Chapter 4: Early Enclosure and the Jacobean ParkThe
manor was securely in the grip of the Ralegh family by the
mid-fifteenth century. In the early-seventeenth century Sir George
Ralegh enclosed 200 acres of land by re-grouping estates through mutual
consent (Salzman 1949: 84). This early instance of enclosure may have
been the occasion for the demolition of some buildings in Church Oakal
as it was noted that this resulted in the loss of 13 houses. At the
same time a specific area was set aside for a park in what was later
called The Paddock (Fig. 30).
The Paddock is the only
large enclosure which is completely walled. Where the wall runs
alongside the lane from Banbury it is of stone with an elaborate
moulded capping (Fig. 33). Although this has been largely rebuilt in
modern times the point remains that it is a high status construction
which presents an impressive face to the public highway. The lane,
crossing the valley on an embankment up to 2 metres high that is
retained by the estate wall, may have also been constructed in the
early-seventeenth century as it cuts across the medieval earthworks.
The wall which forms the southern margin of the Paddock is brick
over lower courses of stone (Fig. 26) and can be seen on aerial
photographs cutting across ridge and furrow (Fig. 30). This is another
well built structure with two offsets defined by courses of moulded
Dating bricks from appearance alone is difficult
(Bailiff 2007: 828). However, the small size, colour range and degree
of erosion certainly appears seventeenth century when compared with
better dated examples such as those that may be seen at Chesterton
(1630s) and Packwood (1650s) both in Warwickshire.
have already been discussed in detail (pages 11 to 13) and although
possibly medieval in origin they seem to have been remodeled to become
the focus for the Jacobean Park.
Fig. 26 Estate wall, southern edge of Paddock, from east ( Photo VW).
Fig. 27 Drainage of Church Oakal and the Paddock. Fig. 28 Stone drain in the Paddock (Plan Bob Ewing).
Fig. 29 Exit from stone drain and culvert in the Paddock.
hypothesis that this small park was created in the early-seventeenth
century and supplanted medieval arrangements gains further support by
considering the drainage patterns. A series of stone lined drains take
water out of the site of the former moat and attached fishpond and
empty into the top end of the Island Pool (Fig. 27). These drains are
characterised by the rough quality of the work but are fully lined in
stone and at one point an entry is protected by iron bars (Fig. 28). At
the outlet point into the pool the stone drain is obviously cut by the
insertion of a later eighteenth-century brick lined culvert (Fig. 29).
The culvert is set at a lower level indicating that further efforts
were made to improve the drainage of the land to the east and
suggesting an earlier date for the stone drain.
features which, if not precisely dating the creation of the park,
signal its special status, are the earthworks which give additional
definition to the perimeter on all sides, except the west, where the
landscape has been altered by developments in the mid-eighteenth
century. The presence of viewing terraces over-looking Jacobean gardens
is well documented (Currie 2005:14). The terraces and shallow ditches
here define a circuit of the park that could have been walked, ridden
or driven, in short a perambulation. This can be paralleled at nearby
Wormleighton, Warwickshire, where medieval fishponds had, by 1632, been
adapted to form the centre piece of a small wooded park (Mowl and James
2011: 39) whose margins were similarly defined by an earthwork which
shadowed the boundary (Fig. 32). The perimeter earthworks at
Farnborough (Fig. 30 and 31) may reflect the later eighteenth-century
practice of defining the margins of the fields with double rows of
trees as depicted on the estate map (Fig. 14), however, whilst this was
widespread throughout the park, nowhere else shows the terracing seen
in the Paddock.
Fig. 30 Aerial view of the Paddock. Fig. 31 Terracing in Paddock, profile 2.
Fig. 32 Wormleighton Park 1634 survey, inset showing detail of perimeter earthwork overlying earlier ridge and furrow.
hall’s earliest architectural features are on the west front which
probably dates from around 1700. Some thick internal walls
indicate the possibility of an earlier house encased in the
eighteenth-century construction (Haworth 1999: 16). A large pile of
stonework behind the estate yard derives from the demolition of the
service wing in the 1930s (Haworth 1999: 19). This shows evidence for a
stone building of massive construction with stone mullions that would
not be out of place on a major building of the early seventeenth
century. Enclosures of the early 1600s could have gone hand in hand
with the removal of the hall from its previous moated site to the
rather drier location to the west, with improved prospects in both
senses of the word.
analysis of the creation of the seventeenth-century park is largely
based on conjecture, drawing together the facts about enclosure and the
topographical evidence. However, if we accept this development as
likely a number of consequences followed on for the locals. The turmoil
occasioned by early enclosure is well documented and commented on. In
many cases the attractions of sheep farming lead the drive to early
enclosure. At Wormleighton the Spencer family had five shepherds
looking after 10,000 sheep (Stocker 2006:82) partly on land formerly
part of the village. Although peasant uprisings were not common,
45 outbreaks of rioting were recorded in England between 1585 and 1660
(Walter and Wrightson 1976: 26). There were a series of anti-enclosure
riots known as the Midland Rising of 1607 which ended in a pitched
battle at Newton in Rockingham Forest. During the course of this around
1,000 Levellers were driven off and some 50 dispatched on the spot.
These instances of ‘rebellions of the belly’ (Hindle 2003: 137)
occasionally resulted in direct attacks on the grand houses.
have no indication of any unrest at Farnborough, but it is difficult to
imagine that radical changes went unremarked. The customary patterns of
rights, duties and obligations linked to usage of mills and fishponds
must have been subject to change following the creation of the park. Of
further significance was the exclusion of the community from access to
St. Botolph’s Well (Fig. 33). The arrangement of church, holy well and
connecting thoroughfare was probably an ancient one which reflected the
communal use of this spring for practical and spiritual purposes. What
is striking today about the spatial relationship is that the
seventeenth-century park wall cuts across the bottom of the former
route and effectively restricts access to the well as it is now on
A door in the wall, which by analogy to
other local properties, appears to be eighteenth century (Wood-Jones
1963), was provided to allow some access. This door could only be
opened from the park side. Even allowing for the fact that the
Reformation brought about a divorce between the established church and
the idolatrous practice of visiting a holy well one must assume that on
some level of superstition the well still occupied an important part in
the community’s consciousness. What was communal has become private.
Fig. 33 St. Botolph’s church and well, from south-west (Photo CM).
Chapter 5: The Family - The Holbechs The
Holbech family belonged to that category of English landowners often
described as country gentry, members of a broad spread of second
ranking elite, below the comparatively small number of peers but above
the numerous ranks of those engaged in trade (Cannon 1987:10). The
Holbechs would find themselves somewhere within the spectrum described
by Corfield (1996: 4) ‘At the upper end of the scale, the gentry
included the younger branches of the nobility… at the lower end of the
scale, the status of the lesser gentlemen tailed away into the ranks of
the substantial freeholders or yeomanry’.
There are some
problems in writing an historical outline of the Holbechs of
Farnborough. All four major published accounts are essentially the same
(Nares 1954, Haworth 1999. Meir 2006 and Ince 2011) and refer back
ultimately to ‘family tradition’. Holdings in the Warwickshire County
Record Office include several boxes of papers including: surveys
and plans (WCROL1); estate and household accounts for 1813-94 and a
scrapbook containing miscellaneous correspondence (WCROCR 656);
and estate and household accounts for the years 1771-1782,
1791-1796,1810-1812 (WCROCR 1799). Valuable as these are for
understanding subsequent management of the estate, they offer no
coverage of the crucial years when the park was under development.
family originated in Lincolnshire but moved to Fillongley, Warwickshire
in the fifteenth century and rose to prominence within the county over
the next two hundred years. Ambrose Holbech (1596 – 1662) settled in
Mollington, a parish adjacent to Farnborough, in 1629. His son, also
named Ambrose, became a lawyer who, according to his monument in
Mollington Church was, ’very eminent in ye Law… which he practiced with
great integrity’. He clearly had some influential contacts, marrying
his daughter Sarah to Sir Thomas Powys who became solicitor-general in
1686. In 1684 Ambrose purchased the estate at Farnborough from
the executors of the Ralegh family. Nares (1954) notes that the estate
was ’much encumbered’ and that only £2,260 out of the total purchase
price of £8,700 was paid, the remainder having been advanced by Ambrose
as a mortgage on the property. Work on the house and grounds was begun
by Ambrose’s son William who in 1692 married an heiress, Elizabeth
Alington, but it was their son William, who succeeded his father in
1717, who was responsible for the main changes (Ince 2011: 85 to 88).
family tell the story that William was ‘disappointed in love’ and
around 1724 he departed for Italy, where he lived for over a decade.
