A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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The Knights Hospitallers had 'a garden and one dove-cote' belonging to their camera at Hampton. (fn. 1) Wolsey surrounded the parks, which then consisted of about 2,000 acres, with a red brick buttressed wall, part of which still remains; (fn. 2) and the house and gardens with a moat The metrical version of Cavendish's Life of Wolsey gives a pleasant picture of the cardinal's garden:-
The knots so enknotted, it cannot be expresst With arbors and alyes so pleasant and so dulce To pestilent ayers with flavors to repulse.' (fn. 3)
The moat remained till the time of William III, and is mentioned as one of the defences when Edward VI and his uncle the Lord Protector caused the palace to be prepared for a siege. (fn. 4) Traces of the moat are still to be seen on the north side of the palace, and the passage leading to the Wilderness from Tennis Court Lane is known as 'The Moat Lane,' and the portion in front of the main entrance has now been cleared of the earth and rubbish which filled it, and has been restored to its former condition. There are numerous entries in the Chapter House Accounts which show that 'My Lordes garthinges at Hampton Courte' were laid out on a generous scale. (fn. 5) They were on the south side of the Base and Clock Courts, where a little inclosure, known as 'the Pond Garden,' no doubt retains some of the cardinal's style, though it was probably designed in something like its present form after Henry VIII had taken possession. (fn. 6)
Henry had also a 'Privy Garden' and a 'Mount Garden,' (fn. 7) which occupied the site of the present South or Private Gardens, (fn. 8) but no traces of them remain. There are accounts for roses (at 4d. the hundred), violets, primroses, 'gilliver-slips, mynts, and other sweet flowers,' 'rosemary of 3 yeres old,' and Sweet Williams (at 3d. the bushel); but the chief decoration of a Tudor garden consisted of anything but flowers. (fn. 9) In the walled parterres there were no doubt sheltered alleys and arbours; among the items in Wolsey's accounts is one for 'twix to bind therber,' (fn. 10) but the embellishments were chiefly carved and painted heraldic 'beasts' (fn. 11) in stone or timber, on stone pedestals, and brass sundials, of which there were an extraordinary number, though none now remain. (fn. 12) The flower beds were edged with wooden rails or trellis-work, painted white and green. (fn. 13) The plan adopted for the use of these edgings can be very well seen in the background of the picture, said to be by Holbein, of Henry VIII and his family, in the cloisters of Hampton Court. (fn. 14)
The Pond Garden is rectangular, surrounded by a low brick wall with stone coping, now surmounted by a hedge of trimmed lime trees, and laid out in three terraces following the shape of the garden and rising one above another, with retaining walls and copings, also of stone. On this stone can be seen the holes whereby the posts were fastened which sustained the thirty-eight fantastic beasts. (fn. 15) No doubt the beds were surrounded by the green and white railings, and the posts painted in those colours. In the centre is now one pond, with a jet of water flowing over a mound of moss in the middle of it. Originally there were apparently several ponds. (fn. 16) Opposite the entrance is an arbour of clipped yew. (fn. 17) There was an oblong building facing the river, called the 'Little Tower in the Glass-Case Garden,' which probably stood where the Banqueting House of William III now is. (fn. 18) The 'Mount' was also characteristic of the Tudor period. It was constructed in 1533, on a brick foundation, and planted with 'quycksetts' in the 'Tryangell.' (fn. 19) At the top was no doubt an arbour or pavilion. Judging from other 'Mount-gardens' of the period it was probably laid out in terraces. (fn. 20) It was certainly surrounded by a border of rosemary, (fn. 21) and embellished as usual with sundials and 'beestes' and painted railings. Henry had also kitchen gardens, (fn. 22) and two orchards, 'The Great Orchard' for which among others 600 cherry trees at 6d. a hundred were bought, (fn. 23) and the 'New Orchard,' where he built the banqueting houses and arbours, of which the roofs just appear in Wynegaarde's picture of the north of the palace. (fn. 24) These orchards occupied the space now known as 'The Wilderness,' and part of the nursery garden, which at present extends over all the 'Tilt Yard' as well. (fn. 25) They were separated by the moat, but with a drawbridge between them, decorated as usual with the 'Kinges Beastes.' (fn. 26) The 'Great Orchard' must always be memorable because it was there that Cavendish went to wait on Henry with the news of Wolsey's death, and found him shooting at a mark with Anne Boleyn. (fn. 27) One of the customs of Henry's gardeners (fn. 28) seems to have been that when Princess Mary came to the palace a basket of flowers or of strawberries was generally brought to her, a compliment she acknowledged by giving the sender a present of money. (fn. 29)
