Royal Town Planning
The Norfolk town where every door is majestic.
Royal Town Planning
The Norfolk town where every door is majestic.
On either side of the busy Preston Road which connects the Victorian suburb to the Regency town are tranquil horticultural attractions: Preston Manor Walled Garden and Preston Rock Garden. Brighton + Hove City Council own both sites.
The Rock Garden is much more recent. It was built in 1935 by Captain Bertie Hubbard MacLaren, Superintendent of Parks, on a one hectare wooded railway bank. The Captain was a landscape architect whose post World War I era efforts have established a lasting heritage for Brighton. He recognised the benefits to the populace of public parks and playgrounds.
Suburban legend has it that the layout is based on the blue and white china Willow pattern. There’s certainly a chinoiserie look to the waterfall splashing over a rockery into a pool dotted with stepping stones below a cottage orné.
The seaside town is pretty raucous but a mere five minute taxi drive inland takes you from the crazy coastline to the peaceful Preston Manor where all is leafily calm: serenity prevails, tranquillity reigns. The house exudes more than a whiff of colonialism thanks to a generous splattering of shutters and a liberal smattering of verandahs. Mount Vernon-on-Sea. A squat steeple pops its pointy head over the garden wall. Preston is Brighton’s suburban answer to Belfast’s Malone, Bristol’s Clifton, Frankfurt’s Sachsenhausen.
Country Life covered Preston Manor a couple of years after it opened as a museum. The article included 18 pictures of the gardens, the exterior and the interior. A further 15 were left unpublished. They are mainly photographs of individual items of furniture as well as a few alternative exterior views. Country Life reports: “Little is known of the origin of the furniture in the house.” The magazine goes into more detail about the owners and architecture of Preston Manor.
Little has changed in the intervening 80 odd years. The ivy has gone and the grey render on the entrance front has been painted white. The two glazed panels in the entrance doors are now solid. That’s about it outside. Moving indoors: more Edwardian, less Georgian. More cluttered, less staged. Otherwise it’s a game of spot the difference. The interior is atmospherically charged: creaking, sloping floorboards weighed down by history. Servants’ bells line a basement corridor and are labelled: Front Door | Front Door Steps | Back Door | Hall Right | Bedroom No.5 | Library | Dining Room | Stanford Sitting Room | Hall Left | Cleves Room | Bedroom No.2 | Bedroom No.1 | Bedroom No.4 | Drawing Room | Nurses Room.
Here are extracts from the Country Life article: “Preston Manor is the youngest in date and the most domestic of public museums. By the wish of the donors, the late Sir Charles Thomas-Stanford and his wife, their house at Brighton, with its fortuitous accumulation of household furniture and ornaments, is preserved very much as they left it, and at its opening in 1933 nothing was in the house except their possessions. It looks still a house that is lived in; most of the furniture is still in the same rooms as in the donors’ day, and even their little personal possessions, boxes and ornaments are either in their original places or preserved in cases in the actual rooms in which they were on view.
Preston (‘Prestitone’) is listed in Domesday as one of the eight manors belonging to the bishopric of Chichester. The original manor house may have been built at the same time as the church of St Peter, in the middle of the 13th century; and two doorways of Caen stone in the semi basement of the present house are assigned to this date.
Sir Charles Thomas-Stanford’s public work for Brighton is well known. He was Mayor from November, 1910, to 1913, and Member for Brighton from 1914 to 1922. In the words of one who knew him well, ‘the same breadth of imagination which enabled him to seize the opportunity of acquiring Lewes Castle for the nation and showed itself in his public work in the large schemes which he initiated or supported, as for instance the acquisition for the towns of Brighton and Kemp Townlands‘, showed itself in his final benefaction to the town. In 1925, Sir Charles Thomas-Stanford made provision that (subject to the respective life interests of himself and his wife) Preston Manor and four acres of the adjoining land should best in the Corporation of Brighton in perpetuity, to be used for the purposes of a public museum and public park, the ‘house preserved as a building of historic interest to the public, and to be used exclusively as a museum devoted to the preservation of objects linked up with the Borough of Brighton and the County of Sussex, and as reference library containing works relating to subject objects’.
