Shute House Gardens

Overview

Heritage Category:
Park and Garden
Grade:
II*
List Entry Number:
1468669
Date first listed:
18-Aug-2020
Statutory Address:
Shute House, Donhead St Mary, Shaftesbury, SP7 9DG

Map

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Location

Statutory Address:
Shute House, Donhead St Mary, Shaftesbury, SP7 9DG

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District:
Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)
Parish:
Donhead St. Mary
National Grid Reference:
ST9042424412

Summary

The private garden at Shute House was designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe between 1969 and 1988, with further alterations in 1993, in association with his clients Michael and Lady Anne Tree. A natural spring rises in the garden and water is the dominant feature; diverted into two, it feeds a network of formal and naturalistic water features, including the rill, the centrepiece of the garden. The watercourses reunite in an enclosed woodland garden, then split again into two series of ponds in a lower open landscape The compartmentalised design plays with notions of history, philosophy, psychology and art, drawing on classical and romantic landscape traditions. Jellicoe made further modifications in 1994-1995 (his last work).

Reasons for Designation

The landscape at Shute House is registered at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest

* Designer: the work of Britain’s leading post-war landscape architect, Geoffrey Jellicoe, which was designed through his last years when his design ideas had reached their full maturity and served as a small-scale testing ground for larger commissions, and includes Jellicoe’s final work, marking the end of a seven-decade career.

Design interest:

* exemplifying Jellicoe’s later approach to landscape design, which was strongly theoretical, indeed philosophical, referencing Jung, the subconscious and antiquity, and linking allegorical themes through the history of western art;

* a detailed and intricate garden, where a series of distinctive areas and the routes and transitions between them are carefully laid out, stimulating intrigue, surprise, delight and apprehension, responding to and incorporating the sublime natural landscape along with earlier garden features;

* water is abundant in the landscape, and its treatment is the culmination of Jellicoe’s lengthy study and experimentation, with ‘romantic’ and ‘classical’ features encouraging contemplation; water ‘in action’ enhanced by auditory devices; incorporating Italian, Japanese and Mughal traditions with Jellicoe’s own, while illustrating theories set out in his and Susan Jellicoe’s 1971 book: Water: Use of Water in Landscape Architecture.

Documentation:

* Design: following his ‘retirement’ Jellicoe rediscovered his drawing skills, and for Shute, a series of very detailed plans survive, illustrating his changing thought processes and the evolution of some features over the course of a 25 year relationship with the garden and its clients;

* Influence: the garden is the subject of extensive publication and is considered one of Jellicoe’s greatest designs, by some as his most important of all.

Group value:

* grade II-listed Shute House is separated from the garden by walls, woodland and the ha-ha, with carefully-controlled views between them, and the view from the main terrace informed the design of the modified medieval fish ponds to the south.

History

The private garden at Shute House was designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe between 1969 and 1988, with further alterations in 1993, in association with his clients Michael and Lady Anne Tree. A natural spring rises in the garden and water is the dominant feature, feeding a network of formal and naturalistic features, including the rill, the centrepiece of the garden. The compartmentalised design and the perambulation through it plays with notions of history, philosophy, psychology and art, drawing on classical and romantic landscape traditions. Jellicoe made further modifications in 1994-1995 (his last work) for the present owners Sir John and Suzy Lady Lewis, who have added new sculpture and made further minor alterations.

In 1935 Geoffrey Jellicoe produced a landscape design for Ronald and Nancy Tree at Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire (registered at Grade II*, List entry number 1000463). Nancy, a noted gardener and interior designer, was a leading figure in the firm of Colefax and Fowler and a creator of the country-house style; her son Michael Tree (1921-1999) became a director in the firm. Michael married Lady Anne Cavendish (1927-2010), a younger sister of the 10th Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth, noted for her work in prisons and as a founder of Fine Cell Work, which gave prisoners a skill and an income producing fine quality embroidery. On their marriage in 1949 the couple settled at Mereworth Castle, before moving to Shute House in Wiltshire in the mid-1960s. Having known Jellicoe since childhood, Michael Tree sought his advice on restoring and refining the existing garden, formally commissioning him in 1969 after he had made a survey in 1968.

