A trip to Yorkshire for a wedding gave me a great opportunity to visit a garden I’ve always wanted to see: Temple Newsam, a wonderfully rambling imposing mansion just a couple of miles from Leeds city centre. Best known for its magnificent collections of furniture, ceramics, paintings, silverware and textiles, it also has gardens that make a visit worthwhile on their own.
To add to the interest there is currently [until 30th October 2016] an exhibition called Visioning the Landscape about the history of the estate from 1622 to 1922. Odd dates to choose you might think, but 1622 is the date when the estate, then in a parlous state, was bought by Sir Arthur Ingram for £12,000, and 1922 the year that Edward Wood, Earl of Halifax, handed it over to Leeds City Council who still own it today. The exhibition explores the different ways that the landscape at Temple Newsam was perceived during those 300 years.
Read on to find out more…
The house had a turbulent early existence. Thomas, Lord Darcy started building at Temple Newsam around 1500 but he didn’t enjoy it for long as he was executed for taking part in the catholic uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace which followed Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Henry confiscated the estate and gave it to his niece Margaret and her husband and it was at Temple Newsam that their son Henry, Lord Darnley, was born. When in 1565 Darnley married Mary Queen of Scots an angry Elizabeth I seized it back again.
Eventually the estate was purchased for £12,000 by Sir Arthur Ingram who extended and rebuilt the house over the next couple of decades. Ingram clearly saw the estate as a microcosm of a well-ordered universe. The exhibition guide suggests that “the long straight avenues, the regimented orchards and productive kitchen gardens make it a vision of hierarchic order, regularity and efficiency.” Ingram employed a French gardener, Pierre Monjoye, between 1622 and 1639 on a salary of £56. One of Monjoye’s tasks was to design the south or Privy Garden which can be seen in the birds-eye view by Johannes Kip published in 1699. By then the layout had probably been simplified considerably but nonetheless the prospect is impressive. A computer-generated reconstruction of the house and gardens at the time of Kip’s print was carried out by Heritage Technology in 2007. More info and images on their website.
A couple of generations later such formality was old hat, and under the influence of Italian and French paintings and pastoral poetry, gardens and landscapes were being seen as works of art in their own right. Owners wanted their estates to be serene classical landscapes in the style of Claude Lorraine, and Temple Newsam became another of the many estates whose owners called in Lancelot Brown to help them create this Arcadian vision.
The Ingrams, now ennobled as Viscounts Irwin, had been collecting topographical paintings, Dutch, Italian and French for some time. The 4th Viscount had bought 40 paintings in the style of Salvator Rosa when he was on the Grand Tour. Henry, the 7th Viscount created a vast picture gallery in the late 1740s. This is still an extraordinary sight and must have been even more so in its heyday. Philippa Glanville says that the entire room “is ‘a forest of mythology, inhabited by the gods of the pagan world’, to which images of the family are added… There was once even the grass green carpet”. Her full account of the house interiors can be found at:
A neo-classical stable block (listed grade II*) probably designed by Daniel Garrett was added together with a riding school [sadly now demolished] which formed a balanced composition in front of the house, as can be seen in a painting of c 1750 by James Chapman.
In 1765 Charles, the 9th Viscount added Claude Lorraine’s Pastoral Landscape to their collection for £100. [Incidentally the early 18th saw 5 brothers inherit the title and estate, one after the other in rapid succession – good thing there were no death duties or they’d have gone bankrupt very quickly!]
During the early 18thc William Etty, the York architect had been employed to work on the parkland and he added a new approach to the house with a bridge and ponds which can still be seen, but it was Charles and his wife Frances who approached Capability Brown about much grander plans for the transformation of the Temple Newsam parkland.
When work finally commenced the couple involved themselves at every stage of the process. Charles ordered many new varieties of new plant introductions and was very interested in the possibility of growing pineapples, whilst Frances enjoyed the role, according to family papers quoted in the exhibition guide, of “an old fashioned country gentlewoman” and supervised the “Brownifications”. She saw Temple Newsam’s new emerging landscape in direct comparison with the newly acquired Lorraine painting: “I apply myself to my beauteous Claude where the scene always enchants me.”
Brown’s plan of his “Intended Alterations” is on display, along with a 3D model to show what it might have looked like. Unfortunately as there are no earlier plans of the estate, we do not know exactly how his proposals related to Etty’s work or the wider landscape than that shown on the Knyff and Kip engraving. However, as you would probably expect, it shows great expanses of open grass with artfully disposed clumps of trees, ha-has to prevent the livestock coming too close to the house, belts of trees around the boundary, serpentine carriage drives to give different views of the house and park and a large lake. There were to be shrubberies and a gravel walk, but apparently no flower garden. There were also to be new ornamental buildings in the grounds including a temple. Tucked away out of immediate sight from the mansion were the home farm, estate buildings, and large walled garden complete with hothouses. And of course, Ingram’s formal gardens were removed. It was a costly business, Brown being paid £2,800 in the years up to 1770.
