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Rousham

The design of the garden at Rousham makes practical use of the large flat areas at the top of the slope to site the house, kitchen gardens and paddock.  The fringe areas and the slope to the river are then given over to the garden.

Plan

Opening in Bowling Green Hedge leading to Kitchen Gardens

The hedge forms a green wall, redirecting the view across the paddock.

View across Paddock to Gothic Seat and Palladian Doorway

The paddock is enclosed by a ha-ha, which if followed leads to a seat and a doorway to the road.

Gothic Seat and Palladian Doorway

Rousham

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Arcadia

Top Stoppard’s play Arcadia is now in its second run on Broadway.  Set in one room of a fictional English country house, Sidley Park, the play alternates between action in the early 19th century and the late 20th century.  The 19th century main characters are a tutor and his pupil, with appearances by family members, servants, country house guests, and a landscape gardener fashioned after Humphry Repton.  The smart dialog touches on mathematics, garden reconstructions, garden hermits, country house visiting, and hunting.  Characters enter from and exit to the garden via french doors through which one sees only blue sky and hears the crunch of footsteps on gravel.  All of the action that provides fodder for discussion happens in the garden–the Arcadia, but the garden is only seen in representation in a Reptonesque flip book.   The 20th century characters consist of descendants of the 19th century house owners, and two academics.  Both the descendants and the academics are using the actions of the 19th century characters as their topics of academic study.  For these characters though, it’s more the books describing what happened in the 19th century garden at Sidley Park, than interaction with the present day garden, that is their focus of conversation.  Make a point of seeing this play.

The Ha-ha

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The Gentleman’s House

I first heard of Robert Kerr’s book, The Gentleman’s House, from Peter Brears, historic house consultant and food historian, in a lecture he gave to the Attingham Summer School in 2005.  The lecture covered the support spaces of the country house—kitchen, scullery, larder, dairy—which we previously could not imagine would be interesting, but the talk convinced all of us on the program that a book needs to be written on this topic.

Kerr’s book, used as an example by Brears, lays out guidelines for the architecture of the country house and out-buildings.  Kerr was born in 1823, in Scotland and moved to London in 1844.  He was a writer and architect, co-founding the Architectural Association, even becoming its first president.  From 1861-90 Kerr was Professor of the Arts of Construction at King’s College London.  The Gentleman’s House, published in 1844, goes into great detail specifying the preferred distribution of the rooms in the house with respect to sunlight, as well as the layout of doors, windows and furniture within those rooms.  Kerr’s diagram below, with the plan of a window at its center, describes the influences of wind, sun and seasons.  It’s still instructive today as we try to design with sustainability in mind.

The Lawn

Until 1830, when the first lawnmower was introduced, “lawns” were scythed or sheared, or grazed by horses or sheep.  Depending on the month, lawns were rolled and cut approximately every 15 days.   Before they could be cut, lawns were rolled to achieve overall smoothness and to flatten wormcasts.  Smaller areas could be rolled by hand-pushed cast-iron rollers.  Large areas were rolled with horse-drawn rollers, the horses wearing leather shoes.  Even the grass cuttings had to be swept up.  Labor was cheap, but this was a very time-intensive method of maintaining the landscape park.   With the rise of the middle class and more suburban lawns, there was more incentive to making lawn maintenance easier, and hence the development of the mechanized lawn mower.

Bill Bryson’s At Home

Bill Bryson’s new book, At Home:  A Short History of Private Life, is a satisfying read for anyone interested in architectural social history.  Loosely structured around explaining why things are the way they are in different rooms of his house, Bryson covers a vast range of topics that may have little to do with that room at all, but are in the end architectural in nature.  For me the book is invaluable in answering many questions encountered in my study of the English landscape garden and country house.  For instance, Bryson discusses the development of electricity, beginning with the candle, and describes what light levels were like in the country house (very low).  He describes the development and use of various building materials including brick, stone, iron and steel, and he delves into specific moments in the English landscape garden and country house with essays on sites such as Fonthill Abbey and Blenheim Palace.  Highly recommended.