He died on March 7th, 1932, having willed to Corporation, among other things, all his ‘books, documents, ancient deeds and papers relating exclusively or principally to the County of Sussex or any part thereof.’ Lady Thomas-Stanford continued to live in the manor until her death in November of the same year; and by her will she left to the Corporation of Brighton ‘such pictures, clocks, furniture, fittings and other effects in Preston Manor as the Director of the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery may select to be retained at Preston Manor… in order that future visitors to Preston Manor may have a correct idea of the appearance of the house as it was at the time when it came into the possession of the Corporation’.
Preston Manor is a pleasant two storeyed building, with its north, or entrance front assuming a Regency air (very suitable to the Brighton neighbourhood) with its glazed verandas, which date from the 1905 alterations. As shown in a sketch (1818) and a painting dated 1841 (which hangs in the house), it consisted of a central block and small flanking wings, each with its separate roof at a slightly lower level. About 1867 the porch on the south, or garden, side was added, faced with knapped flints, and having the arms of Anne of Cleves and the Bennett-Stanford family carved in panels. On the south side the tower of the church is seen projecting into the manor garden.
In 1904 a new wing (which includes the present dining room) was built at the west end of the house, on the ground floor of which had been a brewery; and the entrance hall was also widened to the east by the inclusion of a room known as the Stucco Room. The drawing room, easily the finest room of the house, retains its coved ceiling and stucco ornament, dating from the mid Georgian rebuilding under the Westerns. The late 18th marble chimneypiece is a later addition, and the pedimented surrounds to the two old mahogany doors were built-in in 1923.
The staircase leading to the first floor also dates from the Western rebuilding in 1739, and on the staircase walls are hung pictures of the Manor and its surroundings as they were in 1841, 1845 and 1875. Next to the 1875 pictures hangs the original watercolour drawing of the picture showing the removal of a mill in 1797 from Regency Square, Brighton, to Dyke Road, by 86 oxen belonging to William Stanford of Preston and other gentlemen. The library (which before the 1905 alterations was the dining room) is reached through a door at the eastern end of the entrance hall. It housed the greater part of Sir Charles Thomas-Stanford’s general library (since purchased by the Corporation) in addition to the collection of Sussex works now on its shelves. It contains a late Georgian bookcase bought from Wincombe Park in Wiltshire. A door to the right of the library leads to the morning room, Lady Thomas-Stanford’s sitting room, which is furnished with 19th century rosewood and mahogany.”
Well Connected | Café Society
A private tour of the soon-to-open new galleries and lecture theatre of the Royal Academy of Arts led by the Secretary and Chief Executive, Charles Saumarez Smith*. But first, morning coffee in The Academicians’ Room in The Keeper’s House. The room is lined with tongue ‘n’ groove reclaimed panelling which resembles the untreated backs of period paintings. Very tongue ‘n cheek.
Connecting Burlington House (off Piccadilly) to Burlington Gardens (near Bond Street) is “the gist of what we’ve done,” Charles says, looking down into the newly revealed vaulted passageway with its exposed brickwork which now connects the two buildings. “People tend to think in plan when designing. But when this former back-of-house space was dropped three feet, it created this incredible volume.” The original garden steps of Burlington House have been retained as an indoors staircase leading down into the passageway.
Entering Burlington Gardens, he remarks, “The architect David Chipperfield has kept the integrity of Sir James Pennethorne’s original architecture. There’s always a conundrum – do you reinstate the original paint scheme? David has achieved a very good balance. In the Senate Room, the Victorian ceiling colours have been kept but the walls painted a lighter shade. The colour schemes create a sense of the era but they’re not archaeologically accurate.”
