Gardens of Pleasure

Nicola wenchmark Hello, Nicola here! I enjoy reading about garden history and a couple of weeks ago I went on a research trip deep into the Wiltshire countryside to visit some pleasure gardens created in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century at Old Wardour. The centrepiece of the Old Wardour gardens is… a genuine, ruined medieval castle. That's quite something to incorporate into your garden design.

The Castle

Old Wardour Castle was originally built in the late 15th century and served as an impressive family home for 250 years before it was partially destroyed during a siege in the English Civil War in the mid 16th century. The Royalist forces attacked the castle to take it back from the Parliamentarian troops and set gunpowder mines in the tunnels leading to the cellars and latrines. The intention was to set off a small explosion to frighten the garrison into surrendering but unfortunately someone dropped a lighted match into the barrels of gunpowder that were being stored in the tunnels (a real oops moment!) and the subsequent underground explosion was so huge that two of the turrets collapsed bringing down the roof and much of the upper floors. What followed would have been farcical had it not involved a fight to the death. The Roundhead commander, Edmund Ludlow, had been lying late in bed and woke up to find his bedroom wall missing and the King's troops clambering over the ruins to attack. He shouted for help and his own garrison tried to climb into the room from the other side but they were using too short a ladder to reach him. Ludlow was running backwards and forwardsOld Wardour  across the room, trying to beat off the attackers on the one hand and pull the rescuers up the ladder at the same time. It couldn't end well – eventually he was captured and the castle fell to the Royalists but by then it was a ruin. That was a slight digression to explain how the castle came to be a ruined "folly" in the gardens!

 Nicola at Wardour The Ruin

The Arundell family who owned Old Wardour built themselves a new house nearby (New Wardour, of course) and the old castle was left as a ruin until the end of the eighteenth century when the eighth Lord Arundell began to develop the landscape as a pleasure ground. Ruins were very popular in the Picturesque landscape of the period. They were a romantic reminder of the world of chivalry and a place where the natural world could run wild. The ruined medieval castle thus became the focal point of a fashionably romantic landscape! Today the castle ruins have been made safe to explore. Here I am on the staircase to the Great Hall.

The Grotto and Stone Circle

Grotto A ruined castle, whilst quite a coup, was not sufficient to make up an entire Picturesque landscape so Lord Arundell added a grotto and a stone circle to his pleasure grounds. The grotto was built from the fallen stone of the castle. It is rather charming and very wet, with water piped in deliberately to drip from the roof onto the fossils and ferns below. The purpose of the grotto was to provide an example of "nature unchanged by man"!

The story of the creation of the stone circle did cause me to wince a little since it involved the moving of a genuine 4,000 year old stone circle from a nearby village. This was set up at the end of a yew-lined terrace and a couple of rustic alcoves were built alongside it using stone and plaster from the medieval castle. Here one could sit and shudder fashionably at the thought of prehistoric barbarism!

The Banqueting House

The final touch was a mock-Gothic banqueting house built as a special place for the Arundells to Banqueting Hall entertain their guests. Here is my picture of the interior. It has a coloured marble fireplace and beautiful stained glass windows and these days it has a licence for weddings. Ever practical, even in a "wilderness", Lord Arundell had a three seater "necessary house" as it was called built with similar Gothic detail to the Banqueting Hall. This was particularly interesting as I didn't realise that visiting the necessary house was a communal procedure in this period. I don't have a photo of it, I'm afraid – it was too dark in there!

By the 1830s the pleasure grounds at Old Wardour were open to the public and the Banqueting House had become a refreshment room with an attendant serving afternoon teas.

As it says in the modern day visitor brochure, the landscaped pleasure grounds contained all the necessary elements of the fashionable Romantic Landscape. Here one could contemplate the frailty of human life and the futility of human endeavour that would one day be overcome by wild nature – before enjoying a cup of tea in the Banqueting House and a visit to the "Necessary Room" and going home for dinner!

Ladybird We may not all be able to site a ruined castle in our back yards, but in my Standing stone back garden I have two very small contributions to the Picturesque Landscape, my standing stone and my ladybird. What sort of picturesque or romantic element do you have in your garden, back yard or window box?