Upon his return he brought with him paintings and classical sculptures
which established his reputation as a connoisseur. Early in the 1740s
work began on remodeling the house and park with a strong
emphasis on the classical. In the house paintings by Canaletto and
Panini were hung amidst elaborate Rococo plasterwork (Fig. 35). About
the park no less than four buildings were erected in the classical
style. These were associated with the construction of a huge terraced
walk running south from the hall (Fig. 39) and were: the Game Larder
(Fig. 92), the Ionic Temple (Fig. 38), the Oval Temple (Fig. 40) and
the Pentagonal Temple, now lost beneath a nineteenth-century cistern.
In addition an obelisk (Fig. 34) was stationed at the end of the
terrace walk completed in 1751. William never married and continued to
supervise his estate until his death in 1771.
Fig. 34 The Obelisk 1752, from south-west (Photo VW).
nephew, also named William, took over the house and garden and one of
his first acts was to commission a detailed survey of the property by
Edward Linnell ( Linnell 1772). This consists of a series of
detailed maps, often of individual fields and is of enormous
value in understanding the work carried out earlier in the century.
William died in 1812 and the property was inherited by another William
( 1774 – 1856). The new incumbent was responsible for developing the
estate in association with the architect Henry Hakewill (English
Heritage 2011). A further lengthy period ensued until the house and
park passed to William’s third son Charles (1816 – 1901) in 1856.
Charles took holy orders, became archdeacon of Coventry and, as well as
spending large amounts of money on restoring the church, also built a
new road that linked the village with Avon Dassett to the
north-west. In 1901 the inheritance passed to his grandson
William (1882 – 1914) who died during the First World war whilst
serving with the Scots Guards. His brother Ronald (1887 – 1956) took
the property on and it should have passed to his son Edward (1917 –
1945) but he died in an accident on VJ day. Subsequently a settlement
was made and Geoffrey (1919 - ), Edward’s brother, inherited the
estate. Much of it was sold off in 1948 following damage by serious
gales in the previous year and in 1960 the remaining property,
including several residences in the village, passed to the National
Trust in lieu of death duties.
number of key questions remain unanswered by the historic record, most
notably queries linked to the work done by the Holbechs towards the end
of the seventeenth and into the eighteenth century. First amongst
these is how was it planned and what did it cost? We also need to
understand how the work was carried out. Further questions relate to
how the park was used and ultimately, what was its purpose? In the
absence of relevant documentation we will need to turn to the
archaeology of the park for partial answers to some of the questions,
as they relate to the use and management of water resources.
Fig. 35 Farnborough Hall, roof repairs, October 2011.
Chapter 6: The Architect - Sanderson MillerOne
of the difficulties in understanding the design of the park is that we
have no direct evidence for the involvement of one of the main
protagonists. Meir (2006: 2) explains that the problems in studying
Miller are, ‘partly due to the fact that, as a gentlemen, Miller
declined to ask for fees, consequently no bills were sent out for his
work… it appears that detailed architectural drawings were left to the
master masons and craftsmen who worked for him’. The
Warwickshire County Record Office holds most of the primary source
material relating to Miller. This includes a huge amount of received
correspondence and an incomplete set of account books (CR125B/) and two
diaries from 1749 to 1750 (CR1382/1) and 1756 to 1757 (CR 1382/32),
which have been edited and published (Hawkes 2005).
Miller (Fig. 3) was born in 1716 at Radway, Warwickshire in the house
that was to become his lifelong home and which lies just four miles to
the west of Farnborough. He studied at Oxford’s Saint Mary Hall as a
‘gentleman commoner’ in 1734. It is clear from the contacts he
maintained through his later life that he developed an extensive circle
of friends and acquaintances there, many of them from the higher
echelons of society (Hawkes 2005:6). He returned to Radway in 1737 upon
the death of his father and immersed himself in the administration of
the estate. Miller’s interest in architecture and landscaping had grown
throughout his time at Oxford and he had been particularly inspired by
visits to the Temple family and their gardens at Stowe, Buckinghamshire
(Meir 2006:9). His inheritance of the estate enabled him during the
late 1730s and early 40s to develop his ideas on landscape architecture
in a kind of self-administered apprenticeship. He erected a tower above
Edge Hill (Fig. 36), based on Guys Tower at Warwick Castle and built a
series of pools, cascades and fountains running down the escarpment.
His evident talent, easy and obliging manner and active social life
began to win him not only admirers but patrons who were keen to solicit
his advice on improvements to their own properties. Most of his early
work, up until around 1745, was undertaken close to home: Upton House
and Honington Hall, Warwickshire and Wroxton Abbey and Ambroseden House
, Oxfordshire (Hawkes 2005: 391 to 398).
Fig. 36 Castle Tower, Edgehill, from south-east.
work at Farnborough probably began around 1745 and continued into
the early 1750s (Hawkes 2005: 393). The evidence for this rests
primarily on the word of his great-grandson who wrote towards the end
of the nineteenth century, ‘… in these works Mr. Holbech was assisted
by the advice of his friend and neighbour Sanderson Miller of Radway.’
(Miller 1900: 61). The fact that the Warwick mason William Hiorns was
employed both at Radway and Farnborough suggests another a link (Meir
2006: 239 ) and a friendship between Miller and Holbech is maintained
both by family tradition and evidence from the diaries of frequent
visits, for example, on June 29th. 1743, ‘Went with wife, brother
and sister Trotman to dine with Mr. Holbech at Farnborough. Mr. Bolton
there. Drank tea in the summer-house. Came home by moon-light’ (Hawkes
Miller’s early work grew out of a period when
attitudes to garden design were rapidly changing. The formality
of late seventeenth-century gardens with their square, box-like
planting and rigid lines of terracing was giving way to a style which
began, in the 1720s, to approximate to something more ‘natural’. What
was significant about this period was that there was no agreed formula
for a successful naturalistic garden, we are still a quarter of a
century away from Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s dominance. The work of
designers such as Stephen Switzer, Charles Bridgeman and William Kent
could legitimately be described as experimental and ferment in the
gardens went hand in hand with the eclectic approach to architecture
known as Rococo (Mowl and James 2011: 91). Miller’s input into this was
heavily influenced by his interest in the gothic, indeed he has
in recent years been increasingly recognised as a pioneer of the gothic
revival (Mowl 2006) .
Meir (2006: 55) indicates that
Miller’s experiences at Radway not only involved the construction of
elaborate waterworks, but also the practicalities of draining land to
make it fit for agriculture.
The tradition of hydraulic
engineering was in a decline after the excesses of the previous
century’s elaborate water parterres, grotesque fountains and ‘houses of
diversion’ (Strong 1998: 167 to 199), but clearly Miller saw the
possibilities for enhancing the landscape with pools, cascades and
possibly his trademark: long sinuous waterways. Evidence for his
involvement in the kind of large scale civil engineering projects we
envisage at Farnborough is even rarer than for his designs for standing
buildings. However, a pattern does emerge from the projects he was
credited with and, as Meir (2006: 217 -219) contends, one may, perhaps,
build up a feel for his style in landscaping.
continued into the second half of the eighteenth century. One of his
major architectural achievements was the design of Hagley Hall,
Worcestershire for George Lyttleton between 1756 and 1760. Work
at Hagley also included the hugely influential ‘ruined castle’ begun in
1747 (Symes and Haynes 2010: 123). Miller’s other major building was
the Shire Hall at Warwick designed around 1753 (Meir 2006:177) and
boasting a Palladian façade (Fig. 37). Towards the end of his
life Miller suffered from a series of mental breakdowns. He had been
subject to bouts of depression for much of his life and was confined in
a number of establishments from 1757, finally dying in Dr. Duffield’s
Asylum in Little Chelsea in 1780 (Hawkes 2005: 72).
Fig. 37 Warwick, Shire Hall, from south-east. Chapter 7: The Grand Design and the Georgian ParkThe
hall, as improved from 1692 onwards, is set on an elevated tongue of
land flanked to the north by a valley which separates it from the
village and to the south by the abrupt line of the Cotswold escarpment.