The next description of Hampton Court garden in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, refers to the 'sundry towers, or rather bowers, for places of recreation and solace, and for sundry other uses,' which were to be seen in the gardens, and also of the 'rosemary so nailed and planted to the walls as to cover them entirely.' (fn. 30) It was much the fashion at that time to trim and clip everything possible into wonderful and extraordinary shapes, 'that the like could not easily be found.' (fn. 31) Elizabeth was fond of walking in her gardens, 'to catch her a heate in the cold mornings,' (fn. 32) and she had them carefully kept up and improved, (fn. 33) though she did not actually alter or enlarge them. The Duke of Wurtemberg described the fountain she had erected in the garden as a 'splendid, high, and massy fountain, with a waterwork by which you can, if you like, make the water play upon the ladies and others who are standing by and give them a thorough wetting.' (fn. 34)
Such flowers as 'lavender, spike, hissop, thyme, rosemary, and sage' are mentioned as among those in the queen's gardens at Hampton Court, Greenwich, and Richmond, (fn. 35) and another account describes the 'floures and varieties of curious and costly workmanship and also the rare and medicinal hearbes sought (? set) up in the land within these fortie yeares . . .' at Nonesuche and Hampton Court. (fn. 36)
The great alteration in the gardens, which started them on an entirely new design, founded no doubt on the plan of Versailles, took place in the reign of Charles II. The park to the east of the palace is described by Evelyn in 1662 as 'formerly a naked piece of ground, (fn. 37) now planted with sweet rows of lime trees, and the canal for water near perfected.' (fn. 38) There is no record that the celebrated French gardener Le Nôtre ever visited England, but it is generally supposed that he designed the plan of St. James's Park and the alterations at Hampton Court. (fn. 39)
Le Nôtre's pupils, Beaumont and La Quintenye, assisted in the improvements at Hampton Court. (fn. 40) French gardeners were employed, and were under the supervision of one Adrian May, (fn. 41) but John Rose, a protégé of the Earl of Essex, who studied at Versailles under Le Nôtre, was the most famous of the gardeners of Charles II; (fn. 42) he planted some of the dwarf yew trees which were afterwards celebrated as among the finest in England, and it was probably under his auspices that the great sweeping semicircle of lime trees was planted before the east front, though Switzer declares that Charles himself made the design, (fn. 43) and it has been suggested that he meant it to be in the shape of a crown. It is now considerably altered, and the lime trees in front of the palace only form the segment of a circle, not a complete semicircle. Charles's design was technically described as a 'patte d'oie' or goose-foot, from the three great double avenues which radiate from opposite the centre of the east front of the palace, and are linked together by the semicircular avenue. (fn. 44) The 'Long Water' between the centre avenues extends nearly three-quarters of a mile (3,500 yds.) across the Home Park towards the river. It is 150 ft. wide, and is fed by the Longford River. It is so essentially part of the design of the garden that it is necessary to mention it here, though it is actually in the park, (fn. 45) but at that time it apparently almost reached the front of the palace, (fn. 46) and the 'rich and noble fountain,' mentioned by Evelyn, (fn. 47) with sirens, statues, &c., cast in copper by Fanelli, must have been in another part of the garden. It was afterwards removed by William III. (fn. 48) Possibly it was in the South Garden, as Evelyn at the same time described what is now known as 'Queen Mary's Bower,' and said that it was 'for the perplexed twining of the trees, very observable.' (fn. 49) He also spoke of 'a parterre, which they called Paradise, in which is a pretty banqueting-house set over a cave or cellar,' and suggested that 'all these gardens might be exceedingly improved, as being too narrow for such a palace,' (fn. 50) a criticism which might very well apply to that part of the grounds.