Jellicoe’s later landscapes are strongly theoretical, indeed philosophical, referencing Jung and antiquity, and linking allegorical themes through the history of western art. At Shute such references are subtle and integrated into the landscape, for the dominant feature is a natural spring at the top of the site, one of the sources in the area of the River Nadder. Jellicoe saw the garden as a perfect project for his semi-retirement, but subsequently, while he was in his seventies, he received the most complex and ambitious projects of his career; Shute offered a place to experiment. Much of the planting was by Lady Anne Tree in consultation with her husband and Jellicoe.

The lower range of Shute House was built (or rebuilt; there may be earlier origins) in the late C16, initially as an almshouse, and subsequently a rectory, north of the medieval parish church and a series of fish ponds. In the early C18 it was extended and aggrandised with the creation of the formal front part of the house that exists today. It became a private house in the 1950s. Jellicoe’s survey in 1968 recorded an C18 ha-ha and terrace, with an overgrown C19 kitchen garden and woodland garden. There existed three main ponds within the formal garden: the first is the source of the stream at the top of the garden in its north-west corner, from which a fall of two feet led to a main ‘L’-shaped pond (called the ‘dog-leg pond’ by Jellicoe), already extended to form a canal alongside the kitchen garden, and from whose uncanalised part there was a fall of four feet to a third, smaller pond – the Cherry or Duck Pond. Below this the stream fell away steeply through woodland, constrained by small dams and including a small pool – the hammerhead pond – before the stream divides and leaves the garden.

The woodland had to be cleared of dying elm trees but there remain C18 beech trees, mainly near the house but including in the woodland garden one particularly tall specimen (now in poor condition) understood to date from the C18. Jellicoe’s plan of the garden ‘as existing’ made in 1968-1969 showed a brick wall separating this semi-wild garden from the house, with between them a lime walk across the lawn that he quickly removed. From the lawn in front of the house there were (and are) views over the ha-ha beyond the fields of Church Farm towards the downs to the south-west, across a meadow bisected by the remains of two C16 fish ponds.

Shute is dominated by its water, which flows naturally and exuberantly throughout the year, and it binds together the various elements as it twists through the site. Jellicoe made a special study of water with his wife Susan, which they published in 1971 as ‘Water: The Use of Water in Landscape Architecture’. It gives an indication of his thinking as the design for Shute took shape. He drew a distinction between ‘water in action’ and ‘contemplative water’, and studied the relationship between sculpture and water. He admired the Japanese Shinto Itsukushima shrine of AD 811 as an example of contemplative water and the Mughul gardens of Shalamar and Achabal in Kashmir as examples of active water, where water descends steep gradients in a series of waterfalls. He also admired the Italian use of water, especially the series of water courses at the Villa Lante – whose rill probably inspired that at Shute – and the Villa d’Este, where fountains were designed to explore the different sounds water can make.

Jellicoe made his initial proposals in 1969-1970, after considering and rejecting options for a tennis court, bathing pool and a cottage on part of the site. In a plan of May 1970 he reduced the length of the canal, and at the east end inserted a two-arched bridge topped by wisteria and backed by a stepped exedra, and designed bases for statues which the Trees had brought from Mereworth. The canal was adapted at the east end to secretly feed a rill created at right angles, between replanted beech hedges, with cascades at the top and small ponds with bubble fountains lower down.

Plans for details of the viewing platforms from 1975 suggest that Jellicoe’s scheme was implemented only very slowly, for only at this time the proposed five platforms overlooking the Italianate canal were reduced to two, aligned on paths through the former kitchen garden, itself re-planned as six box-hedged enclosures. The detailed plans of the garden as executed date from 1977-1979; that including the cascades down the rill (MERL AR JEL DO1 S2/12), dates from 1978 and shows its ponds as hexagonal. He designed ‘V’-shaped tubes in bronze to create an audio-visual experience, with each cascade descending to an increasingly low tone, described as resembling the treble, alto, tenor and bass of a choir (though visiting musicians disputed the claim).