To the west there were views towards the open fields of neighbouring
villages, Edge Hill and ultimately the broad plain of the River Avon.
The location would have been airy yet sheltered from the cold
north-easterly winds and it would, perhaps above all, have been well
The Terraces and Temples
eighteenth century park clearly revolves around the hall although its
exact layout is precisely adapted to the immediate topography. To the
south, stretching some three quarters of a mile (1,200 metres), runs
the park’s best known feature, the south terrace. This remarkable
structure is tucked just below the crest of the hill and is on three
levels, the lowest being retained by a dry stone wall and the
whole given a wavy edge reminiscent of a whole chain of shallow
semi-circular bastions. The turfed walk along the terrace was
enlivened by the provision of a variety of structures set at roughly
200 yard (180 metre) intervals. The first of these is the hexagonal
game larder (Fig. 92) with a covered seat framed by classical
detailing offering views out across the old park towards the church
(Fig. 71). Beyond this is the Ionic Temple (Fig.38), four columns
supporting a pediment and sheltering a loggia with appropriate seating.
This gives a panorama from the north-west to the south-west and offers
the best view of the park’s eighteenth-century water features.
Fig. 38 Ionic Temple, from west.
in line is the rather top heavy Oval temple (Fig. 39) with an enclosed
first floor room and an open ground floor loggia with built in table
and bench. Passing round the next bend opens up the prospect of the
obelisk (Fig. 34). Earthwork evidence indicates that the terracing
continued beyond its present day extent curving round to the east as it
approached the site of the lost pentagonal temple.
also earthworks for a northern terrace walk which took in two planting
or possibly prospect mounds and ultimately headed for the former mill
mound, converted for planting in the eighteenth century. This was
accompanied by an additional approach: a carriage drive terraced into
the north slope of Windmill Hill affording visitors the optimal
sequence of views as they drew nearer to the hall (Meir 2006: 89).
Fig. 39 The Oval Temple, from west.
is evident to anyone who walks in the park today is that whilst
terraced walks with their buildings and plantings are important
element, the whole plan actually pivots on the new water features added
in the eighteenth century, a point that would have been even more
obvious before the nineteenth-century schemes of planting were
Fig. 40 Eighteenth-century park, field names from Linnell (1772).
some remodeling may have been carried out on earlier ponds in the
Paddock, the pools and cascades to the west of the hall, which saw the
main thrust of the work, represent constructions which were not only
novel in appearance but large in scale and ambition. The first in this
chain of associated waterworks is Sourland Pond (Fig. 41), so named
because it partially occupied ground that was poorly drained and
uncultivable. Its curious position converts Stanborough Hill into a
cape by wrapping round the 135 metre contour to create a crescentic
lake (Fig. 42). What makes Sourland Pond remarkable is that only the
southern portion is contained by the natural lie of the land; the
northern section, roughly 200 metres long, is held against the face of
the hill by a huge earth dam like the one used to construct the Oval
Fig. 41 Sourland Pond, from east.
number of small streams had supplied the Great Pool (Fig. 19), but its
dam was breached and the water redirected into Sourland Pond. A
small stream which drains the valley to the north of the church runs
into its southern end. The third source approaches in a stone lined
culvert from the south-east (Figs. 43 and 44) originating at a sluice
gate set in the brick northern margin of the Lady Pool. It once filled
the Pond in Middle Close but now runs directly into Sourland Pond.
Fig. 42 Eighteenth-century waterworks (Linnell 1772), contours from OS 1:250,000 map.
Fig. 43 Outflow of culvert, from north-west (Photo CM).
Fig. 44 Inside of culvert, from north-west.
culvert is substantially built with dressed stone blocks. Some 1.5
metres in from the outflow there is a sudden rise in the level of the
culvert floor of 70 centimetres, a device to avoid blockages by
accumulated debris (Fig. 44) and to diminish the force of the water
(Chanson 2000). The method of construction together with the fact that
it runs under a seventeenth-century barn suggests a pre-Georgian date.
Sourland Pond’s northern end is a spillway which takes water over the
face of a dam and feeds a small stream which runs off to the south, a
continuation of the stream which fed the pool from the north. A
spillway and cascade took water from the southern edge of Sourland Pond
into the Oval Pond. This must have been quite an impressive
structure (Fig. 45) but is now in poor condition, It was repaired
in 1939 with steel shuttering, bricks and concrete (Cherry 2011).
Fig. 45 Spillway and cascade, reconstruction, isometric view from west.
then water has undercut the sloping stone slabs causing many of then to
collapse into a void underneath. The height of the cascade is
significant in enabling an estimate to be made of the depth of water in
the Oval Pond. Finally a modern concrete retaining wall and grill marks
the start of a siphon like pipe which takes water to the top of the
Cascade on the other side of the present road (Fig. 46).
The Oval Pond
Oval Pond lies next to the southern margin of the Sourland Pond and
shares its perimeter for around 100 metres. Although now drained the
surviving earthworks indicate that this was an extraordinary piece of
civil-engineering (Fig. 46) for which it has proved
difficult to find parallels.
Fig. 46 The Oval Pond, plan.The
Oval Pond is a free-standing construction built out across the flat
valley bottom. Whilst normal practice was to create large pools by
damming a valley or excavating a depression, for three-quarters of its
circuit this pool is retained by a massive curving dam standing 5
metres high and having a base width of up to 20 metres (Fig. 47).
Examination of the spillway and cascade suggests that the water depth
was between 3 and 4 metres, this accords well with the fact that modern
reservoir engineers recommend a 'freeboard' of at least one metre,
although old ponds often make do with as little as 0.3 metres (Currie
et al 2003: 21). A walk way around the top of the dam (Fig. 48) links
to a path along the southern edge of Sourland Pond. The site is
currently drained through a brick lined culvert running under the road
and emptying into the River. We must assume that in the eighteenth
century this culvert was closed by some kind of sluice.
is unclear when the Oval Pond was emptied. There were several mature
trees on the dam; tree ring counts show them to have been planted
in the second decade of the nineteenth century. As this planting is
only within the top couple of metres of the dam’s inner face we can
assume the pond still contained water. On the 1882 OS map the area is
shown wooded and labeled ‘fox covert’. It is possible that the pond was
drained specifically to create cover for game although one suspects
that the cost of maintenance and repair may also have played a part. A
network of shallow drainage ditches across the bottom of the former
pond demonstrates a need to thoroughly dry out the site prior to
further use. The surviving earthworks are in good condition overall,
although damaged on the south side by the construction of a sewage
treatment plant and modified by the creation of a car park next to it.
The line of the dam to the south-west is obscured by generations of
tipping of building and garden waste from the estate. A shallow ramp
has been constructed at this end to facilitate the process.
Fig. 47 The Oval Pond, earthwork profiles.
Fig. 48 Dam of Oval Pond, south side, from west (Photo CM).
The Cascade, River and Canal.
of the Oval Pond an elongated body of water named is fed by culvert
from the Oval Pond and by water taken from Sourland Pond to supply the
Cascade. The Cascade is set against the south face of an artificial
mound (Wass 2011b) retained by dry-stone walled terraces (Fig. 49). It
was carefully constructed to achieve a number of effects. The water
empties into a rectangular stone basin covered with a large
capstone at the summit of the mound. It then spills over a series of
steep narrow steps which are interrupted at two points by stone slabs
with semi-circular grooves in their top faces and sockets for some kind
of fitting along the top outer edge. The flow is then modified by
passing it over four broad shallow steps, where the water is only ever
a couple of centimetres deep, before emptying into the lake (Fig. 50).
Fig. 49 The Cascade, from south-east.
Fig 50. The Cascade, plan and section.
River (Fig. 51) is shown on the 1772 map as a slightly curving body of
water set into a natural declivity between Dairy Close and Lamp Hill
(Fig. 42). Its present margins have spread considerably as a result of
damage by livestock. At its southern end there is a bend to the
south-west into an attached body of water known as the Canal (Fig. 52)
presumably because of its regular outline, although again some of this
has been softened by erosion.
Fig. 51 The River, looking south from summit of Cascade. Fig. 52 The Canal, looking south-west from terrace adjacent to hall.
Canal is defined by a large ‘L’ shaped dam which holds it against the
contour to the west and closes the valley to the south (Fig. 53). The
dam, planted and named The Rookery, was connected to the pasture below
the hall by a footbridge. Along its western side, although at a
considerably lower level, was the final major water feature of the
park, the Serpentine River.