“We put in a café called Poster Bar on the ground floor which complements the shops on Bond Street. From my perspective, having a coffee at 8am is very important and rather nice!” Charles reckons. The first floor Senate Room is now a brasserie. It serves small plates (£8) such as Piedmontese peppers or mussel, prawn and squid seafood salad. The cheese plate (£14) includes gorgonzola naturale, robiola tri latte, pecorino ross and truffled honey, fig and marmalade. Puddings (£6.50) include blueberry and violet panna cotta or chocolate bignè.
Collage of the Titans
After organising a hugely successful and academically driven Irish Georgian Society London work-in-progress tour of Pitzhanger Manor, Sir John Soane’s country home (due to reopen to the public next year), an invitation to breakfast at his townhouse museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields proves providentially irresistible. Morning sunlight pierces the shadowy interiors, soaking the sarcophagi, the inimitable collection lit by shafts of coloured light through stained glass cupolas and lanterns and domes. Nowhere in the capital is there such a multilayering of art and ideas. As Bryan Ferry used to sing, “All styles served here…”
We’ve heard of the Soane style being heralded as the forerunner of modernism – think of his streamlined later work – but today’s proclamation is about his postmodernism aesthetic. Applying such plaudits, bestowing such honorifics to the ultimate disruptor, is but a fitting tribute. Dr Bruce Boucher, Director of Sir John’s Soane Museum, says, “In many ways Soane was postmodern. He’d no fear of adapting different styles. Even the double coding of this building as a house-museum and workplace is postmodern.” A diorama of China Wharf by the cleverest postmodernists, CZWG, takes pride of place in the first floor gallery space. The custard yellow egg in the custard yellow drawing room looks strangely familiar. Turns out it’s from Terry Farrell’s TV AM building.
There’s also an exhibition on the ground floor of what Bruce calls “remarkable digital collages”. It comprises three works by the artist Emily Allchurch. She trained as a sculptor and has an MA from the Royal College of Art. Emily was inspired by significant works by the artist Giovanni Piranesi and the architectural illustrator Joseph Gandy in the Museum’s collections. “The light boxes are windows into another world,” she explains. “My practice creates a dialogue between historic artworks and the present day, using hundreds of photographs and a seamless digital collage technique to recreate the original image in a contemporary idiom. I always take my own photographs. Visiting the buildings is part of the journey.”
Grand Tour: In Search of Soane (after Gandy) is a reworking of Soane’s built projects. Its companion piece Grand Tour II: Homage to Soane (after Gandy) is neoclassical architecture around Britain with “unbuilt” Soane additions. The roofscape of Calke Abbey is amusingly spruced up by three splendid domes. Such euphoric recall! Punchy. Like Joseph Gandy’s work, both these pieces were exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The third piece is Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (after Piranesi).”It’s a conversation about London and Rome,” Emily confirms, “a reminder that empires can collapse.” There’s a weight and confidence to her work. It displays great artistry. And super wit. A “Dead Slow” sign next to mausolea; “If you lived here you’d be home now!” graffiti beside Pitzhanger Manor.
Soon, it will be time for the Irish Georgian Society London to return to its roots. A party to celebrate half a century since the restoration of Castletown House in County Kildare, the Society’s first major success story, awaits.
Benburb Manor in County Tyrone – red brick, chamfered bay windows, high gables – is like a suburban Belfast villa on steroids. It was built in 1887 to the design of the prolific architect William Henry Lynn when he was in his late 50s. The house is a more restrained version of Castle Leslie and that County Monaghan mansion isn’t exactly externally ostentatious. Perhaps breaking away from his professional partner Sir Charles Lanyon allowed Wills to rationalise his style. Or maybe it was just tight purse strings of his client James Bruce, a Belfast businessman. Stone bands are the only tiny flash of exuberance. James had bought the estate from Viscount Powerscourt 11 years earlier.
