a range of mid C18 brick barns and cottages. To the south it is adjoined by the mid C18 stables. Today (2000) the garden is largely laid to grass, with the remains of a central north to south avenue of espalier apple trees; a mature fig is trained against the inner face of the north wall. A range of mid and late C20 farm buildings and animal pens has been constructed in the southern half of the garden parallel to the stables. A service yard to the north-east of the house is today (2000) a rectangular area of lawn enclosed on each side by gravelled drives; to the north, and separated from the yard by late C20 timber fences and ornamental shrubs, is an approximately rectangular orchard enclosure. This is planted with mature standard plums and damsons.
The kitchen garden was constructed in its present form c 1750 when the stables were built for Sir Richard Acton (CL 1977). Thomas Burton's survey (1722) shows the kitchen garden to the north-west of the house, but aligned on the facade rather than off-set to the north as today. The early C18 arrangement may in turn relate to the early C17 plan as recorded by Hotchkiss (1756, based on a plan of 1625) which also shows formal kitchen gardens to the north-west of the house. The orchard to the north of the house corresponds to part of the `Old Orchard¿ shown in this location by Burton (1722).
F Calvert, Picturesque Views (1831), p 126 Country Life, 161 (23 June 1977), pp 1734-7; (30 June 1977), pp 1802-05; (7 July 1977), pp 18-21 J Harris, The Artist and the Country House (1979), pp 209, 340 N Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Shropshire (1979), pp 57-8 M J Tooley (ed), William Andrews Nesfield 1794¿1881 (1994), p 27 P Stamper, Historic Parks and Gardens of Shropshire (1996), pp 28-9, 32
Maps T Burton, A Mapp of the Demesne Lands and Parke of Aldenham, 1722 (1093/160), (Shropshire Record Office) C and J Greenwood, Map of Salop, 1827
OS Surveyor's Drawing, 2" to 1 mile, 1817 (British Library Maps) OS Old Series 1" to 1 mile, published 1833 OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition surveyed 1882, published 1892 2nd edition revised 1901, published 1903
Illustrations E Hotchkiss, The old Mansion House of Aldenham, Drawn from a Plan taken 1625 (private collection) [reproduced in CL 1977 and Harris 1979, pl 219] W Daniell (?), Aldenham Park from the west, c 1820 (private collection) [reproduced in CL 1977 and Harris 1979, pl 386] Watercolour, the chapel at Aldenham Park, c 1820 (private collection) [reproduced in CL 1977] Photographs of Aldenham Park including south-east terrace, gates, and chapel, c 1939 (Shropshire Local Studies Library) Photographs of Aldenham Park, mid C20 (NMR, Swindon)
Archival items Acton family papers (1093), (Shropshire Record Office)
Description written: August 2000 Amended: October 2000 Register Inspector: JML Edited: August 2004
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 2116
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