Restoring the North Terrace

Claremont North Terrace restored

As always in nature, the cycle of seasons mean landscapes are always changing. More often than not the cycle is glorious, like the burst of new life in spring or the vivid and uplifting colours of autumn. But sometimes a helping hand is needed to control nature’s excesses. Over the past year we've been in the process of restoring the North Terrace in partnership with its neighbour Claremont Fan Court School, where rows of laurels have taken over the borders between the school and National Trust land.

As always in nature, the cycle of seasons mean landscapes are always changing. More often than not the cycle is glorious, like the burst of new life in spring or the vivid and uplifting colours of autumn. But sometimes a helping hand is needed to control nature’s excesses. Over the past year we've been in the process of restoring the North Terrace in partnership with its neighbour Claremont Fan Court School, where rows of laurels have taken over the borders between the school and National Trust land.

By Diana Hinshelwood, Marketing Volunteer

The story of Claremont’s gardens is inextricably linked to its history. The original house and gardens of Claremont were established when renowned playwright and architect John Vanbrugh bought the area known as Chargate Farm in 1709 and set about building a retreat. The house was built in the Palladian style and the gardens at this time were still of the French formal style.  

The North Terrace was one of the first parts of the gardens to be constructed and was originally a curving path around the gardens. In 1714, Vanbrugh sold the property to Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle, who twice became Prime Minister and was a powerful English political figure. He employed Charles Bridgeman to continue the work on the formal gardens. Bridgeman created Claremont’s famous tiered grass amphitheatre overlooking the Serpentine lake. ‘Bridgeman’s Walk’ leads up to the Camelia Terrace, Belvedere Tower and the North Terrace, all from which provide commanding viewpoints of the surrounding countryside. William Kent softened the symmetry, planting trees in clumps to break up the hard lines and creating a more informal setting.

In 1769 the house and gardens were then sold to Clive of India, who had made his fortune with the East India Company. Robert Clive commissioned Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to overhaul the house and gardens. The original house was demolished and rebuilt further away from Portsmouth Road in a higher spot. ‘Capability’ Brown was known for his ‘informal’ style of landscaping and continued with the less regimented theme implemented by William Kent.

Robert Clive was a controversial figure in British commerce and politics of that era, and he died unexpectedly in 1774.The manner of his passing, widely debated at the time, is unknown but what is known is that he died before the overhaul of Claremont was complete.

Claremont became a beloved retreat for royalty such as Queen Victoria when she was a Princess and Princess Charlotte and her husband Prince Leopold. However, subsequent owners only made minor alterations and in 1922 much of the Claremont estate was sold for housing development, leaving just the house and surrounding 210 acres of garden. Most buildings were demolished, but the house became Claremont Fan Court School in 1930. The surviving 49 acres of the garden were passed to the National Trust for maintenance and restoration. 

In more recent times, the laurels planted in informal rows and self-seeded plants along the boundary between the school and the gardens have become overgrown, allowing them to dominate the North Terrace and obstructing the view. ‘Capability’ Brown may have favoured an informal style for his landscapes but he did not intend for uncontrolled growth to spoil the gardens. So this is where we must give nature a helping hand to prevent the unchecked spread from covering other plants and shrubs. The restoration project aimed to return the North Terrace to the ‘Brownian’ landscape of mid to late eighteenth century. The work has involved cutting back the overgrowth to remove the laurel and allow other plants to thrive where they were once crowded out of the sunlight.   

Claremont North Terrace restoration