Benburb is now a wonderful asset to the community, a hidden highlight of this far flung edge of Ulster. In 1949 the house was bought by the Servite Fathers as a priory. This has broadened into the Benburb Centre, a “house of healing and reconciliation”. Over the years poets (Seamus Heaney) have taught and artists (John Vallely) have wrought works and theatre directors (Tyrone Guthrie) have sought solitude here.
The village – all one street of it or maybe two at a push – is lined with delightfully quaint estate cottages. On a balmy Sunday morning in Benburb, there’s the clink of coffee cups in the stables courtyard café; the singing of hymns from the open door of St Patrick’s; the prayerful footsteps of visitors on retreat treading through the forest; the rush of water far below; and the sound of silence at the Hermitage.
“The Benburb Manorial Estate. Descriptive Particulars of Sale, with Plans and Conditions of Sale, of an Exceedingly valuable and highly important Freehold Manorial Domain containing altogether about 9,290 A. 1 R. 25 P. A splendid Investment in rich Agricultural Land, of which it may be said hardly one Acre is uncultivated. It is also exceedingly well adapted to Residential Purposes, and many Sites for the construction of a Mansion as a central and appropriate Residence for so important an Estate. Benburb is, with the exception of a few Acres, all within a Ring Fence, and is situate between the Towns of Armagh on the South, Dungannon on the North, Moy on the East, Auchnacloy and Caledon on the West, within 40 miles of Belfast, well served by lines of Railway, so as to render it accessible from the parts. The lands are chiefly in arable and grass, well watered and undulating, and the Property as a whole does not differ materially from a well circumstanced Estate in the English Midlands, excepting that the cultivation of Flax here receives primary attention. It is intersected by good hard Roads, and divided into convenient Farms with excellent buildings and cottages.
The Village of Benburb is a neat and clean dependency, and is quite of a model character. The ancient Castle and the Manor of Benburb are included, and the whole Property produces more than £9,000 per annum, which magnificent Rent Roll, lately adjusted under a friendly arbitration (where it will remain until another increase is required), offers a specially well secured Income. The Sporting is excellent, and is reserved to the Landlord. Hunting can be obtained within a short distance. The Blackwater bounds a considerable portion of the Estate, and is a capital Salmon River; and as a whole it is confidently offered as a splendid Investment in Land, adapted to the large Capitalist who seeks such an outlet for his money to produce a higher return than can be found in the soil of England.
To be sold by Auction, by Messrs E and H Lumley at the Mart, Tokenhouse Yard, Lothbury, London, on Tuesday, the 22nd day of August, 1876, at two o’clock precisely – in One Lot, unless an acceptable offer be previously made by Private Contract. John Sloan, at the Village of Benburb, will show the Property. Printed Particulars of Sale, with Conditions and Plan, may be obtained of Robert Dixon, Esq, Solicitor, No.5, Finsbury Square, London; Messrs S S and E Reeves and Sons, Solicitors, No.17, Merrion Square East, Dublin; George Posnett, Esq, Enniskerry, County Wicklow; at the Imperial and the Royal Hotels, Belfast; the Gresham and the Shelburne [sic] Hotels, Dublin; the Charlemont Arms Hotel, Armagh; Morris’s Hotel, Dungannon; the Imperial Hotel, Cork; at the Auction Mart, London; and of Messrs Edward and Henry Lumley, Land Agents and Auctioneers, 31 and 32, St James’s Street, Piccadilly, London.”
Lawns in Bawns
“Kings, princes, and the wisest men of all ages, have some or other of them, taken singular delight in this exercise of planting, setting, sowing, and what else that is requisite in the well ordering of orchards and gardens, and rejoiced to see the fruits of their labours.” Leonard Meager, 1697.