In 1669 the gardens were described by Cosmo III, Duke of Tuscany, as 'divided into very large, level and well-kept walks, which, separating the ground into different compartments, form artificial pastures of grass, being themselves formed by espalier trees, partly such as bear fruit, and partly ornamental ones, but all adding to the beauty of the appearance. This beauty is further augmented by fountains made of slate after the Italian style, (fn. 51) and distributed in different parts of the garden, whose jets d'eaux throw up the water in various playful and fanciful ways. There are also in the gardens some snug places of retirement in certain towers . . .' (fn. 52) The yew trees before mentioned were clipped into conical shapes and stood in geometrically-shaped beds. (fn. 53) Flowers are not mentioned among the ornaments of the garden of Charles II.
William and Mary devised the plan of a 'great fountain garden' (fn. 54) in the semicircular space inclosed by the lime trees. George London, a pupil of Rose, was appointed royal gardener, with a salary of £200 a year, and was also made 'page of the backstairs' to Queen Mary, (fn. 55) but the chief alterations were apparently carried out after her death in 1699-1700. There is an item in the Treasury Papers for 1699 for '1,060 ft. superficiall of circular Derbyshire marble in the coaping of the Great Fountain'; (fn. 56) there are also innumerable items for levelling 'the great fountain garden,' for laying turf and gravel, for planting borders with 'fine shaped evergreens,' and for 'planting all borders with box.' (fn. 57) A strange item is for the removal of '403 large Lyme trees ye dimensions of their girt from 4 ft. 6 in. to 3 ft.,' which cost over £200. Defoe says that they had been planted over thirty years, and that they bore their transplantation very well. (fn. 58) This shifting of the trees was necessitated by the extension of the gardens towards the river on the south, when the old water-gate and the building that stood there were removed because they blocked the view from the palace windows. To balance this the garden was also extended to the north, and the trees, instead of surrounding completely the 'Great Semicircular Parterre,' turn off on each side in a straight line 50 yards from the front of the palace. Two low return walls were built parallel with the line of the palace for about 210 ft. on each side, to complete the inclosure of the gardens and face the straightened-out avenues. The 'Bird's-eye view of Hampton Court as finished by William III,' from Kip's Nouveau Théâtre de la Grande Brétagne, (fn. 59) shows that his design is practically unaltered now, though the growth of trees and superficial re-arrangements of grass and flower beds have given it a slightly different aspect. The small canal opposite the northern wall which divides the East Garden from the Wilderness had been made in the time of Charles II, to bring water from the Longford River to the Great Canal, and a corresponding small canal was constructed in 1669 on the south side. The stately 'broad walk' in front of the eastern façade of the palace, which extends from the Flower Pot Gate on the Kingston Road to the water gallery by the river, is 2,264 ft. in length (nearly half a mile) and 39 ft. in width. The levelling and making of this, and turfing the grass walks on each side of it, cost £600. (fn. 60) The flower-beds which appear in the prints of this period are filled with geometric designs; it is impossible to say of what they consisted beyond the box edgings of which William was so fond. Henry Wise and George London, (fn. 61) who together superintended the royal gardens during this reign, were answerable for these improvements, and for the alteration of the privy garden in 1700. The Mount was levelled, and the 'lines of hornbeam, cypress, and the flowering shrubs' removed to the Wilderness. (fn. 62) The raising of the new terrace from the water gallery to the bowling green was also continued, from a design sent to the king at Loo, the terrace being made almost entirely from the old bricks of the original 'water gallery.' The bowling green had a little 'pavilion' at each corner, of which only one, much enlarged and altered, now remains. (fn. 63)
