Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Ashdown Parterre

The letter P, in the A - Z of Ashdown, stands for the parterre. The current Ashdown House parterre of box and gravel, laid out in S scrolls in the 17th century style, was created in the 1950s when the house came into the care of the NT. The previous elaborate Victorian parterre had been destroyed during the war and the rationale for choosing a 17th century parterre design was that since the 19th century additions to the house had been demolished and it had been taken back to its original 17th century style, it made sense to match this with a 17th century garden.

When the house was built it had gardens on the north and south side rather than to the west, as can be seen in the engraving by Kip from the early 18th century. Whilst it's not possible to see the detail of these they were very plain. The hunting lodge was considered in the 17th century to be a masculine style of building and a plain box and gravel parterre was a masculine style of garden to match. So the parterre we have today, whilst not identical to the original, is in keeping with the 17th century style of the house and contemporary garden design.

In the mid-Victorian period the Cravens did much work to their
houses at Ashdown and Coombe Abbey, including a major garden restyling at both properties. At Coombe this work was carried out in 1860 by the architect and garden designer William Eden Nesfield. It's likely that he also worked on the Ashdown alterations. His father William Andrews Nesfield was an eminent garden designer who specialised in parterres so it is tempting to speculate that he had an input into the new garden at Ashdown. The Italianate style parterre was very fashionable in this era with intricate flowerbeds, colourful herbaceous borders featuring exotic species, fountains and paths of coloured glass. We have detailed photographs of this parterre garden so know exactly what it looked like.


Friday, October 4, 2013

O for an Octagonal Cupola!

“O” is for the octagonal cupola on Ashdown’s roof. A cupola is defined as “a small, often dome-like structure on top of a building.” As at Ashdown, it usually crowns a larger roof and in Ashdown’s case is built as a “lantern” of timber and glass. This style is a classic of Restoration architecture and can be seen elsewhere, at Belton House in Lincolnshire and at Kingston Lacy in Dorset. This photograph shows the Ashdown cupola as it was before last year’s restoration project.

The Kyp drawing of Ashdown that dates from the early 18th century suggests that the original octagonal cupola featured wooden panels in the lantern as well as panes of glass. Certainly we know that the style of the cupola has changed over the 350 years of its existence; successive renovations at times reduced it to four panels, increased it again to eight, displayed trompe l’oeil panels and sometimes replaced the plain glass with coloured panes. This photograph, taken from one of the interpretation panels in the Information Centre, dates from the early 20th century and shows restoration work taking place on the cupola and roof.


The lantern style of the cupola, with so much glass, allows lots of light into the stairway below. In the 19th century there was a lamp lit in the cupola at night, giving Ashdown its name of “the lighthouse of the Downs.” More than one traveller of the track from Lambourn across the top of the Downs used it to navigate by.