Continuing with my occasional theme of menageries in the garden, todays’s post looks at Osterley Park in west London and also reveals how garden history interacts with wider current research. The East India Company at Home project has been trying to put the country house and estate into its global and imperial context and has made a special study of Osterley, in particular looking how its owners acquired and used exotic Asian commodities in the 18th and 19thc. This included birds for their garden menageries.
In 1562, the manor of Osterley was acquired by Sir Thomas Gresham , a wealthy London merchant, who was given a license to empark 600 acres. He built a large house, planted large areas of the parkland and seems to have constructed several fishponds and a heronry (National Trust guidebook, 1980) which together form the basis for present structure of the park.
Afer his death it frequently changed hands, being owned at one point by Nicholas Barbon, the notorious late-17thc property speculator and developer. Eventually in 1713 it passed into the hands of Sir Francis Child. He was a goldsmith and jeweller turned banker “at the sign of the Marygold” next to Temple bar. Lord Mayor in 1698 and Master of the Goldsmiths in 1702, Sir Francis was also on the committee of the East India Company.
His son also Sir Francis is thought to have planted the straight avenues shown on the Rocque map which converge on the area round the house, where formal gardens were planted. A small Doric temple of Pan near the house also dates from this period, and has traditionally been ascribed to John James. (P. Ward-Jackson, Osterley Park: A Guide)
When his grandson, also named Francis, inherited the property in 1752, he brought in Robert Adam to redesign both the fabric and the interior of the house. Although the third Sir Francis died in 1763, Adam continued his work under the patronage of his brother and heir, Robert, until 1780.
The brothers’ immense wealth also allowed them to develop the gardens and park and to create a superb collection of exotic birds at Osterley Park, Middlesex. Lady Beauchamp-Proctor visited in 1772 and thought it: ‘The prettiest place I ever saw, ’tis an absolute retreat, & fill’d with all sorts of curious and scarce Birds and Fowles, among the rest 2 Numidian Cranes that follow like Dogs, and a pair of Chinese teal that have only been seen in England before upon the India paper‘ . (J. Hardy and M. Tomlin, Osterley Park, London, 1985, p. 105).
Her reference to India paper is almost certainly Chinese wallpaper which was very fashionable, as all things ‘oriental’ were often confused and misnamed.
If you are interested in knowing more about this then the East India Company at Home project have a case study on Chinese wallpapers available at their website [see link at the end]
The National Trust have also just completed a catalogue of the Chinese wallpapers to be found in their properties. The large majority of them of them feature avian life in all its forms indicating the popularity of exotic birds amongst the elite.
The Trust have an excellent blogpost on the subject of Chinese wallpapers too: http://nttreasurehunt.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/chinese-wallpaper-in-national-trust-houses/
The family connection with the East India Company may explain how some of their birds were acquired. They were not only shareholders but owned ships, sometimes in partnership with others. One shipping partnership was with Charles Raymond, a fellow banker and owner of Valentines House at Ilford. He and Sir Francis Child III co-owned the East Indiaman Osterley, th first of a line of ships with that name. They shared other interests too Raymond extended his Valentines estate and laid out new gardens where also he kept a menagerie. A contemporary publication said of Valentines that ‘it may, with great propriety, be called a Cabinet of Curiosities’. He certainly had exotic birds bought by ships captains, including a secretary bird which arrived from the Cape in 1771. Valentines is the subject of another case study by The East India Company at Home project and can be found at:
The Menagerie at Osterley Park contained over 97 different species of bird, cared for a ‘Menagerie Man’ called Jonathan Chipps who was paid £31 per year , assisted by a ‘Boy’ paid 8 shillings per week. Robert Child’s widow, Sarah commissioned artist William Hayes and his family to paint the birds for a series of pictures which were later hung at the Menagerie, and a hundred of them were published by Hayes himself in book form in 1794.
Sadly the collection was dispersed soon afterwards. Like many other buildings named The Menagerie this was not for the animals but for the visitors. It still exists but is now in private hands and cut off from the rest of the parkland by the M4 motorway.
