The Cheshire Cottage at Biddulph Grange Garden

Line drawing of Cheshire Cottage

A half-timbered Cheshire Cottage with the date 1856 and the Batemans’ initials J&MB inscribed on the maroon plasterwork of the upper storey

A royal reference?

Could James Bateman have been making a nod here to the Swiss Cottage, built in 1853 for Queen Victoria’s nine children at her Italianate private home, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight? Like many of Biddulph’s buildings, there was a considerable input from Edward Cooke, who made several drawings for it. Whatever its inspiration, the Cheshire Cottage is curiously English here amongst exotic conifers.

A hidden crossing place

However staid the Cheshire Cottage might seem at first glance, it serves an important purpose in the garden’s design. Its interior is an unexpected crossing place of spaces and levels through eerie gloom into the heart of China (passing from Europe to the Far East in a few short steps), while the window in its upper storey must once have provided a commanding view of the pinetum’s young conifers. This English building, like Biddulph itself, was a place from which to survey the whole of God’s created world.

The garden matures

It is important, too, to imagine how impressive the Cottage might seem if, as in Bateman’s time, it was the commanding focus along the Pinetum’s path rising among young trees. Today, surrounded by mature conifers, its power and freshness are diminished, but that is the fate of all garden buildings: they begin life as a scene’s most conspicuous element and are then gently upstaged by the plants as they begin to dwarf the building. Should such trees be felled to allow the buildings to breathe again? The maturity of its trees is part of a garden’s life cycle; if it is well cared for, young replacements will, in due course, return the scene to its youth. As visitors, we must enjoy the setting as it is found now, in the knowledge that it will change, that gardens are not fixed forever.