After studying English and History of Art at Trinity College Dublin, Catherine FitzGerald trained as a horticulturalist at the Royal Horticultural Society. A Postgrad Diploma in Landscape Conservation and History at the Architectural Association topped up her studying. “My aim is that each garden should feel completely right and of its place rather than imposed,” she believes, “acting with, rather than against, nature and local idiom.” Catherine hand draws plans in the Gertrude Jekyll tradition.
Green genes run in the family. She calls her grandmothers “plantaholics”. Years ago, her mother Madam FitzGerald germanely wrote about the family home, “The garden of Glin Castle in County Limerick is extraordinarily beautiful and yet I feel it is not a fine garden. It seems to me to be more of a field cut neatly and circumspectly into a lawn or two, with a little hill that is covered in daffodils in the spring, and some primeval oaks that drench you with their leafy arms as you pass. It is a garden that acknowledges its castle first and foremost, while this battlemented toy fort, preoccupied with its own importance, accepts the homage too carelessly to repay the compliment.”
Olda FitzGerald posits, “Many of its windows treacherously look out over the Shannon estuary or else yearningly, like the rest of us, away down the avenue towards the chimneys and steeple of the village, with an occasional haughty glance down at the croquet lawn and crab apple trees below. The crab apples were planted 40 years ago, and for most of the year give the impression of being thickly covered in grey feathery fungus, until they burst into the most unseemly fertility every summer.”
Roughly 290 miles northeast of Glin Castle lies another faux fortified residence, Glenarm Castle. It’s the home of Randal and Aurora McDonnell, Viscount and Viscountess Dunluce. They’re friends of Catherine so she was an obvious choice to bring their four acre Walled Garden back to life. “I had just left my job as Planting Designer for Arabella Lennox-Boyd,” Catherine relates, “and was beginning to design gardens on my own. Randal gave me my first commission really. It was a wonderful opportunity.” An ancestor of Randal’s – Anne Catherine McDonnell, Countess of Antrim – built the Walled Garden in the 1820s using limestone quarried from the demesne. It’s a relatively recent addition considering the McDonnells have been at Glenarm Castle for six centuries and counting.
Randal inherited Glenarm Castle back in 1992 when he was 25. ”By the time I took on the Walled Garden, it was completely derelict bar the yew circle, the beech circle and a few shrubs,” he recalls, “but I didn’t hesitate. I had always loved this place. It had sagged rather, but it was very exciting to be able to stop it sag for a bit.” In place of dereliction, and any sagging for that matter, is Catherine’s design for six ornamental gardens in separate “rooms”. Five pay homage to the traditional productive functions of walled gardens: the Apple Orchard; the Cherry Garden; the Herb Garden; the Pear Garden; and the Medlar Garden. A viewing point of these five rooms is cleverly provided by the Mount which occupies the sixth space. More anon.
There were pleached trees and borders already at the bottom of the garden by the time Catherine got involved so she was asked to make sense of the top half. Her design replaced a blank space dotted with a few languishing trees and shrubs marooned among stretches of grass. “My instinct,” records Catherine, “was to divide it up into different rooms and walks which visitors could wander through and wonder where they were going next rather than taking it all in at once.” The Walled Garden is entered through the simple green coloured Bell Gate, framed by a cloak of clematis draped over the high stone walls.
Naturally, Glin Castle was an influence on Catherine’s design: “The kitchen garden at Glin which was restored by my mother in the 1970s is always in the back of my mind when planning walled gardens. She used yew topiary shapes, Irish yew and espaliered apple and pear divisions to provide a strong structure and design as a background to the fruit vegetables and annuals she planted. At Glenarm, elements of this are there with the espaliered pears and strong structure provided by the hedges.”
“I wanted to relate the theme to walled gardens,” she adds, “so used a lot of fruit trees but in an ornamental way: the espaliered pear tree circle… the formal rows of medlars… the apple tree orchard… the crab trees and so on.” The brief was to keep it relatively simple and low maintenance. As a result, it’s very structural with no fussiness. More from Catherine: “It was all done on a modest budget. Randal had a great team who implemented it.” One of the biggest structural tasks was restoring the 100 metre long glasshouse with its myriad rhomboid panes.