Fig. 53 Dam, south of Canal, from east.
The Serpentine River
a remarkable landscape the final extraordinary element in the
composition is labeled on the 1772 map as the Serpentine River. It
originates at a large sluice, almost entirely rebuilt in the twentieth
century, that lies to the west of the junction between the River and
the Canal. It consists of the canalized course of a natural stream that
runs for a distance of around 750 metres to the south-west (Fig. 54).
The water level was originally maintained by four further sluices.
These are constructions of considerable sophistication and whilst
sharing a common purpose are by no means uniform in their details. All
have been repaired and modified at various times and are currently in a
very poor state of preservation and at risk of further deterioration.
Fig. 54 The Serpentine River.
2, typically, consists of two brick and stone piers (Figs. 55 and 56).
The bottom of the channel is lined with timber although downstream
there is an edging of large stone slabs. The position of a timber mitre gate is shown by the angled
rebate set into the inner face of the east pier. The west pier is in a
particularly ruinous state.
Fig. 55 Sluice 2, from north.
Fig. 56 Sluice 2, plan.
metres downstream is sluice 3 with a similar arrangement of largely
intact brick and stone piers. One important difference is that the
downstream walls of these piers are clearly meant to be seen and
enjoyed as a decorative feature. The wall is made of well dressed stone
with elegant curving terminals to each face (Fig. 57). Around 20
metres beyond this is a brick bridge wide enough to carry a cart or
carriage. The water passes below through two brick lined culverts. As
this feature is not on the 1772 map it presumably belongs to the
improvements made in the early nineteenth century.
Fig. 57 Sluice 3, plan and elevation.
4, 200 metres further to the south-west, is different in that it
contains a small cascade (Fig. 58). Work on comparative levels
demonstrates that this feature was designed to be visible (Fig. 76 ).
The spillway above the cascade is formed from well dressed and laid
stone slabs. At some point in the twentieth century the timber gates
were replaced by a barrier of reinforced concrete which clearly echoed
their shape (Fig. 59).
Fig. 58 Sluice 4, cascade and concrete barrier from south.Fig. 59 Sluice 4, plan and elevation.
concrete walling is in the form of a shallow ‘V’ pointing up stream
with the ends anchored in the angled rebates also seen in sluices 2 and
3. A small rectangular opening, once closed by a paddle, enabled the
water behind the sluice to be emptied. A local informant reported that
the large gap was blown in the concrete shortly after the Second World
War using army surplus explosives. A decision was clearly taken that
whatever the Serpentine River’s original function was, the upkeep was
too demanding and water should be allowed to revert to its natural
course. The same informant also indicated that lowering the water level
improved the drainage and hence the cropping in the adjacent fields.
60 Sluice 5, west pier and concrete barrier, from east.
Fig. 61 Sluice 5, west pier of sheep wash and steps, from
The final sluice, number 5
is the most complex and incorporates a later sheep wash (Fig. 61). It
marks the point where the water of the Serpentine River meets the
stream from the north end of Sourland Pond and then leaves the park to
join the River Cherwell near Banbury. Sluice 5 adopts the same basic
layout as the others; like sluice 4 it has a later concrete barrier
(Fig. 60) and like sluice 2 the bottom is partially boarded. Post-1772
two smaller piers were built a little down stream with rebates into
which boards could be slotted to create a temporary pool behind the
main sluice gates (Fig. 61). A rough flight of steps was made using
blocks from the west pier to enable the sheep to scramble out after
having been thrown in from the sluice’s east pier. The practice
of sheep washing here was abandoned shortly after the Second World War
(Pick 2012). It can be viewed as a ‘rough and ready’ version of the
kind of facility built in the nearby village of Warmington (Fig. 63).
North of sluice 5 a low terrace running roughly east–west marks the
position of a triangular pond which was mapped in 1772 and formed a
conclusion to the Serpentine River.
Fig. 62 Sluice 5 and sheep wash, plan.
Fig. 63 Sheep wash at Warmington, from south (Photo VW).
not a water feature this unusual construction clearly figured in
the Georgian landscape using Sourland Pond as a framing device for
Stanborough Hill and this earthwork which crowned it. Although the
outline of the amphitheatre is clearly visible on the 1772 map as an
area of planting on an otherwise bare hillside, the significance of the
huge earthwork which underpinned this was neither recognised nor
recorded until this current investigation.
Fig. 64 Amphitheatre, profile 1.
earthwork (Figs. 64 and 66) consists of a massive crescentic bank (Fig.
67) up to 8 metres high backed by a curving ditch and fronting onto a
large level terrace. Beyond this to the south-west the natural fall of
the land reasserts itself and the enclosure is completed by a further
curving ditch towards the foot of the slope (Fig. 68). In the context
of English landscaped garden design in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries an amphitheatre was a circular or semicircular feature
defined by terraces and occasionally banks and ditches. It could be a
place for special planting, to be admitted from a distance, or a venue
to which one walked for the view. They derived from a number of well
known Italian Renaissance examples. The earlier ones, as at Wilton
House, Wiltshire may also have seen performances of the kinds of
outdoor masques and pageants which were popular in the seventeenth
century. The amphitheatre at Wilton, now destroyed, was designed by
Salomon de Caus for Philip Herbert, Fourth earl of Pembroke, in the
1630s (Strong 1998: 147) This paved the way for Charles Bridgeman’s
work at Claremont, Surrey (Fig. 65) around 1715 ( Mowl 2010:69) and
Lord Burlington’s orange garden at Chiswick in the late 1720s (White
2010:28) both of which were closely associated with water. Despite
recent archaeological investigations (Wass 2012c) the question of
dating at Farnborough is unresolved so there remains the possibility
that this earthwork is an earlier feature adapted for planting.
Fig. 65 Amphitheatre at Claremont, anonymous painting 1749 (Photo VW).
and Kratzer (1994: 181) suggest that, ‘the key steps towards
understanding the spatial relationships utilized within a garden’s
design are (1) establishing its boundaries, (2) finding its major axis
and (3) locating other passageways through it’. This analysis works
well for formal gardens, but in the context of planning at Farnborough
we see Miller and Holbech making early, if not pioneering, use of the
borrowed landscape. This process was aided by the invention of the
sunken fence or ha-ha, generally attributed to the garden designer
Charles Bridgeman working in the early decades of the eighteenth
century ( Fleming and Gore 1979: 91). By adopting the surrounding
countryside and, with the agreement of neighbouring landowners,
carrying out additional planting of specimen trees they were able to
create a garden that visually had no boundaries.
In terms of
the park’s major axes it is evident that spatial arrangements including
the location of water features were strongly influenced by the
location and orientation of the hall (Fig. 70). The main entry to the
hall is from the north-east (Fig. 2) where there is a limited prospect
down the drive towards the village. There is no view at all to the
south-east as this side was occupied by the hall’s service block.
However, the views to the north-west and south-west were impressive in
their ambition and effect.
Fig. 69 From lawn on north-west side of hall with amphitheatre outline.
is difficult to capture the original view to the north-west because of
the early nineteenth-century planting which turned Stanborough Hill
into an arboretum. Much admired as the view is today, with mature trees
mirrored in the pool’s surface, it surely cannot compare with the
extraordinary effect the sculptural form of the amphitheatre would have
had viewed across the water (Fig. 69). The slopes of Stanborough Hill
were grassed over as was the central terrace of the amphitheatre whilst
planting on the banks in 1772 was labeled as shrubbery.
of surviving tree stumps shows that the top of the inner scarp of the
lower ditch was lined with yews, but the overall aspect would have
remained a very open one. As the spectator walked towards the edge of
the ha-ha another extraordinary effect would have been revealed. To the
west the full extent of the Oval Pond appeared jutting out towards the
open fields in a way somewhat reminiscent of the modern ‘infinity pool’.
outlook to the south-west passed over neatly cropped lawn to pasture,
with the obligatory ha-ha separating the two, then along the entire
length of the Canal before the line was picked by an avenue of oaks
which ran for over half a mile (900 metres). The view today is broadly
similar although the trees in the avenue have been replanted and the
canal has lost some of its regularity. Again the effect is a clever one
as the retaining dam remains largely invisible from the hall.
