Egypt Garden at Biddulph Grange

Stone Sphinxes in the Egypt Garden

The most dramatic of Biddulph’s exotic tableaux

A secluded space, hidden by beech hedges

Even though it is dominated by a grand temple doorway in stone, bearing an image of the sun god Ra and four stone sphinxes, the rest of its massive sculptural presence is created entirely from clipped yew.

Through the centre of a rectangular grass court, surrounded by hedges, runs a path flanked by two pairs of sphinxes and by topiary obelisks. It leads to the stone doorway with the top of a pyramid, also in yew, rising high behind it.

Two Sphinx guard the entrance to the tunnel in Egypt
Egypt Sphinxes
Two Sphinx guard the entrance to the tunnel in Egypt

To create his topiary obelisks, Bateman planted plain green yews to make the obelisk shafts, but around their base, as a plinth, he planted golden yews. The mix was a regular trick of Victorian gardening that continues to this day in formal gardens where contrast is required between clipped shapes.

The heart of the temple

Biddulph’s temple doorway leads directly down a gloomy passageway and through further doorways to a small chamber lit by red light from a stained-glass panel above. Here sits the monkey-god Thoth, Buddha-like, squat, hands on knees like a seated man, but with the head of a baboon. Today it seems simultaneously shocking and humorous. There is a curious light-heartedness about all the sculptures in the garden which were created by the English sculptor and naturalist, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins.

The monkey-god Thoth, Buddha-like but with the head of a baboon
The monkey-god Thoth, Buddha-like but with the head of a baboon
The monkey-god Thoth, Buddha-like but with the head of a baboon

Carry on clipping

The Egypt Garden takes up a considerable part of the annual clipping programme, which requires the efforts of two or three men over almost two months.