The basic ideas of the camellia walk, a bog garden for the hammerhead pond at the bottom of the woodland, and a temple appeared in 1977-1978, but continued to evolve. A plan of 1977 shows Jellicoe considering the stream between the lowest of the three upper ponds and the ‘hammer-head’ pond at the bottom of the enclosed garden. This bog garden was planted with massive Gunnera manicata. This area was much less wooded than it is now, and he created a hexagonal temple of ivy and a ‘green tunnel’ connected by stepping stones across the stream to the main garden. In a triangle formed by laurel hedges which partly conceal the temple, he and Anne Tree in 1988-1993 created a series of topiary figures supported on iron frames and set in gravel, which they likened to ‘giants’ or giant chess pieces.

Jellicoe also remodelled the fish ponds in the meadow south of Shute House, visible from the house over the ha-ha and butting up to a public footpath. The first plans for this lower area date from 1979, where he proposed to expand one of the two old fish ponds. He remodelled the grassland to create a serpentine, romantic curve, annotating the plan ‘Ode to Charles Bridgeman Your Serpentine is Grand and Fine/ Forgive me when I claim that mine/ Made at Shute in seventy nine/ is much more Elegant than thine’ (AR JEL DO1 S2/11). He returned to Shute in 1986-1988 to remodel these ponds more gently and to add two more ‘connecting ponds’ that step away towards the distant hills, and to open up the view across them from the house. In his last work for the Trees he considered removing the box hedges in favour of a swimming pool and proposed a pyramid for Lady Anne to hang a crystal she had bought, as well as making revisions to the lower ponds in the field. Again, when Jellicoe last visited Shute in the 1990s he said he regarded the lower of the three ponds as unfinished, and wished it to be extended to enhance the impression of continuing further into the distance.

In 1993 new owners John and Suzy Lewis asked Sir Geoffrey to return to Shute. Sir John Lewis is the former chairman of the Wallace Collection and is still the chairman of the Public Monument and Sculpture Association and the Attingham Trust for the Study of Historic Houses and Collections, while Suzy Lady Lewis was the daughter of an eminent gardener, Esther Merton, and is herself an expert on plants. The Trees took some of their sculptures with them, and new herms were introduced to the exedra at the end of the canal and more figures have since appeared in the garden. Jellicoe’s last work, in 1994-1995, was to remodel the cascade between the main and Duck Pond, and the bog garden, with Peter Swann and Associates turning his ideas into drawings. He also produced schemes to replace the box garden with a swimming pool and to create a larger pond in the lower field, two ideas that were not developed. Spens’s book, ‘Jellicoe at Shute’, published in 1993 has many plans and contemporary photographs, and gives a good idea of the landscape at the point when the Trees moved out. ‘Country Life’ in 1993 also describes a ‘topiary bedroom’ developed by the Trees, but this has gone.

Subsequently John and Suzy Lewis have extended the garden westwards beyond the temple. The hedged Angel Walk, designed by Suzy Lewis, leads to a new piece of sculpture and conceals a tennis court and nursery. In the late 2000s a new driveway, also designed by Suzy Lewis, was created to the house from the south.

Geoffrey Jellicoe (1900-1996) was born in London where his father was a publisher, but it was his artist mother who raised him after his parents separated. He studied architecture at the Architectural Association in 1919-1923, then visited Italy with a fellow graduate, J C (Jock) Shepherd. The record of their travels was a collaborative book, ‘Italian Gardens of the Renaissance’, which led Jellicoe’s career into landscape architecture, working mainly for private clients. He unleashed his understanding of Italian architecture at Ditchley Park, and the plentiful water at Shute encouraged his return to that formative experience.