Fig. 70 Water, walks and vistas.
existence of other view points can be assumed, either from the presence
of buildings incorporating seating, or from other striking features in
the landscape (Fig. 70). In nearly all cases water forms a significant
part of the prospect. With the view from the game larder across the old
Jacobean park and stew ponds to the church (Fig. 71) one could reflect
on the landscape’s historic dimension whilst looking
out from the top of the Cascade and the walk that approaches it the
visitor could enjoy the naturalistic curve of the River (Fig. 51).
Fig. 71 From the Game Larder across Island Pool to church (Photo CM ).
third component to this analysis of aspects of the park’s layout is the
way in which passageways were effected through the landscape linking
together the various elements. At Farnborough, as was the case in many
early eighteenth-century gardens, hard paving seems to have been the
exception rather than the rule.
Fig. 72 Chiswick, The Pond and Temple, c.1729 Pieter Andreas Rysbrack
the painting of the amphitheatre at Claremont ( Fig. 65) and Rysbrack’s
images of the gardens at Chiswick show, visitors were expected to
explore the amphitheatres, enjoy the pools and admire the statues, by
walking on the grass (Fig. 72). Farnborough has some designated routes
as in the terrace walk and the yew walk down to the Cascade.
Footbridges shown on the estate map also indicate walkways as does the
presence of the broad flat tops to the dams. It is the presence of
water that ties all this together, either in the walks conducted around
the perimeters of the various ponds, or more ambitiously out along the
line of the Serpentine River or down the brook that spills out across
Stanborough Meadow (Fig. 70).
In summary the arrangement of
the eighteenth-century park puts the hall and its occupants firmly at
the centre of the composition, however, the strongest feature of its
design is the virtuoso way in which large bodies of water are
manipulated, reaching out into the landscape and creating special
effects. The way in which water was used is notable both for
originality of vision and sophisticated engineering. What is, however,
particularly important is the way in which those water resources,
already partially subsumed in the seventeenth century, are now entirely
taken over and put to the service of the estate and its aesthetic
pursuits. A landscape of pleasure has virtually monopolized the local
supply of water.
Chapter 8: Technicalities
of period gardens have mainly taken an art-historical approach and our
understanding of the technology employed in these landscapes remains
limited (Roberts 2001: 12). In order to examine the construction of the
eighteenth-century water features we will make use of contemporary
manuals and the limited number of archaeological investigations on
Ponds and Dams
garden designer and engineer Stephen Switzer (1734:128) felt it was
easy: ‘With us… every ploughman and shepherd is able to make good
reservoirs or ponds for holding of water’ and gave clear
directions as to proportions: ‘three foot horizontal to one foot
perpendicular’ and materials: ‘large spits of clay together just
as they are dug out of the pit, only picking out the large stones, or
any veins of sand you can find therein… then you are to throw some
slaked lime over it’ (Switzer 1734:131). Roger North (1714: 5), ‘a
person of honour’, writing two decades earlier gave similar advice as
to materials and in particular the importance of, ‘good ramming, from a
foot or so below the surface of the ground to such height as you
propose the water shall stand’. His sizing for a middling pond
indicates that for a dam 14 foot high at the centre one must, ’make
your bank at the foot at least 50 foot wide, straightening by equal
degrees on either side bring it up to 16 at the top’. North (1714: 15)
was also very specific about the demands made on labour, ‘take the
assistance of your neighbours and provide yourself with six tumbrels,
four good horses and two stout labourers, besides a driver to each pair
of tumbrels. I call them pairs because they work alternatively with the
same horses so that one is filling, while the other is moving and your
labourers as well as horses are always at work’. North (1714: 17) later
recommends upping the labour force to twelve which should be adequate
so that by, ‘observing these directions you may make two ponds in one
month and not expend in money above 80 pounds although you pay for
every hours work of man and horse’.
It is interesting to
compare this forecast with other work that has been done on sites such
as the experimental earthwork on Overton Down where labourers, using
basic technology on hard chalk, could shift around 0.15 cubic metres
per person per hour (Jewell 1963: 51). More material than this could be
dug, but that demanded two other labourers moving and piling the spoil.
A more recent set of figures comes from advice issued by the University
of Sterling Institute of Aquaculture (2012) who, in giving guidance in
reservoir construction for the tropics, suggest that for digging and
moving earth by hand one cubic metre a day is reasonable whilst those
spreading and compacting could handle two cubic metres. We can
appreciate the scale of the work at Farnborough if we consider the dam
of the Oval Pond. This amounts to around 10, 500 cubic metres of earth
and would give North’s twelve stout labourers over 875 cubic metres
each to shift, around three years’ work. If they wanted to complete the
job in a summer season between planting and harvest, say 100 days, they
would need to employ roughly 100 workers a day. Given that the entire
male population of Farnborough in 1821 was 179 (Warwick CRO
DR299/16) it is easy to see why North’s advice to call on
neighbours for assistance was so apposite. Not all members of the
gentry would take on such a project on a ‘do-it-yourself’ basis and it
is possible that a professional engineer was employed at Farnborough
such as John Grundy of Spalding (1719 to 1783) whose experience came
from work on drainage and flood defence in East Anglia.
Fig. 73 Eighteenth-century dams, comparative profiles.
was employed at Grimsthorpe Hall, Lincolnshire from 1745 to create the
Great Water, a project for which his notebooks survive (Roberts 2001).
Grundy’s work was generally considered to be of high quality and more
technically accomplished than that of his competitors
2001: 18) and his cross valley dam at Grimsthorpe, whilst a little
higher, is considerably wider than those at Farnborough (Fig. 73). Even
so he was compelled to return in 1758 and 1774 to make repairs. His use
of additional timber piling and a further clay lining (Roberts 2001:
24) recalls the situation at Noke, Herefordshire where the excavation
of an early eighteenth-century dam revealed wooden stakes set in clay
(Currie and Rushton 2001: 230). The dams at Farnborough are largely
grassed over and there have been no opportunities to examine any
writers stressed the importance of a dependable supply of water and
enormous pains were taken to ensure this, including the provision of
subsidiary reservoirs around springs and on occasions pumps operated by
animals or waterwheels (Roberts 2001: 22). It seems that at Farnborough
the existing springs and streams were adequate for the task and,
together with the drainage of the surrounding meadows, provided
sufficient water. The complex pattern of drainage around the former
manor site has already been noted (pages 20 to 21). Recent excavations
have shown that prior to the nineteenth century a large quantity of
ironstone quarrying debris was dumped in the moat to partially fill it
and no doubt improve drainage (Wass 2012a). Brick lined culverts have
been recorded emptying into the Island Pool and running below the dam
of the Oval Pond. In addition a curious set of broad shallow drainage
ditches have been noted, following the field boundaries on the estate
map and running straight down the hill below the terrace (Fig. 74).
Fig. 74 Ditch between The Warren and Dairy Close, from south-west (Photo VW).
Fig. 75 Staunch lock on River Lark at Fornham c. 1710, from south-east (Photo Bob Jones).
most refined technical accomplishments are the sluices along the
Serpentine River. Currie (1990: 35) notes that, ‘in all the treatises
examined there is very little recorded about sluices’, perhaps
because they were regarded as the province of specialized craftsmen.
Usually the term sluice describes an arrangement for draining a pond
through a pipe or culvert, often of wood, that passed below or round
the dam. Control was usually by wooden paddle or bung (Roberts
2001:22). The sluices at Farnborough are much more reminiscent of
staunch or flash locks, features associated with early canal and river
navigation. These operated on the principle of a pair of mitre gates
which retained the water at a suitable level for navigation.
Approaching boats were held back while a small sluice was opened to
drop the water level a little and then the gates were opened to allow
the boats to slip through. Such locks (Fig. 75) were used from the
earliest times and were still reasonably common in England in the first
half of the eighteenth century until they were replaced with the more
familiar pound locks (Hadfield 1968: 19). Was the Serpentine
River navigable? A similar visual effect could have been achieved by
more conventional earth dams, so the sluices must have been installed
with some functionality in mind, however, there is no evidence that the
stream beyond was ever adapted for boats.
