Fireworks Part 2: Marvellous Contrivances and Warlike Music

MUSIC AND FIREWORKS!   By the 17thc the most important state occasions and civic events called for pageants, processions, ceremonies and often  included extravagant firework displays too.   A new generation of gunners used their military skills with gunpowder to devise  entertainments as well as weaponry.

Fireworks were becoming an increasingly sophisticated  art form in their own right, and by the mid 18thc could be spectacular in scale and extravagance as was shown by the display in London’s Green Park where Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks was premiered in 1749 [click on the links & you can hear it as you read!] Although not everything went according to plan as you’ll see if you read on…

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Fireworks – part 1: Here be Dragons!

In honour of the fact that November 5th is looming on the calendar I thought I’d be topical and  investigate the history of fireworks in our parks and gardens.

I soon discovered that  fireworks have very little to do with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 where you might have thought our Bonfire Night traditions began.

Instead their use has a longer and more interesting history, and to start with it includes a lot of dragons

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100,000 trees might fetch £100,000 and a few medals

We often talk of the English landscape garden with the emphasis on garden but the wider landscape was equally important in design terms and far more significant in economic terms. Landowners  planted trees to ornament their estates for aesthetic as well as patriotic reasons but also to allow  their grandchildren to reap the rewards  when the trees were harvested and sold as timber for the navy, for fuel, building or furniture.

This attitude had been encouraged since John Evelyn first published Sylva his great work on trees , complaining about the destruction of the nations woodland and calling for mass reforestation. Unfortunately it’s not really until the 1750s that this begins to be taken up and forestry and woodland planting become the subject of more interest, with many books showing how to marry the beauty of trees to the beauty of money.

It was the oak in particular that was the object of most attention, and might explain why Capability Brown filled the land around Fisherwick Park in Staffordshire with oaks assuring the owner Lord Donegal  “that one hundred thousand trees  had been put in which in  due course might fetch £100,000.”

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Chambord and its new 18thc garden

Chambord is one of the greatest chateaux in France with 426 rooms, 83 staircases, and 282 fireplaces – but apart from a few years in the 18thc – no real garden.

It was built  as a hunting lodge in the early 16thc on a remote and inhospitable marshy plain, surrounded by dense forest.  The man who built it, Francois I, the new young and ambitious king of France,  wanted to create an architectural marvel,  to be an expression of his power over both man and nature which people would flock to see it no matter how inaccessible.

He succeeded. In 2019 2 million people visited the estate with 1.13 million going  into the chateau itself. Now, after what I think is perhaps  the largest project of its kind ever undertaken in France, they’ll also be coming to see the newly recreated 18thc gardens.

Chambord just after the replanting

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The Ryder Cup for Gardening

Pre-Covid I was looking for material for a post on Winifred Walker, the botanical artist and discovered that one of the companies who commissioned her flower paintings was Ryders of St Albans.  That name sounded familiar but  didn’t ring any horticultural bells so I set off down a side-track to see what was known about them too. It was well worth the detour.

Looking back it’s a pity that my brother, a super-keen golfer,  wasn’t with me because he’d have told me immediately why the name Ryder was familiar. I decided to leace reporting what I found until the next time  the other Ryder Cup happened which apparently it did last week….


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