Jellicoe supported his nascent practice by teaching the third year at the Architectural Association and he became its principal in 1939-1942. He was also a founder member of the Institute of Landscape Architects, serving as its president in 1939-1949, and founded the International Federation of Landscape Architects in 1948. His pre-war work balanced landscape work with architecture, which included the modern Caveman Restaurant at Cheddar Gorge, and he established a specialism in social housing during and immediately after the Second World War. Only in the later 1950s did landscapes come to dominate the practice, with a roof garden at Harvey’s department store in Guildford and water gardens at Hemel Hempstead, while his partners (from around 1954-1955) Allan Ballantyne and Francis Coleridge continued to work on buildings such as Plymouth Civic Centre. His snake-like water gardens at Hemel Hempstead (registered at Grade II, List entry number 1001710) gave him the opportunity to explore allegorical themes, but it was the Kennedy Memorial that gave him to the chance to ‘put a subconscious idea into a work, so that it is more important and more lasting than the purely visual impression the eye receives’ (Harvey, 17). By the 1960s he had begun to absorb the theories of Carl Jung about the motivations of and influences on human behaviour, and sought to realise the ideas and history of mankind’s moulding of his environment through a series of episodes in a garden. Jellicoe’s three volumes, ‘Studies in Landscape Design’, published in 1960, 1966 and 1970, explored connections between artworks, landscapes and hidden ideas. His designs became more sophisticated, a balance of abstract and traditional elements, seen in his work at Wisley in 1971-1972 and at Shute.

Jellicoe closed his practice in 1973, and in 1975 published ‘The Landscape of Man’ with his wife Susan. An important figure in his life until her death, Susan Jellicoe (1907-1986) was a fine plantswoman who prepared planting plans for many of Jellicoe’s schemes (though not Shute) and took most of the photographs for his books. But instead of stepping back, Jellicoe seemed to work with greater freedom in his last decades. In the 1980s he began for the first time to draw extensively, producing schemes for a series of major projects that included Sutton Place (registered at Grade II*, List entry number 1001554); town plans for Modena and Brescia; the botanical and historical Moody Gardens for Galveston, Texas; and the Atlanta Historical Gardens in Georgia. By comparison with these very large schemes, Shute enabled him to tinker with a great range of ideas on a very small scale; in an interview with Michael Spens in 1993 he considered that the Atlanta scheme owed something to its sense of movement. His limited archive is held at the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading University, where the drawings for Shute are the most detailed: AR JEL DO1 S2, 58 items.

Details

A private garden by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe (1900-1996) based around a natural spring. This is diverted into two, one used to create the garden’s more formal elements and the other treated more naturally. They reunite in an enclosed woodland garden, then split again into two series of ponds in a lower open landscape. The first designs were made in 1969-1970 but were realised only slowly, mainly in 1978-1979, with further revisions in the late 1980s and in 1993-1995.

LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM AND SETTING

Shute House lies in the Wiltshire Downs some two miles from the border with Dorset, in rolling countryside between Tisbury and Shaftesbury. It stands on the south side of Church Lane, which follows a long Greensand ridge descending steeply from Tittle Path Hill to the village of Donhead St Mary. At this point on the edge of the village the lane runs from north-west to south-east, and the garden follows this orientation, with the land falling away more sharply away from the road to the south.

The Greensand ridge supplies the local building stone for Shute House, the nearby church and much of the village. However, it overrides a layer of impermeable clay, prompting springs where it reaches the surface, which traditionally adapted into fish ponds and watercress beds around the area. This is the case at Shute House, where a natural spring rises at the very top of the garden and was used in the C16 to form a series of fish ponds.

Jellicoe’s formal garden occupies six acres (2.43 ha) of a twenty-acre (8.09 ha) site largely set to orchards and pasture but including the four lower ponds.

ENTRANCES, APPROACHES AND VIEWS

A new entrance and driveway off Church Lane to the east of the house was created between 2011 and 2014. This is a curving drive that leads through new gate-piers to reused gates set in a yew hedge and a circular gravel forecourt shielded by further hedges. The high hedge serves to screen the garden and view; they are revealed through a narrow gap in the hedge that leads to the terrace on the garden façade.