Fig. 76 The Serpentine River, longitudinal section.
the water levels back from the presumed height of the gates gives an
indication of the relative water heights and demonstrates that the
cascade below sluice 4 would have been visible even when sluice 5 was
closed (Fig. 76). Could Holbech have employed contractors whose
experience on early canals led them to build the only way they knew, or
were the sluices designed simply to demonstrate the technology? Would
the arrangement have helped if there was ever a need to drain the
water-course in a hurry? The whole question of the use of sluices on
the Serpentine River remains open, but the conjecture is that they had
some purpose other than the ornamental.
promised that one could deliver a lake of between three and four acres
for eighty pounds. Given that most of the raw materials would have been
available on the estate the main cost would have been for labour at as
little as a shilling a day (Porter 1991: vii). If a specialist
supervisor had been appointed on the same basis that Grundy worked he
would have charged one shilling for each pound of the project’s cost
(5%). Money would need to be set aside for both carpenters and stone
masons to work on sluices and cascades. These higher paid artisans may
also have been available as employees of the estate, but would have
commanded higher wages than the labourers, as much as five shillings a
day. Taking all this into account we might expect the work on the Oval
Pond to have cost in the region of £600. A further attempt at costing
can be made on the basis of sums paid out during the construction of
the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal in 1797, where 31/2 d per cubic metre
was paid for digging and 11/2 d for carting (Lawton 2006: 300).
On this basis the earthworks alone could have cost around £300. Similar
calculations for the other water features suggest an overall bill for
Farnborough between £2,500 and £3,000. This compares
with an estimate for £1,250 2s 1d from Grundy for a major expansion to
the Great Water at Grimthorpe (Roberts 2001: 28)
is one near contemporary account of the workers’ efforts, penned by a
local curate, Richard Jago, who was a friend of Miller’s.
Hear they her Master's Call? in sturdy Troops,
The Jocund Labourers hie, and, at his Nod,
A thousand Hands or smooth the slanting Hill,
Or scoop new Channels for the gath'ring Flood,
And, in his Pleasures, find a solid Joy. (Jago 1767)
we must in all probability ascribe the work force of five hundred and
their merry countenances to poetic licence and there is no mention of
Chapter 9: The Living Park
(1999: 252) suggests that, ‘Once we have reconstructed the layout and
appearance of early landscapes we must… try to recreate the ways in
which they would have been perceived and experienced from various
spatial standpoints by the different social actors moving within (or
excluded from) them’. This is not the place to enumerate every
conceivable way in which people and water could have interacted but
rather to focus on those aspects which have left significant remnants
in the landscape. No doubt occupants of the hall made copious use of
water for drinking, cooking and washing, however, as the service block
which contained a dairy, brewhouse and kitchen was demolished in the
1930s there are few traces. It is worth noting the presence of an
icehouse to the west of the hall (figs. 42 and 77) which made use
of the seasonal freezing of pools (Buxbaum 2008). Workers would have
chopped out blocks of ice in the winter to provide ice for the kitchens
in the summer.
In order to populate the eighteenth-century
landscape we will need to turn to other contemporary documents
including paintings. Being aware of the dangers of projection and the
assumptions one makes about the ‘familiarity of the past’ (Tarlow
2004) , one can attempt to gain insights by appealing to common
human impulses which are shared today by workers in the park and
visitors to it. The ponds and waterways were a place of work to those
who laboured on the estate and of leisure for the Holbechs and their
guests. It is interesting that it remains the case that most accounts
still present an upstairs rather than a downstairs perspective of the
Fig. 77 Icehouse entrance, from south-west.
Scrubbing algae off the Cascade (Photo CM).
working with water, the local labourers would have had a role both in
construction and maintenance. Tasks, which are shared by the
modern work force, included periodic dredging of pools as they silted
up, repairs to banks damaged by livestock and unblocking and repairing
sluices. Observations on the cascade have shown that in summer the
stonework becomes covered with unsightly brown algae which needs to be
removed by hard scrubbing every couple of weeks (Fig. 78).
seems likely that the pools were managed for fish into the eighteenth
century, a complex business involving transferring stocks from
pool to pool, feeding, the periodic emptying of pools for cleaning and,
of course, harvesting and preparing the fish for the table (North 1714:
Chapters XI to XVIII). Even with every modern aid working around water
is a cold and dirty business, how much more so in the eighteenth
century. We have no documentation relating to these processes at
Farnborough, as is the case generally, the voice of the
eighteenth-century labourer remains silent. The fact that it is easier
to say many more interesting things about the recreational uses of
water is perhaps a simple reflection of the cultural hegemony enjoyed
by the social elite.
(1714:73) is particularly strong on the recreational benefits that
accrue to a gentleman’s family as a result of embracing water, ‘Young
people love angling extremely; then there is a boat, which gives
pleasure enough in summer, frequent fishing with nets, the very making
of nets, seeing the waters, much discourse of them, and the fish,
especially upon your great sweeps, and the strange surprises that will
happen in numbers and bigness, with many other incident entertainments,
are the result of waters, and direct the minds of a numerous family to
terminate in something not inconvenient, and it maybe divert them from
worse’. The view by Rysbrack (Fig. 72) also neatly encapsulates the
recreational opportunities afforded by water. We see a couple
promenading by the water, gentlemen angling from a boat and a flight of
ducks available for wild-fowling, a pattern repeated in many similar
genre paintings from the eighteenth century.
documents such as Miller’s own diary entry for July 21st. 1750
emphasise the importance of walking within the context of living
well, ‘Lord North and Miss Legge breakfasted at castle. Went with
Lord Cobham etc. to Mr. Holbech and to Dassett. Mr. Holbech dined
with us. Camera Obscura. Walked with Lord Cobham, Holbech and Miss
Banks round Wood Close, fountain etc. Supped at castle with Lord
North etc. and Holbech. Fine evening. Music. Lord Cobham’s venison’
(Hawkes 2005: 150). The presence of water would enhance the experience
of walking to all the senses, ‘when the shadows grow faint as they
lengthen: when a little rustling of birds in the spray, the leaping of
the fish, and the fragrancy of the woodbine, denote the approach of
evening’(Whately 1770: 86). These experiences were not only confined to
the owner and friends. There were opportunities for members of the
public, albeit of the better sort, to make visits, often on carefully
designed designated walks around an estate (Symes and Haynes 2010: 22).
Although we have no indication that this happened as a matter of course
at Farnborough, it is clear that other members of the gentry were made
welcome and given the chance to tour the gardens (Meir 2006: 87).
have no evidence of boating in the eighteenth century at Farnborough.
Although a boathouse is shown on the 1885 OS map on Sourland Pond
(Fig. 79) it does not appear on the 1772 map, however, it is hard to
believe that boats were not present here. Miller had designed a
boathouse (Fig. 80) for Enville in Staffordshire (Meir 2006: 151)
and would have been well acquainted with the extensive use of
boats on the lakes at Stowe, Buckinghamshire (Felus 2006: 26). Lady
Newdigate who visited Farnborough in 1747 might have expected to see
boats. She wrote in her Journal of another location, 'in a small boat
we rowed to the Severn and then in a very pretty vessel built by Mr.
Cambridge, the Cabin lined with Japan and Indian paintings we sailed
for several hours, the view all the way very pleasant' (WCRO CR1841/7:
Fig. 79 Boathouse, Sourland Pond, OS Map 1885.
Pond seems an ideal venue for boating as its pronounced curve around
Stanborough Hill would have given a feel for a great journey in a small
space. Felus (2006: 30) also mentions the naumachia or mock naval
battle, inspired by classical precedents and indulged in by the Byrons
at Newstead, Nottinghamshire and the Dashwoods at West Wycombe,
Buckinghamshire. Is it too fanciful to note that the Oval Pond shares
very closely in the proportions and size of the floodable area of the
Colosseum in Rome? This is not to say that William Holbech filled it
with battling galleys but perhaps there was an echo of this famous
monument somewhere in the back of his mind.
layout of the pools at Farnborough was well suited to the maintenance
of fish stocks on a large scale and whilst fish could be caught by
netting they would also offer the opportunity for the pastime of
angling. Anglers appear in many eighteenth-century prints and paintings
and a large number of books on the subject were published during the
period (Rodd 1846: 84) attesting to its popularity as a sport for
gentlemen and indeed ladies. Fishing pavilions known from Enville,
Staffordshire ( Fig. 80) and Kedleston, Derbyshire reinforce this
picture, but again, save for the existence of the ponds, we have no
direct evidence for angling at Farnborough.
