The park at Gatton is most famous for the work that was carried out between 1762 and 1766 by the famous English landscape designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Brown was enlisted to work on the park by Sir James Colebrooke who purchased Gatton in 1751. While there had been a park at Gatton from the mid 15th century on, it was brown’s work that has proved to be the most enduring. Brown swept away the formal landscape that had been there and replaced it with informal naturalistic plantings which accentuated the rolling landscape of the park. In the area around the mansion a number of shrub borders and walks were planted and the southern terrace was levelled to create an area from which the parkland could be viewed. The main lake was greatly expanded and the tributary lakes reshaped to include one of his trademark serpentine canals. During this period Brown was at the height of his notoriety and was paid in excess of £3000 for his services at Gatton Park, this commission was in within the top 25% of Brown’s commissions in terms of value.
A key part of Browns design for Gatton was a series of ponds which culminated in the main lake. The first of the watercourses is the hop garden pond which sits in the middle of the park and this feeds the engine pond via an underground culvert. The overflow form the engine pond passes over the cascade, through the Japanese garden and into the serpentine. The serpentine is a long winding canal which wind along the western edge of the park. This feature was one of Browns trademarks and would have been used for punting and as a place to stroll in the evening. The serpentine then falls into the main lake again through a culvert. The main lake was known as the grand water menagerie which was the central feature of Brown’s plans for Gatton. The main lake is just short of 30 acres in size, the main body of it narrows to the north to form an area which is known as the panhandle. The main lake has two islands, one of which is home to the only Heronry in Surrey and the other supports many other species of wildfowl. All these water features have had a great deal of work carried out on them over the last 10 years so you can enjoy them in there full glory today.
There are also a number of woods in the park. Temple wood is the largest of these and is made up of ash and hazel coppice with a canopy of oak, beech and yew. Serpentine wood is situated to the west of the serpentine and is predominantly made up of ash and beech, along with some over-mature poplars which are now being removed. Tower wood is situated to the north of the park and is predominantly made up of beech and Yew with a sub canopy of box. Today all these woodlands are managed for both the products they can yield and the biodiversity which lives in them.
The Gatton Trust has already restored many of Brown’s features and continues with the clearing and planting to ensure that future generation can enjoy this wonderful landscape.
The Japanese garden was originally constructed in 1909 it satisfy Sir Jeremiah Colman’s fascination with all things Eastern. He commissioned the garden designer Edward White to create the garden in what was a damp wooded corner of the estate. The results were certainly striking, with its informal ponds, thatched Minka style tea house, lush plantings, stone lanterns and beautiful oriental bridge. While it only maintains a passing resemblance to traditional Zen Japanese garden its heart is most certainly in the East. It really captures a time when all things Eastern were exciting and there was a huge influx of new and unusual plant material. Whilst it is clearly laid out in a western style it truly encapsulates the thoughts and ideas of a man who was looking East and believed in a greater more exciting world.
Unfortunately this garden was lost in the 1950’s when the regular maintenance ceased due to a lack of staff. Native trees and weeds reclaimed the area and the ponds silted up. It remained this way until 1999 when the Gatton Trust began restoration work as part of the Channel 4 TV series “Lost Gardens”.
The “Lost Gardens” restoration was the culmination of many years of research and ground work. A number of pictures had been uncovered as had some of the plinths for the lanterns along with the post holes and steps for the tea house. Thankfully some of the original planting had also survived; clumps of Bamboo, a fine Ginkgo and a Japanese plum Yew helped to give the outline of the garden. The restoration work reinstated the hoggin paths, the thatched tea, the lanterns and the Japanese bridge. The plants that remained were used as a framework to which new plantings were added to attain the desired exotic effect. This work was enthusiastically carried out by a variety of volunteers from the Gatton Trust, BTCV and Legal & General.
Today the garden looks very much as it did in its heyday. The thatched tea-house stands on its mound with a granite lantern in the foreground and the new plantings and bamboos soften the edges. The bridge, which is an exact replica of the original, spans where the water falls into the serpentine. Over the next few years we will be renewing some of the plantings to ensure that the garden continues to look stunning for the next 10 years.
The rock and water garden was constructed in 1912 by J Pulham & Sons. They transformed an area of the park which was a sloping lawn and shrubbery into a dramatic rock escarpment with naturalistic pools. A mixture of hoggin and stone paths wove their way through the rock work giving visitors opportunities to view the plants up close. Pulham & Sons were experts at creating artificial rockwork which blended with the surrounding, natural rock. At Gatton the Pulhamite is a decorative inner wall within the main lily pond. The great rocks which make up the face of the rock garden and the surrounding ponds are Kentish Ragstone and sandstone. It was described in The Journal of Horticulture and Home Farmer of November 6th 1913 as ‘a rockery cascade’, planted with ‘Heaths, alpines, bog plants and aquatics’. Such was the beauty of this garden that Queen Mary would visit at peak times of the year.
Again this garden was lost in the 1950’s when regular maintenance ceased. Many of the paths and ponds became buried and trees seeded into the rockwork, converting the once open rock face into scrub woodland.