Catherine was also influenced by the gardens on the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava’s Clandeboye Estate in County Down and Ned Lambton’s Cetinale Estate in Italy. She notes, “Both these gardens have espaliered fruit trees trained on circular wrought iron frameworks and I liked that idea. I was also influenced by Scampston Hall Walled Garden in Yorkshire, designed by Piet Outdolph. It has a ziggurat shaped mount – while the one at Glenarm is spiral shaped – but I could see how effective it was in giving a view over the whole garden.” The Mount is especially effective at Glenarm because now it is possible to see dramatic views up the glens and woods in one direction and the sea in the other. Not forgetting views across the Walled Garden itself.
She believes, “Gardens are about evoking sensations and emotion. I try to imbue my gardens with a sense of romance.” There’s all that plus a sense of drama. Expect to see explosive reds, yellows and blues in the aptly named Hot Border. Crimson dahlias are a favourite of the Viscountess. Drama needs contrast. Turn the corner at the end of the Hot Border to be greeted by the pale foxgloves of the Double Borders. “It did take a long time to get going,” she admits, “the beech hedges and yew buttresses along the walls seemed to take forever to establish. But now they have got going it really feels like it is becoming mature. It’s how I imagined it would be which is fantastic!”
“Right plant, right place,” is her motto. Right now, Glenarm Castle Walled Garden has reached peak horticultural experience. Hurrah! It’s a paradise of paradoxes: hill and plain; openness and enclosure; polychrome and green. Continuing the castle theme, Catherine FitzGerald’s latest garden is about to open. Somewhere between Glin and Glenarm in geography and age, Hillsborough Castle is set to be Northern Ireland’s next cultural attraction.
Lots to Eat
Its dual address summons up flattering visions of country estates and urban sophistication. Haunch of Venison Yard and New Bond Street. Neither entrance is entirely obvious. The former is through a passageway into a courtyard; the latter is through an auction gallery, down a dogleg, up a spiral. London for Moschino trousered Londoners. Not forgetting rich Americans and Asians. The restaurant is in a back room, and that’s a compliment. Reticent, exclusive, discreet; in the know, in the now.
Daringly, sparingly white walls except for one wall of windows. Just four carefully chosen artworks: Demolition Squad by William Roberts, British, 1895 to 1980 (£50,000 to £70,000) | Untitled by Sam Francis, American, 1923 to 1994 (£8,000 to £12,000) | The Musician by John Craxton, British, 1922 to 2009 (£30,000 to £50,000) | Tulips No.1 by Ivon Hitchens, British, 1893 to 1979, (£25,000 to £35,000).
An early 21st century restaurant serenade to a late 18th century auction house. Welcome to Bonhams Restaurant, strings attached. Only 24 covers. Head Chef Tom Kemble’s dishes live up to the address. All the freshness of the outdoors and all the style of the city. And a splash of the sea. Michelin starred Mayfair. Three course lunch £50 (excluding some liquid refreshment):
Interventionist or repro? Previous generations had so such qualms. A Georgian house unabashedly cheek by jowl with a towerhouse, that most Irish of scenes. Transoms clash with sashes; battlements upstage parapets. Benburb Castle (sometimes called Wingfield’s Castle) does one better: a Georgian house inside a fort. Bungalow in a bawn, so to speak. It is dramatically perched on a wooded cliff above the River Blackwater, the waterway separating County Tyrone from County Armagh. Benburb Castle was built by Sir Richard Wingfield circa 1615 on the site of a stronghold of Shane O’Neill, head of the O’Neill clan. Sir Richard was the Chief Governor of Ireland. His descendants would own Powerscourt in County Wicklow. Shane would give his name to the eponymous castle in County Antrim.