Fig. 80 Boathouse/angling pavilion and lake, Enville, Staffordshire by E. Barber 1800
sport which gained popularity through the eighteenth century as
firearms became more reliable and readily available was the
hunting of wild fowl. It has been suggested that the island at the
eastern end of the Island Pool with its narrow looping channel could
have served as a duck decoy. This is unlikely as the
normal form was to have lengths of water of diminishing width, opening
off from a central pool (Heaton 2001). These were netted over and the
birds lured or driven in to them (Fig. 81). It is more reasonable to
assume that the island was created as a refuge for wild fowl, where
they could roost and nest in safety from predators. The presence of the
game Larder shows how important hunting was on the estate (Fig. 92).
Fig. 81 Operating a duck decoy (Payne-Gallwey 1886: 15).
all the activities noted so far, swimming seems to be the one least
likely to leave archaeological traces. It is hard to see today’s muddy,
overgrown stretches of water, choked with fallen trees, as anything but
a health hazard (Fig. 82) , however, when newly
built with firm banks and pebble bottoms one could envisage features
such as the Oval Pond or the Canal being appropriate venues for
swimming. One possible indication that we have of interest in this
activity is a document preserved in a Holbech family scrapbook from the
mid-eighteenth century (WCRO CR656/36). Amongst newspaper cuttings for
a variety of sports ranging from prize-fighting to horse-racing is an
engraved handbill publicizing the opening of Peerless Pool in London in
1743. For a guinea a year gentlemen could enjoy all the benefits of
swimming in a safe environment with ‘waiters’ on hand to teach swimming
to novices. The accompanying illustration not only shows swimmers in
action but also a couple of adjacent ponds for angling and two large
prospect mounds joined by a terrace ‘planted with limes’. If nothing
else it is an indication of the kinds of cultural influences that could
have been operating on Holbech during the crucial decade in the park’s
Fig. 82 the north side of the Island Pool
Experiencing the Cascade
final imaginative leap is to attempt to draw on even less tangible
elements of the past and recreate one potential way in which a water
based construct could have been experienced in the eighteenth century.
This idea was developed in an earlier piece (Wass 2011c) where we noted
the lack of visibility on the approach to the Cascade implying an
element of discovery and anticipation for the visitor. The structure of
the Cascade (Fig. 50) seems to draw one into experiencing it in very
particular ways which include walking across the flat slabs at the base
of the flow (Fig. 83) and striking out along a spiral path to attain
the summit with its view along the River (Fig 51).
Fig. 83 Flat slabs at base of Cascade, from north.
led to the creation of a slightly tongue-in-cheek visitor’s guide (Fig.
84). Other sites where, ‘garden features… were designed to trick, tease
or thrill the visitor’ have been listed (Wass 2011c: 16), including the
hidden fountains at Wilton House which were ‘… like a plash’d Fence,
whereby sometimes faire ladies cannot fence the crossing, flashing and
dashing their smooth soft and tender thighs and knees by a sudden
inclosing them in it’ (Quoted in Strong 1997: 130). This kind of
titillation may have been better suited to earlier centuries or warmer
climes (Thacker 1970: 20), but we must allow for the possibility of an
eighteenth-century sense of fun.
Fig. 84 The Lovers Plash’d’ an eighteenth-century comedy of manners.
is very aware of the contrasts between the two different ways in which
people experience water around the park. On the one hand the labourers
responsible for its upkeep were likely to be task oriented and
motivated by the simple mechanics of providing for themselves and their
families. Their options were limited and their focus on getting the job
done in the best way they knew. On the other hand there are the gentry
who had so many more options to choose from. It was even possible to
write poetry; in 1786 M. Dawes published an octavo volume entitled
‘Holbeach Fish-pond, a Poem’ (Rodd 1846: 84), unfortunately we have not
been able to discover a copy.
It is important not to fall into a
narrative which features, ‘contests between hapless peasants and
villainous landlords’ (Tarlow 2007:10) and accept Williamson’s (1999:
253) point that, ‘eighteenth-century England was a complex society and
not one composed of two confronting groups’, however, it is difficult
to think about a feature like the Oval Pond without considering
dichotomies. Walking out towards Meir’s (2006: 91) ‘bastion’ at the far
end of the pond one would be confronted with an astonishing prospect.
To the right the large elevated expanse of water, perhaps with
pleasure craft upon it, to the left and decidedly below, a bleak
landscape of labour consisting largely of the still open fields
belonging to adjacent villages (Linnell 1772).
Fig. 85 North from Ionic temple, The River and Canal in mid-ground, Oval Pond behind wall and trees to right.
structure such as the Oval Pond cannot be seen as anything other than
domineering, it pushes out across flat fields and imposes leisure upon
labour (Fig. 85). We do not know how this construction was viewed at
the time, indeed all the labourers may have continued to be ‘jocund’,
relieved to have a steady wage from employment on the estate. Even so
there is no sense in which this was a community enterprise, rather it
represents a transformation effected by two gentlemen with their own
particular and peculiar interests. One cannot believe that such a
transformation was met with equanimity by the rest of the population.
narrative could be abandoned at the point where water usage is at its
most extravagant but to do so would be like leaving off a
biography without pondering the subject’s final years and possible
extinction. By the early-nineteenth century the estate was in something
of a decline. In 1810 a curious poem was posted anonymously to Charles
Holbech, brother of the William who had inherited in 1771. The poem is
entitled ‘The Lamentation of the Botanic Gardens at Farnborough’
(WCRO CR656/36) and appears to be a plea that the gardens be put in
order so that, ‘no more shall urtica (nettle) eclipse the rose’,
and ‘ no supple juncus (rush) with incessant bow, court the green
mantle of the stagnant lake’. In 1812 another William took on the
estate and by 1815 a further major programme of work was underway
supervised by the architect Henry Hakewill (English Heritage
2011). The estate was put on a more productive footing and new
buildings included cowsheds (Wass 2012d) and a large octagonal walled
garden with a stone lined pool at its centre (Fig. 86). A graveled path
led from the garden, through a short tunnel, to another path across the
Paddock and up to the kitchens. The moat was further filled with brick
rubble and, post-1850, large clay land drains were inserted (Wass
2012a), demonstrating the continuing importance of effective
drainage (Fig 87).
86 Pool in walled garden, from north.
Fig. 87 COA 12
Filling/drainage of moat, from east.
Fig. 88 Excavations of summerhouse, poles mark position of corner posts, from north-west.
the early-nineteenth century a summerhouse (Fig. 88) was built on a
terrace cut into the mound at the back of the Cascade and a wooden
footbridge on brick piers (Fig. 89) thrown across the inlet to the
River (Wass 2011b). This post-dates the building of a new road to
Avon Dassett by Charles Holbech. The Oval Pond was drained
between 1820 and 1880 and typically for the period was converted in a
fox covert (Watkins, N. 2007).
Fig. 89 Brick pier to footbridge, from west.
kitchen garden was abandoned shortly after the First World War
and was for a while worked as an independent market garden until
it closed in the 1950s. The hall had had its own water supply
from a borehole on the top of the hill to the south-east sunk in the
first half of the twentieth century. The water was pumped up by a
windmill and stored in a brick cistern before being piped to the hall.
In 1957 mains water came to Farnborough and shortly
afterwards a sewage works was built on the edge of the former Oval Pond
Fig. 90 Sewage works, from south-west.
Serpentine River was drained after the Second World War and in 1960 the
National Trust took over guardianship of that portion of the park which
had not been sold in 1948. Today the residents of the hall stock the
pool with wild-fowl over winter for shooting and operate a small rowing
boat on the River for retrieving downed birds. Sourland Pond is let out
to the Banbury and District Angling Association and in the summer
people come and picnic on the grass next to it. The grounds close to
the hall are managed by a gardener and a part time assistant,
whilst the remaining agricultural land is let out to a tenant farmer.
The decades since the Second World War have not been kind to the
monuments of Farnborough Park. Whilst those buildings with
architectural pretensions have been well maintained, lesser buildings,
including a small apple store and a bier shed and several agricultural buildings, have fallen into
disrepair and in some cases, total collapse. Those structures which
helped the water to do interesting things are in a particularly parlous
state and again have either partially collapsed or are about to…
Fig. 91 National Trust staff prepare for excavation, Church Oakal A site.
our chronological survey we will return to our central concern, the
understanding of those elements within the eighteenth-century park
linked to water and how they reflect ‘patterns of power and dominance’.
We have touched on the answers to most of the questions posed in
chapter 5 but two remain outstanding. The first of these is the
question as to how it was all planned. The problems of assessing the
contributions of a ‘gentleman architect’ have already been examined.