Another avenue of lime trees was planted in the park beyond. On the north side of the gardens the old orchard was converted into a 'Wilderness.' (fn. 64) Defoe says, 'it was very happily cast into a Wilderness, with a Labrynth, and Espaliers so high that they effectually take off all that part of the old building, which would have been offensive to the sight. This Labrynth and Wilderness is not only well-designed and completely finished, but is perfectly well-kept, and the espaliers filled exactly, at bottom to the very ground, and are led up to proportioned heights on the top; so that nothing of the kind can be more beautiful.' (fn. 65) In one part the espaliers took a spiral form, which was known as 'Troy Town.' The Wilderness has been considerably altered even during the last few years, and the stiff walks and hedges admired by Defoe vanished long ago. The 'Labrynth' or maze alone remains as an amusing memorial of the ingenuity of a past age. The winding walks in the maze amount to nearly half a mile, though the space covered is barely a quarter of an acre. (fn. 66) Switzer complained that it had only four stops, though he had designed one which should have had twenty. (fn. 67)
The beautiful iron gates designed by Jean Tijou and executed by Huntingdon Shaw, which have now been replaced in their original position in the south gardens near the river, were finished in this reign. Huntingdon Shaw is buried in Hampton Church, and there described as 'an artist in his way.' Tijou also designed the screen of St. Paul's Cathedral. (fn. 68)
Queen Anne retained Wise in her service as royal gardener, and her chief action with regard to the gardens was to cause all the box edgings which he and London had planted to be removed in 1704. She seems also to have done away with some of William's elaborations, as Switzer says that she caused the gardens 'to be laid into that plain but noble manner they now appear in.' (fn. 69) The small canals seem also to have been made wider during her reign. (fn. 70) Ralph Thoresby, a topographer of Leeds, who visited the gardens in 1712, was chiefly impressed by the 'noble statues of brass and marble,' and the 'curious iron balustrades, painted and gilt in parts,' which separated the gardens from the parks. The 'Lion Gates' and 'a figure hedge-work, of very large evergreen plants in the Wilderness, to face the iron gates,' were also erected in 1714, the last year of Queen Anne's reign, (fn. 71) and show that the plan for a great north entrance to the palace, as designed by Wren, had been given up. The stone piers of the gates bear Anne's cipher and crown, but the iron gates, which are by no means worthy of the piers, (fn. 72) contain the initials of George I.
Queen Caroline, the wife of George II, was the next sovereign to leave some mark of her taste and the taste of her period on the gardens, as well as on the palace, and her designer was Kent, who was no more accomplished as a gardener than as painter or architect, but his influence was not so disastrous out of doors as it was within. His wide lawns are really an improvement on the former 'parterres and fountains,' although Pope stigmatized them as 'a field.' (fn. 73)
George III entrusted the gardens to Lancelot Brown, the famous landscape gardener, better known as 'Capability' Brown, who had been appointed royal gardener in 1750 by George II. Fortunately he did not attempt to adapt them to the very different style which had then become the fashion, although the king wished him to do so. He replaced some of the terrace steps in the Privy Gardens by slopes of gravel and grass, 'because we ought not to go up and down stairs in the open air,' but he does not appear to have done anything more drastic. The 'Great Vine,' which is one of the best-known sights of Hampton Court, was planted by Brown in 1769. It is a 'Black Hamburgh,' and was a slip from a vine at Valentines, in the parish of Ilford, near Wanstead in Essex, which had been planted in 1758, and also attained a great size. (fn. 74) Twenty years after the Hampton Court vine was planted it was said to have produced 2,200 bunches, which weighed on an average a pound each. The stem was already 13 in. in girth, and the main branch 114 ft. long. (fn. 75) At its best period (about 1840) the vine yielded on an average from 2,300 to 2,500 bunches every year, but it fell off very much for a time; in 1874 the crop was only 1,750 bunches. Under better care it improved again, (fn. 76) but has not been allowed of late years to bear more than about 1,200 bunches, as many as 2,000 bunches being sacrificed sometimes to improve the quality of the rest. The stem now measures 3 ft. 9 in. in girth, and the branches cover a space of 2,300 square feet. The vine house is 90 ft. long. (fn. 77) There are, of course, larger vines in Britain, all of the Black Hamburgh variety, (fn. 78) the largest being one at Kinnel House, Breadalbane, Scotland, which covers 4,375 ft. of wall space.
'Capability' Brown lived for many years at Hampton Court. He was much esteemed by George III, who made a personal friend of him, and was also received familiarly by the Duke of Northumberland at Syon House, and Lord Chatham wrote of him that he was 'an honest man, of sentiments much above his birth.' (fn. 79) 'Wilder ness House,' on the north side of the Wilderness, was occupied by Brown. (fn. 80)