This remained the case until June 1996 when the Gatton Trust volunteers were formed (originally under the name of Gatton Park Conservation Volunteers) to try and restore this lost rock garden. No records from Pulham & son survive, the only plans to work from were those on the ordnance survey map of 1913 and an estate map of 1923 which shows the main pond and paths. The slow but rewarding work of discovering and restoring the paths and rock work has taken many years. Piece by piece the various elements of the garden have been uncovered. This involved removing a large number of self sown trees and replacing the rocks they had displaced. The paths were uncovered by poking a fork into the ground until you heard the sound of hoggin paths below. Gradually the gardens began to resemble their former layout.
The centrepiece of the garden, the Pulhamite pond was cracked by the tree roots that were growing in it, so it didn’t hold water for many years. The good news is we have now restored this wonderful feature back to its former glory and it once again holds water. See our projects page for more information.
Over time the gardens have been planted up and these plantings are now starting to mature. The snowdrops that were present in this area before the restoration work began appear to have been unaffected by the work and flower in profusion every February. In recent years this work has been supported by a number of grants from the East Surrey Alpine Society which has allowed the construction of large number of alpine plantings which give interest all the year round.
The Parterre is situated to the south of Gatton Hall. It was designed and laid out by H E Milner in the1860’s. It consists of a simple cross shaped path and originally had a fountain block in the middle, which we are yet to replace. Along the southern boundary were 10 cast stone urns which run east to west. The parterre was essentially designed to be looked through, to the views of the park, the main lake and the landscape beyond. At the sides cedars and yews were planted to frame the view, thankfully many of these still remain.
Work on the parterre restoration was completed in the spring of 2011 and the end results are stunning. The views are particularly fine in the evening and at sunrise when long shadows are cast across the park. This work has restored what is now widely regarded as one of the finest views in Surrey. Further detail on this project can be found on our projects and sponsors page.
The walled gardens cover an area to the east of Gatton Hall. Whilst there is only one entirely walled in garden, there are a number of walled areas. These walls are constructed of Reigate and Merstham stone which would have been quarried on the estate. Within these towering white walls were kitchen gardens and glasshouses which once produced produce for the house and housed Sir Jeremiah Colman’s prize orchid collection. Today this area consists of ornamental gardens, the early stages of a school kitchen garden, a nursery which grows plants for the estate and the school stables.
There are only two glasshouses remaining, one which has been restored and one waiting for restoration. Unfortunately due to a collapse in part of the wall in the one entirely walled this area remains closed off. We hope to restore this garden in the near future and get it back into use. Gatton also had many acres of orchard in its heyday but much of this was lost to old age and a lack of management. Now we are starting to re-instate one of our orchards as part of our orchard project. This orchard will be used an outdoor classroom and will also be used as an area to keep bees. See our projects and sponsors page for more information.
The pleasure gardens and Old World Garden are situated to the west of Gatton Hall. Both of these gardens were laid out under the instruction of the Victorian garden designer H E Milner. The pleasure gardens were originally made up of informal groups of specimen trees situated within open lawns which were dissected by meandering footpaths. This area has now been restored with the weed trees being removed to show off the now mature Victorian plantings. Rather than reinstating the finely mown lawns we have created a number of meadows with paths winding through them. Some tree and shrub planting has also taken place to reinstate plantings that have been lost.
In this area we have built a children’s play trail which follows the winding path that goes around the gardens. The ‘Wild Things Play Trail’ is made of natural materials found in the park, and encourages children to climb, scramble and build dens. For more information on the trail, see our projects and sponsors page.
The old world garden was planted with roses and enclosed in a yew hedge in 1896. Later, a rose garden was made nearer the Hall and the roses were replaced with herbs. This garden is still to be restored though many of its features remain intact if not a little overgrown. The yew hedges are now trees and pond has become silted up. Over the next few years we hope to be able to clear the canopy of ash trees, re-expose the hedge and clear the pond. It is unlikely that we will replant it with roses but it will still create a wonderful space in the park.
The Millennium stones were originally commissioned by Wolseley Fine Arts as a touring exhibition to mark the millennium. Artist Richard Kindersley carved 10 standing stones to mark the double Millennium from the birth of Christ to 2000AD. Each stone represents a 200 year segment and is inscribed with a quotation from a writer prominent in that period. The first stone starts with words from St John, In the beginning the Word was, the final stone has an extract from TS Eliot, a poet who understood so clearly the need to discover meaning in our spiritual uncertainty.
Following the touring exhibition the stones have now been permanently installed in Gatton Park, thanks to a generous donation from the Jerusalem Trust. They are situated on the North Downs Way and can be visited throughout the year.
Further information on the stones and the exhibition catalogue can be found here: www.kindersleystudio.co.uk/millenium-stones-sunset/
Located to the north of Gatton Hall is a modest structure; comprising a pitched roof over 6 large cast iron columns and a large stone urn. This is known as Gatton Town Hall and dates back to 1765 when it was commissioned by Sir George Colebrooke, the then owner of Gatton Park, to a design by Sir Roger Taylor, a prominent architect much favoured by the Colebrookes.
The purpose of the Town Hall was to announce the results of the elections necessary to return the two Members of Parliament to which Gatton Parish was entitled. The Town Hall could have probably held all the qualified voters of the Parish as they were modest in number, from 7 to 20, although the population was only in the region of 120. The purpose the building and inscriptions on the urn indicate a certain political cynicism.
This practice of a ‘Rotten Borough’ continued until the Reform Act of 1832 which stripped Gatton of all its’ MPs, a blow to Lord Monson who had paid handsomely some 4 years earlier for this privilege.
BBC clip about the Gatton by-election of 1803