Faced with these difficulties researchers Meir and Hawkes adopted the
procedure whereby evidence of a visit to a site was fused with
perceived stylistic traits to establish a corpus of work. It is
no great criticism to point out the extremely speculative nature of
this approach. Meir (2006: 217) especially, argues for the recognition
of Miller’s fingerprints on a range of projects and suggests that, ‘The
inventive use of water, and an ability to find successful technical
solution to intractable drainage problems together form a major
component of Miller’s “stylistic signature”’. She further cites an
informal layout for lakes and a fondness for long thin waterways
punctuated with sluices or cascades which occasionally are doubled up
to run along side other existing water courses. The phrase used by
Miller’s great-grandson to describe his involvement was ‘assisted by
the advice of’ (Miller 1900: 61).
Fig. 92 The classical Game Larder, from north.
is easy to see from Miller’s diaries how this assistance was rendered.
Occasionally he would sit down and draw detailed plans (Hawkes
2005:161), but more often it was a walk in the park with Miller
pointing out solutions to problems or opportunities for development,
followed up perhaps with a letter ( Hawkes 2005: 164). This process of
design through conversation throws open the possibility of dialogue
between architect and patron and given the preponderance of
classical detailing at Farnborough there is a strong case for
William Holbech’s being the dominant partner. Miller did not have a
good track record for classical buildings, indeed John Cornforth
writing in Country Life dismissed Miller as someone who, ‘demonstrated
no significant ability in working in the classical style at this date’
(Cornforth 1996 cited by Hawkes 2005). Apart from the five possible
structures at Farnborough ( Figs. 34, 38, 39 and 92) Miller built only
a handful of classical garden buildings during a thirty year career
(Hawkes 2005: 391 to 408). Virtually all his other work was in the
gothic style. The absence of gothic buildings at Farnborough indicates
this strong lead from Holbech. If Holbech was giving instructions
regarding the provision of classical buildings it is fair to assume
that he may have made similar requests concerning unusual features like
the amphitheatre and the Oval Pond. If we examine other water features
attributed to Miller, the only thing at Farnborough typical of his work
is the Serpentine River. In other respects both the scale and
configuration of the works at Farnborough bear little resemblance to
other projects (Fig. 93). The likelihood is that Miller was responding
with advice and perhaps some technical expertise under the direction of
a landowner who was trying to create a peculiarly classical landscape,
which was not only reflected in the buildings, but also in the way in
which earth and water were engineered. The source of inspiration was
the vision, passion, perhaps even obsession, of the landowner.
Fig. 93 Water features attributed to Miller, comparative plans, squares 1 kilometre.
final question and perhaps the most challenging is what was the purpose
of this large-scale landscape transformation? Individual landowners did
not have to express or explain their reasons, even to themselves,
so explanations can only ever be provisional, however, by looking at
the wider context, we can venture some suggestions. There are four key
concepts: the social politics of separation and unification, the
demands of good taste, the power of imagination and the economics of
the country estate.
Social Politics of Separation and Unification
commentators have stressed the ways in which eighteenth-century garden
design was used in terms of legitimation, ‘a tool with which elites
attempted to maintain power and authority over marginalized groups’
(Williamson 1999: 37). The estate is a means of control and domination
by imposing a particular world view on a locality through landscaping
whilst simultaneously restricting options for the rest of the community
in terms of movement, access and labour. This is a powerful theme
within Farnborough’s story. From the closure of the route to the holy
well to the dominating effect on the landscape of the Oval Pond this
seems to be about under-scoring inequalities of power. Williamson
(1999: 37) did move away from this position taking the view that, ‘most
acts of aesthetic landscaping…were primarily directed not towards "the
poor" but to rival groups within the propertied’. In making this point
he emphasized the closed nature of many parks of the period, however,
Farnborough is a very open landscape, much of what is on offer is
widely visible so perhaps Johnson’s (1996:145) more nuanced view that,
‘around the great house the gardens were planned as a mediation between
the elite and the ordinary as well between Nature and Culture’ is
more productive, reflecting interactions, both positive and negative,
within the full spectrum of society. This is emphasized in Miller’s
diaries (Hawkes 2005) where it is clear that he enters into
relationships, within the context of the park, with all manner of men
and women from lady to labourer. We can therefore take a more positive
view of the park as a meeting place where certain boundaries can be
crossed. It is equally obvious that within Miller’s social group, of
which we must count William Holbech a member, as well as companionship
there was also competition based on the notion of good taste.
The Demands of Good Taste
Opportunities for self expression were characterised by the fact that,
the eighteenth century a patron could choose between one of a number of
different architectural and landscape styles’ (Johnson 1996:152). If
this was coupled with, ‘untrammeled or only very partially limited
power over the exploitation and physical appearance of an extensive
tract of countryside’ (Williamson 2007: 4) then the potential for
making statements about one’s own aesthetic judgment was enormous.
Holbech’s ten years in Italy, at a time when the Grand Tour was de
rigueur, must have given him authority as an arbiter of classical taste
amongst his social circle (Fig. 94). One can see his work at
Farnborough as an exemplar as to what could be done but also perhaps an
object lesson in the way in which tasteful could spill over into
mannered if enthusiasm is given too free a rein. It was possible to be
too imaginative and end up with that most despised quality, ‘the merely
whimsical’ (Thoreau 1854: 19).
Fig. 94 The social web, Midland landowners
( from Symes and Hynes 2012: 12, additions in red).
The Power of Imagination
describing the park I have often found myself using the analogy, ‘it’s
like an eighteenth-century theme park’. In developing a similar point
about the gardens at Stourhead Harwood (2002: 50) writes of, ‘the
recognition that what they were seeing were theatrically contrived
settings, the juxtaposition of which suggested an organized collection
of opportunities for imaginative play’. At the risk of falling into the
trap of developing the ‘existential and isolated presentism of
phenomenological perspectives’ (Hicks 2003: 321) one has to say that in
experiencing the park today one senses a history of enjoyment. There
has been a description, with some license, of the goings-on around the
Cascade (Fig. 84) and there is a feeling that the disposition of the
terrace buildings was to tantalize in the sense of, ‘I wonder what’s
around the next corner’. From the erection of ‘toy’ forts (Felus 2006:
30) to the placement of hermit’s caves one was expected to use one’s
imagination as a playful participant in the landscape (Symes and Haynes
2010: 33). Holbech’s scrapbook of newspaper cuttings (WCRO CR656/36)
reveal him to be something of a sportsman, was he a joker too?
Economics of the country estate.
concept of improvement is often linked to ideas of economic
advancement, but Tarlow sees it as also demonstrating,’ the ownership
of rational knowledge and taste, a general orientation towards the
future and a selective rewriting of the historical and classical past’
(Tarlow 2007: 67). This combination of the productive with the
decorative was praised by Switzer, ‘a whole estate will appear as one
great garden, and the utile woven harmoniously with the dulci… I affirm
that an even walk carried through a cornfield or pasture… is as
pleasing as the most finished parterre’ (Switzer 1742: 8). Farnborough
represents an ideal example of such a ferme ornée: the ponds are
a source of fish as well as a venue for boating and the view towards
the River takes in the pasture known as the Dairy Ground. A striking
feature of the park is the way in which unproductive land is
turned to recreational ends. Sourland Pond speaks for itself and it is
noticeable how the Terrace occupies the steep, wind-swept brow of the
hill leaving the summit and slopes for grazing. Ponds and pounds march
The park’s purpose was
intimately linked to the social fabric of the time and
served many of same purposes as today’s gardens: supplementing
the family diet, relaxation, exercise, entertaining and of course
one-upmanship but, as with any archaeological site that exhibits a
number of unique features, Farnborough Park remains both baffling and
revealing. There are many unresolved questions about how the landscape
was manipulated by Holbech and Miller but what is clear is that we
have a classic case of the exploitation of a particular resource,
water, in a way which demonstrates the acquisitive drive of the
land-owning elite over several centuries. There is no access to St. Botolph’s
Well or the adjacent pools. The River and Canal may be viewed from the terrace after
paying an entry fee but the Serpentine River is becoming quietly lost
amongst commercially farmed land to the south. Only Sourland Pond
exists as a community resource with fishermen lining its banks and
families from Banbury coming out to feed the ducks. (Fig. 1).
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