05 Gardens & Grounds


The Gedling House estate was mostly built up in the mid to late- eighteenth century by the Smiths, with some additions in the nineteenth century by William Elliott Elliott. The extent of the grounds can be reconstructed from contemporary sources; deeds, maps, paintings, the 1803 sale catalogue and, the few contemporary accounts. Although the estate no longer forms a single unified element it can still be traced in outline on the ground as well. From the surviving elements it would appear that the owners were subject to the general influences of Georgian gardening fashions to an extent, but were not averse to utilising outdated trends where it suited their needs, such as the belts of trees on the south and west used to separate the estate from views to the workhouse. The grounds are designed to aid the house in making a statement in the Trent Valley As it can be seen for a good distance it visibly impacts on the surrounding villages, those on the opposing side of the Trent Valley, and on the approaches to Gedling.

During the time that Gedling House was being laid out the ideas behind landscape design were going through something of an overhaul. Lancelot Brown died in 1783 and a debate on what should replace the Brownian garden style was carried out between Humphrey Repton, Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight. David Stuart says there were three shifts of direction effecting garden design at this time. The first was part of the Romantic movement, with an elevation of intuition over reason led to ideas of the Sublime. The second came from an awareness of the natural world, a belief in the superiority of the primitive, giving neo-classicism and the Greek Revival. Finally, there was an increased number of plants introduced into gardens, elevating the idea of diversity into gardens (1979 80-3). While many of the aesthetic ideas behind late eighteenth century gardening are not now seen at Gedling House, those ideas that led to more concrete remains can be seen. During the 1790s the kitchen garden, stables, conservatories were all being moved back and attached to the main residence (ibid 76).

The Landscape - The Trent Valley.

The garden and house have been designed to be seen as a unified whole, and it has been recorded that they were intended to be visible from Bridgford Hill House. Gedling House is certainly still visible from parts of East Bridgford. The main landscape difference between Bridgford Hill and Gedling House is their siting in relation to the valley sides. Gedling House sits about a third of the way up the slope (Fig 1), while Bridgford Hill sits at the top (Fig 31). Both houses are now set against dark trees.

The possibility that the layout of the estate had at some point a unified design within the constraints of the topography was mentioned in chapter two. It is now difficult to disentangle who provided the main creative drive behind the development of Gedling House as a planned landscape. While Thomas Smith built up the estate from his inheritance, it may have been William E. Elliott and the Reverend John Swete who had the combined imagination to provide the picturesque view.

Fig 31 Bridgford Hill House, East Bridgford. The house in its landscape setting. Compare with Fig 1.

The sale catalogue of 1803 describes the grounds as Thomas Smith finished them, "The Mansion-House, fronting South-East, is seated in the centre of rather more than 70A. of Land, comprised within a Ring-fence (and which will be sold with the House) forming a handsome Lawn in Front, with several thriving Plantations, and commanding an extensive and very beautiful prospect over the River Trent, and adjacent rich Vales, abounding with Game, and highly desirable to Gentlemen fond of Field Sport and Fishing" (NAO DD.LK 50/53).

Garden Buildings.

The two early paintings of Gedling House both show a garden temple sitting on the hillside. It is most clearly shown on the painting by an unknown artist entitled the 'Seat of W.E. Elliott Esq.' (Fig 18). This dates the temple to the period of Elliott's occupancy or earlier. That it is also on the Rev Swete painting suggests the temple might form part of the improvements undertaken by Elliott recorded by Abigail Gawthern in 1806 (Henstock 1980 123).

Matthew Henry Baker, as The Wanderer, described numerous walks in the vicinity of Nottingham, one of which included the following description of a view towards Gedling from the Trent,

"The path in the fourth close is upon the banks of the Trent, and in proceeding, the village of Gedling comes more into site. The white house of W.E.Elliott, Esq. and the small temple at the angular point of two Plantations, that meet near the summit of the hill, have a pretty appearance." (1835 131)

Baker considered the walk, from Colwick to Shelford via Stoke Bardolph ferry, to be one of the most delightfully pleasant around Nottingham (ibid 130).

The 1835 map by Sanderson (Fig 7) does not record the temple, although a 'Summer House' is recorded in the grounds of Bridgford Hill, which from its position commanded views towards Shelford and Gedling. None of the later maps show the temple, and it is not clear at what time it vanished.

Although the temple appears in two paintings its form cannot be clearly interpreted, but does appear to be of circular plan with round headed or gothic door and windows and a circular roof with some form of pinnacle. The roof seems to be held up by thin posts or columns. The whole is placed on a levelled platform. The structure would have enjoyed views towards the River Trent, Nottingham and East Bridgford, although judging from where it would have been only Nottingham and the Trent are visible as the woods have grown to the east.

It is known that the Reverend John Swete was a keen landscape artist and gardener and in c. 1792 laid out the grounds of his own property, Oxton House, Devon, including a number of ornamental structures in the gothic style (Leach 1984 398). It is quite possible that Swete, with his very close family connections, advised and designed the temple for Elliott, and the paintings may have been commissioned to show the temple before or after it was built to best show its impact on the landscape. The elder William Elliott, who died in 1792, built pleasure grounds at Radford Grove or Folly , Nottingham from 1780 after his retirement. The centre-piece was a boating lake overlooked by a large octagonal temple (Fig 17). Could this have provided the inspiration for William E. Elliott to have erected the Gedling temple. It may have had sentimental attachments as there is an unsubstantiated report that the daughter of one of the Elliott's is said to have drowned herself in the lake (LSL: Swann Scrapbook II 207). The house and grounds were sold to Charles Sutton on the death of William Elliott in 1792 (ibid).