For more about the Menagerie and the bird collection see:
There are other links to exotic birds to be found around the house, in the chinese wallpaper in particular but the National Trust conservation team at Osterley also recommend visitors take a close look at the Tapestry Room, where not only birds and animals can be found but, hidden away as well, a gardening hat that belonged to one of the Child family.
Horace Walpole visited Osterley in 1773 and sang its praises. It was “the palace of palaces – and yet a palace, sans crown sans coronet; but such expense! such taste! such profusion!”
The interiors were “worthy of Eve before the Fall.” and overall the house was, he thought, so improved that “all the Percies and Seymours of Sion must die of envy.” Outside the kitchen garden costs £1400 a year and the menagerie was full of birds that come from a thousand islands which Mr Banks has not discovered.”
[Mr Banks is of course, Sir Joseph Banks, the naturalist, botanist and patron of the natural sciences who accompanied Cook to his first voyage round the world between 1768 and 1771]
But Walpole concluded his account saying rather harshly that “the park is the ugliest spot of ground in the universe.” In fact, the park and gardens surrounding the house were extensively altered over the period of the rebuilding, so its difficult to know at what stage Walpole decided the parkland was so unattractive. Certainly the formal gardens outlined on the Rocque plan were being replaced by an informal park recorded on an enclosure map of 1818.
Most of this work was carried out by Robert Child and his wife Sarah. They carried out a large scale tree-planting operation on the estate, inventoried in 1782, and created a long boundary/circuit woodland walk around a central “meadow.”
This is an idea developed by Bridgeman probably following Addison’s advice to turn the whole estate into part of the garden: “if the natural embroidery of the Meadows were helped and improved by some small additions of art and several rows of hedges set off by trees and flowers… a man might make a pretty landskip of his own possessions…”
Marion Harney [Gardens and Landscapes in Historic Building Conservation, p.45] suggests that this might have been done on the advice of Adam who had proposed a similar idea at Kedleston, and as Brown had laid out at Croome Park. The Great Meadow is now a very rare survival, full of wild flowers, having never been ploughed since then.
At about the same time the road approach was made more circuitous, and The various ponds were made into long lakes or canals, stretching round the south of the house, offered the opportunity to walk part of the circuit walk and return by boat from the southern end of the lake.
There were also several other buildings from this period dotted around the landscape, including a Chinese tea-house, a windmill and an orangery. Sadly now all lost. The 18thc changes left untouched the beautiful Tudor stable block and the walled garden behind it. These are now used for growing veg for the cafe and flowers for the house.
In 1804 Robert Child’s granddaughter, Lady Sarah Sophia Fane, who had inherited the estate, married the fifth Earl of Jersey and thus Osterley came into the possession of the Jersey family. They had plenty of other properties and so a great deal of the park was leased to farmers, and the kitchen-garden was let as a market-garden. Nevertheless, because of its proximity to London, they continued to use Osterley for house parties entertaining the great and the good of the Tory party. Henry James was also a visitor and in the Name of the Master used Osterley as the basis for a country house called Summersoft.
In 1949 the ninth Earl, Lord Jersey, gave the house and 57 hectares of the estate to the National Trust, and a further 77 hectares were acquired by the Trust in 1990. Osterley was the subject of the first major historical survey of a garden by the National Trust, starting in 1979. This combined archival research with detailed examination of visual sources history books, garden archaeology and of course the surviving fabric.
2007 saw the beginning of the first phase of the garden and park restoration. The Great Meadow has been cleared of scrub and laurels and because The inventories of the 1780s identify what trees and shrubs were grown, and the National Trust have been able to use this as the basis for restoration work.
The American Garden has been re-instated with borders and ‘specimen’ beds where the plants can be admired in isolation.
Mrs Child’s Flower Garden around the Adam conservatory, has also been recreated again using plants from the inventory. These gardens could be seen from her rooms on the first floor of the house.
The conservatory or Garden House [as well the nearby Orangery whichwas burned down during the war] then contained “Forty five Orange and Lemon trees in tubs and twelve circular stands for ditto”, as well as grapes,pienapples and mimosa.
Sadly, but for obvious reasons, there are no plans to recreate the menagerie or aviary.
For more information on Osterley, especially its history and contents, see the National Trust blog thread at:
The East India Company at Home case study on Osterly can be found at:
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