Below the terrace in front of the house is the ha-ha, extended by the Lewises under the guidance of Jellicoe. From here, there are views across the lower pasture containing the four lower ponds, and down the valley of the River Nadder towards Charlton Down and Zig-Zag Hill, which form a long chalk ridge across the southern horizon. The rest of the garden is carefully enclosed to shield it from the adjoining road, and from pasture, a nursery and tennis court created to the west in 2007.

PRINCIPAL BUILDINGS

Shute House (listed Grade II, List entry number 1146075) was built in the late C16 (perhaps with earlier origins) initially as an almshouse, and subsequently became a rectory to the nearby church. It was extended to the south in the early C18 when the original house became the service wing. Both parts are faced in the local greensand stone with steep tiled roofs. The house became a private residence in the 1950s, when it gained its present name from the spring. Jellicoe made alterations in around 1970, adding guest rooms and converting a garage into a billiard room, subsequently converted to a kitchen. Rubble walls, designed by Jellicoe, enclose the grounds along the lane to the north, shielding the entrance front.

LANDSCAPE

The house turns its back on Church Lane. A garden door to the rear of the house descends on to a terrace and an open lawn, whence an C18 ha-ha drops down to a paddock. To the north-west is an C18 beech tree. At right-angles, to the north, a brick wall screens Jellicoe’s garden, which is entered through a bower of wisteria looped over an iron frame.

It opens into the RILL GARDEN. The rill, a classical feature which in many ways is the garden’s centrepiece, links a number of other elements. At the head of the rill the source of the water is concealed, emerging from beneath a stone-flagged shelter of beech hedges that form a backdrop to a south-facing viewpoint; this is now occupied by over-scaled King and Queen seats by local artist Reg Budd, their topknots in the shape of the hostas planted nearby. Flagstones form bridges over four cascades set with bronze tubes, each designed to give a different tone to the falling water. Rectangular beds surrounded by flagstones flank this upper section of the rill, while the banks of the lower part are laid to grass. Here the rill opens out into four small fountain ponds, each one rectangular, although different shapes were considered in plans made through the 1970s (the first plans for the rill were made in June 1969 (MERL AR JEL DO1 S2/7)). At the end of the stream there is a sculpture of Flora, and the formally open vista has been enclosed.

Beyond the rill garden, separated by a beech hedge, is a parterre of six plats framed by box hedges, corresponding to the earlier KITCHEN GARDEN. Four areas have always contained plants grown for their different colours while two have traditionally been used for growing vegetables.

To the west, lawns form the banks to the main, L-shaped pond – extended and curved romantically by Jellicoe in 1979 – and the Duck or Cherry pond, linked by a narrow cascade cut into the land. Forming a backdrop to the main pond and lining the western boundary to the site is the ‘CAMELLIA WALK’, of camellias and rhodedendrons. Here, a bronze bench at the side of the main pond gives a vista through to a sculpture at the end of the Duck Pond, and there is a sculpture at the south-west end of the main pond (again a substitution following the departure of the Trees). The stream tumbles out of the Duck Pond into woodland, with stepping stones, its banks partly made up with bricks and sections of its bottom concreted despite Jellicoe’s efforts to conceal this. At the north end of the camellia walk, at the top of the hill and at the highest point of the garden, is the springhead. This is the source of all of the water that flows through the garden, beginning with a small pond, shielded by rhododendrons. A dual aspect seat, designed by Jellicoe and known as the seat of contemplation, is set on top of the cascade that falls from the source pond to the main ‘L’-shaped pond. From here, the water’s two routes through the gardens can be observed, with the classical canal to one side, and the romantic ponds on the other.