In 1767 while work was underway, supervised by Brown’s foremen, Thomas White and William Stones, the clergyman and poet Sydney Swinney dedicated a lengthy verse epistle to Lord Irwin, which ‘summarises’ a history of the modern landscape movement, and anticipates the completion of the Brown’s vision. I cannot find an on-line version so have copied the text from the exhibition guide.
Work came to a sudden halt after Charles died in 1778. Frances lost heart and abandoned the project about halfway through and well before it reached the stage that was pre-visioned by Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker in his pre-computer generated image! The most noticeable difference is that Brown’s lake, shown in Rooker’s painting was never created. Instead there are today 3 smaller lakes, known as the Menagerie Ponds, in the same area. Nowadays each of them has a different feel. The lower lake is simply set in parkland; the middle and largest lake is bordered by beds of damp loving perennials whilst higher up the valley, linked by a small cascade, there is a grass and bamboo garden bordering the smallest lake.
One building that survives from Brown’s time at Temple Newsam is a neo-classical temple called the Little Temple (listed grade II) to the east of the house, with a backdrop of woodland in views from the house. It is in the position of a rotunda shown on Brown’s plan, but is now in a very dilapidated state and at serious risk. For more information see the Leeds Civic Trust webpage.
There is a detailed study of architecture and history of the Little Temple by Michael Devenish on our database at:
Although Brown’s scheme grand vision was left incomplete, some more work was done towards the end of Frances’s life, and later during the ownership of her daughters , Isabella Lady Hertford and then Frances Ingram Shepheard. The walled gardens were finished, the South Terrace created and the Home Farm extended. Today, the Home Farm is one of Europe’s largest centres for rare breeds.
During the 19thc the estate became famous for its “sport”, particularly the shooting of partridge, pheasants and hares. Since the Capability Brown parkland provided ideal cover for game it was largely left undisturbed. However by the 1850’s gently meandering paths bordered by trees or shrubs led down to and around the lakes at the edge of the parkland.Since then the main path has developed into the Rhododendron Walk.
The only other major development was a garden laid out around 1875 on the site of the Privy Garden in Kip’s engraving. It was the vision of Emily Meynell-Ingram, the young widow of Sir Arthur Ingram’s last descendant. She was deeply romantic and a watercolour artist of some considerable skill. A new lawn below the South Terrace containing shaped beds filled with flowering perennials and divided by gravel paths was centred on a spectacular cast-iron fountain.
In the 1980s her garden was redesigned again to better reflect the formal garden of the 17th century with close-clipped yew, beech and box hedges, trained Laburnum arches and a pleached Hornbeam walk, which now unfortunately obscure what would have been an open view to towards Leeds.
It was Emily’s nephew, Edward Wood, Earl of Halifax who handed over the house to Leeds for a nominal sum, and later added a gift of pictures. By then the grounds nearer the house had been much simplified as can be seen from the aerial photograph.
It was at this point that Percy Thrower came to work for Leeds Parks Department, and was sent to work at Temple Newsam helping to turn the previously private estate into a public park. Be prepared to be shocked by what he said about it.
He reports being horrified by the profligacy that he saw: “Every year thousands and thousands of bulbs were bought in from Holland and every year as soon as they had flowered, they were dug out and destroyed. The head gardener insisted on total destruction and he would stand by to ensure they were buried or put on a bonfire so that no-one could possibly use them again, not even perhaps to enjoy them flowering on a piece of waste ground.” It was not just bulbs, but right across the board – azaleas , for example, were “bought by the hundred for the display houses …and then were burned….That is the way things were in the public parks in those days.” Its certainly not the way things are today! For more on Percy see previous posts: http://wp.me/p4brf0-aZy and http://wp.me/p4brf0-dpa
The park was used as the site for the County Show, and later, somewhat less temporarily some parts were excavated for open cast coal mining, although these have now been restored, and used for a golf course.
The Home Farm was extended again by the City Corporation and a large herd of dairy cows were kept, to provide free school milk for children in the city’s schools.
At roughly the same time the 18thc Walled Garden was turned into a zoo, although this did not last long, and then into a rose garden. Nowadays it is home to five of the eleven National Collections of plants held by Leeds City Council. The collections of Delphinium, hardy Korean Chrysanthemums, Phlox and Aster are planted out in 800m of herbaceous borders., whilst the more tender Spray, Charm and Cascade Chrysanthemum collections provide a great blaze of autumn colour in the conservatory, following the stunning display of coleus [now officially known as Solenostemon]. There is also an impressive display of zonal pelargoniums, trained to cover the full height of the wall, some 10 – 12 feet! In 2015 for the first time in almost 100 years vegetable growing was reintroduced, managed by staff, trainees and volunteers, and the produce used in the cafe. For more on the National Collections see:
For more information about Temple Newsam see our database, the websites of Historic England as well as that of Leeds City Council. Links below…