There are numerous other buildings within the garden area that are recorded on the Ordnance Survey map, but which are now demolished or in a state of disrepair. William E. Elliott's will refers to outbuildings and the 1803 sale catalogue to "a very convenient detached Yard containing a double Coach- house, excellent Stables and Saddle-house, a large Barn, Dovecot, Cow- houses, and other Buildings, with Rooms over them; Gardens and Orchards well stocked." (NAO: DD.LK 50/53). As well as providing the garden for the house, there was also the need for the grounds to include and satisfy the requirements of a large thriving farm and as can be seen from the description many of the ancillary buildings were actually part of the day- to-day business of running that farm. The farm buildings are now in a semi-ruinous state and have been for a long time, some being recorded as such earlier this century Ordnance Survey maps. They were probably allowed to decay as the property stopped being the centre of the farm and simply a residence. It is possible that in the farm buildings something of the original style favoured by Thomas Smith is revealed, especially in the windows which are in a more Palladian taste, abounding in Diocletian windows (Fig 32) and Serliana (Fig 33).

Fig 32 Farm buildings, the Diocletian windows possibly reveal something of the Palladian taste of Thomas Smith.

Fig 33 Farm buildings facing the main house, showing blind Venetian Windows to dairy and panel above door.

The Kitchen Garden.

To the east of the house lies the walled kitchen garden, originally reached by a path to an entrance to the middle of the south wall (Fig 34). It is all now somewhat overgrown. Internally the garden has lost all of its structures and the form of its layout. The buildings have been lost through neglect and vandalism while the layout has gone as it is all now overgrown. Fortunately the nineteenth century Ordnance Survey maps record in some detail the paths, glass-houses, and buildings that were then present (Fig 10). Enough of the structures survive on the ground and as ghost outlines on the walls for them to be reconstructed (Fig 35).

Fig 34 Kitchen Garden: Entrance through south wall.

Walled gardens have a fairly standard form throughout the Georgian period and that attached to Gedling House seems fairly typical, being rectangular. It is c.300' east to west and c.150' north to south. The entrance is through an open doorway in the south wall (Fig 34) which was the least useful part and would have provided the visitor with a view of the most productive parts and the glasshouses on the north wall. There are two round-headed doorways through the north wall which gave access to garden buildings, at least one of which appears to have been flued so as to provide heat through the wall to the lean-to greenhouse (Fig 36). In his will William E. Elliott refers to hothouses and greenhouses (NAO: M2097), the difference being that one just provides shelter while the other is heated to grow more exotic plants.

Fig 35 Kitchen Garden: Site of glasshouses on the internal north wall.

Fig 36 Kitchen Garden: Site of external buildings that provided heating for glasshouses.

Boundaries: Terrace and Wood.

A stone terrace obviated the need for a boundary wall around the immediate environs of the garden (Fig 37), providing an uninterrupted vista across the lawn and the Trent Valley from the south part of the house. Repton wrote in 1803 that the "boundary-fence of a place should be concealed from the house, is among the few general principles admitted in modern gardening" (198), and in 1815 he states, "If there be any part of my practice liable to the accusation of often advising the same thing at different places, it will be true in all that relates to my partiality for a terrace, as a fence near the house." (Repton & Repton 416). A second terrace is provided to the north of the house and kitchen garden and provides a barrier between the garden and woodland.

Fig 37 Gedling House: Looking towards the south facade, across the terrace and lawns.

The original boundary, as described in the 1803 sale catalogue, comprised a ring-fence. Woodland was planted soon after the house was constructed both as a backdrop and as belts to delineate some of the boundaries. The main area of plantation lies to the north of the house and helps it to stand out. The belts of trees lay to the south, on the north side of Burton Road and to the west, on the original boundary between Thomas Smith's property and Hall Wongs belonging to the Earl of Chesterfield. The use of such formal belts, in the style of Lancelot Brown, to delineate the edge of the estate park was already somewhat old fashioned, and was possibly being used because the owners wanted to hide less agreeable aspects of the view, such as the workhouse. The belts could also have been used because in certain respects the owner's taste had not moved with the times.

At the north end of the property is a large plantation that was not present at the time of the enclosure award, but is present on all the nineteenth century maps. With the wars of the late eighteenth century wood became a scarce resource and during the 1790s the planting of trees became a national necessity and it was a patriotic duty to create woodland (Stuart 1979 108).

The Lodge, Gateway and Avenue.

On what was the original south-west boundary of the estate is the Lodge and entrance gate (Fig 38). The Lodge is a single storey stuccoed building very much in keeping with the style of the main house. It is unclear of the precise date for the construction of the Lodge, but it does appear on the 1836 map. The Lodge does not appear to be listed in the 1803 sale catalogue. It was therefore constructed by Smith or Elliott, and of these two the latter seems more likely. If Elliott was the builder then he probably had it built around 1805 when he undertook most of his changes. It does not appear on the Reverend Swete's painting (Fig 4), but this might be because it is hidden behind the windmill.

Fig 38 The Lodge and South Gateway, an avenue heads north, but seems never to have been much more than a path.

Where the occupiers of the Lodge can be traced through the national censuses of the nineteenth century they appear as servants or gardeners to Gedling House. It is unfortunate that in only two censuses, in 1851 and 1871, is the Lodge named, but in both cases the head of the household is recorded as a gardener.

The Lodge acts as a gatehouse for a tree-lined approach that runs along the western boundary of the estate and joined the main western approach. The gateway was a simple affair and consists of a plain farm gate between two stone posts. It is not clear as to the extent to which this approach formed the main entrance to the grounds and certainly by the late- nineteenth century it was little more than a footpath, and seems to have continued as such until the school was built.