The CANAL is largely concealed and enclosed by beech hedging. Originally a C17 feature, it was truncated at the east by Jellicoe’s low stone double-arched bridge, which he described as a grotto, now entwined with wisteria. An exedra, or amphitheatre of box, forms the backdrop to the grotto, and was surmounted with three herms representing Ovid, Virgil and Lucretius, Roman poets Jellicoe particularly admired. They were superseded in 1995 by Achilles, Neptune and Zeus. Set into the north side of the canal are regular clumps of aerum lilies. The beech hedging on the south side is interrupted by two projecting look-out balconies, built of timber but following the idiom established by Jellicoe with his landscapes at Moreton and Hemel Hempstead. From here, one arm of the stream leaves the garden, travelling under the lane to fields beyond. More concealed is the way another arm flows below small garden rooms formed of beech hedges to the rill. Beyond the hedging enclosing the north side of the canal is a greenhouse and a further hedge shielding the road.

Between the canal and the rill garden beech hedges conceal a long, narrow triangular garden called the PHILOSOPHER’S GROVE, planted with holm oak trees (their number reduced since the original planting) and narrowing to a sculpture of Hermes introduced in 2010.

To the south of the Duck Pond is a laurel grove leading to the ‘temple’: an iron belvedere entirely covered by ivy, as first designed by Jellicoe in 1977, and a green walk – a pergola screened by laurel hedges. Lady Anne Tree and Jellicoe established a triangular gravel garden, known as the TEMPLE GARDEN and described by Spens as an allegorical garden, with topiary ‘giants’ set over iron frames. These have been replaced by a globe, and on the other side of the temple is a bronze copy of the statue of Peter Pan from Kensington Gardens. A series of stepping stones crosses the stream to the east; the slight hazard of the manoeuvre was intended to add an element of peril, without which Jellicoe considered no eclectic landscape would be complete.

A path heads south-east, crossing the bottom of the rill and providing a key view uphill, enhanced by the harmonic chords of the upper waterfalls. Returning to the tumbling stream, a path follows it to a ‘T’-shaped or hammerhead pond enlarged and progressively landscaped as a BOG GARDEN from 1979 onwards. This was intended as the end point of the journey through the garden, culminating in one of the oldest ideas in relation to man and environment: the Chinese philosophy of an analogy between man and rock. Three stones were brought from a nearby disused quarry, each chosen for their personality, and positioned to form an agreeable relationship. More recent sculptures have been introduced.

OTHER LAND

Beyond the bog garden the stream splits again, to serve four ponds, one large one close to the house, and a sequence of three, of which the first and third were created by Jellicoe in 1986-1988 after he had first contemplated creating a single sheet of water. The ponds are located beneath the terrace in front of the house, from which there is a vista across the C18 ha-ha. A group of beech trees form a backdrop to the lower ponds, and there is open pasture beyond.

Sources

Books and journals
Harvey (ed), Sheila, Reflections on Landscape, (1987)
Spens, M, Gardens of the Mind: The Genius of Geoffrey Jellicoe, (1992), 116-127
Spens, Michael, Jellicoe at Shute, (1993)
Spens, M, The Complete Landscape Designs and Gardens of Geoffrey Jellicoe, (1994), 104-123
Tree, Anne, 'Fantasy bestowed on form: Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe and the Michael Trees create gardens within gardens at Shute House' in House and Garden, , Vol. 159, (1987), 190-246
Whitsey, Fred, 'To the Sound of Water Music' in Country Life, , Vol. 180, (21 August 1986), 584-586
Quest-Ritson, Charles, 'Awash with Good Ideas' in Country Life, , Vol. 209, no 38, (16 September 2015), 74-79
Websites
Drawing on history, philosophy, psychology and art, the gardens of Shute House are Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe's masterpiece, House and Garden, accessed 18/01/2020 from https://www.houseandgarden.co.uk/gallery/gardens-shute-house
List of drawings in the Jellicoe archive, accessed 28/01/2020 from http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/files/merl/Geoffrey_Jellicoe_collection.pdf
Shute House (The Rectory) ref MW13071, Wiltshire Historic Environment Record, accessed 30/04/2020 from https://services.wiltshire.gov.uk/HistoryEnvRecord/Home/ViewHERItem?HER=MWI3071
Other
AR JEL DO1 S2, 58 plans held at the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading University

Legal

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

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