Thursday, 16 February 2012

Day trip

We had another day's outing yesterday, this time to Wrest Park, . Our visit began by joining English Heritage - special offer, 15months for the price of 12.

Wrest Park House.
Wrest Park belonged to the de Grey family for over 700 years, from the Middle Ages until the early 20th century. The family commissioned many of the 18th century’s most famous designers to work on the landscape. But whereas in other gardens the previous designs were lost in the pursuit of new gardening vogues, each generation at Wrest Park respected the work of their predecessors. As a result, visitors today can walk through over 300 years of English garden history.  There are three key stages in the landscape's history – the formal woodland garden created by Henry, Duke of Kent, in 1706; changes made under the direction of Jemima, Marchioness Grey, in the 18th century's latter half; and then the work of her grandson Thomas, Earl de Grey, from 1833.

The old manor house was demolished when the present house was completed in 1834. The house and gardens  remained in the family until Auberon Herbert in 1905, who leased Wrest Park to the US ambassador. During the first world war it was used as a military hospital.

When Herbert, a liberal politician and captain in the Royal Flying Corps, died in action, the estate was sold to northern industrialist JG Murray who felled quite a lot of trees when things got financially tricky.
He sold it to Sun Alliance Insurance in 1939 and after the second world war it became a centre for modern agricultural engineering research.

English Heritage took over in 2006 and devised a restoration plan stretching over 20 years. I was keen to visit Wrest Park after reading about the garden restoration project.  Wrest Park tells the story of England's love affair with landscape. It is a unique place capturing 300 years of gardening history.

De Grey Wyvern

At the entrance to the Park stands this Wyvern. The Wyvern, a winged creature with a dragon's head and lizard's body, was the emblem of the de Grey family.

This Wyvern, made from cast iron in 1825, was originally one of a pair on top of the metal gate piers at the Silsoe Gate.

The De Grey family were one of the most prestigious families in the region, particularly in the seventeenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, having infulence in the court and government.

Chinese Bridge
Dogs are allowed in the park (on lead) so we walked Ron around the grounds nearest the house. Down throught the French partere to the Chinese Bridge ("Capability" Brown) crossing the northern end of Broad Water.

Lancelot "Capability" Brown,  was hired by Jemima in 1758 to make the boundary canals less formal and more natural. A great gardening pioneer he may have been, but it is clear that while at Wrest, Brown was the 'hired help'. The rusticated column that was erected for Brown is inscribed with the words: "These gardens originally layed out by Henry Duke of Kent were altered by Henry Duke of Hardwicke and Jemima Marchioness Grey with the professional assistance of Lancelot Brown, 1758, 1759 and 1760."


The park is divided by a wide gravel central walk, continued as a long canal that leads to a Baroque style pavilion designed by Thomas Archer and completed in 1711.

Pavilion interior, dome

Designed for the Duke of Kent in 1709 by Thomas Archer, the Warwickshire architect, this pavilion is a rare English example of the full Baroque style and must have been inspired by the Italian and Austrian models which Archer would have seen on his continental tours.

Long Canal from the Pavilion towards the house

I was glad to keep Ron on his lead because there was ice on Broad Water ( the long canal) and he was as keen as ever to get down to the water.

The Orangery
On our way back to the car park, we caught glimpses of the Bowling Green House, American Garden, Bath House and the Orangery.

We'd set off in sunshine and blue skies and by this time, there was the threat of rain.

With Ron safely ensconced in his blanket in the car, we had a light lunch in the newly established tea rooms in the walled garden. We decided to return on a rainy day to visit the House.


Just before we left the house, I took a photograph of Ceres,  who stands in front of the back wall of the Italian Garden.

Ceres was the Roman Goddess of agriculture and grain. The word cereal is derived from her name.She is portrayed here holding a sheaf of wheat and clutching a 'horn of plenty'.

As Members of English Heritage, we are looking forward to visiting more locations in the Easterm Region, starting with our holiday in Southwold.