The history of Hidcote

Hidcote Bathing Pool circa 1930

For centuries the hamlet of Hidcote Bartrim led a quiet rural existence. Located 600 feet above sea level in the northern Cotswolds, agriculture was the reason it existed. All this changed in 1907, when Lawrence Johnston’s mother purchased the estate

Historic England records that Hidcote Manor was owned by Bradenstoke Priory in Wiltshire until the Priory was disbanded by Henry VIII in around 1539.

The manor house was built in the 17th Century as a farm house.  It passed through several hands before being inherited in early 1907 from the Freeman family by John Tucker, who had farmed there since 1873.

Sale of Hidcote

Within a couple of months of probate being granted the estate was put up for auction. It was advertised in The Times on 22 June 1907 as a ‘valuable freehold farm comprising 287 acres’.  The land would be sold with a ‘very substantial and picturesque farm house…… with lawns and large kitchen garden’.

At the auction in July 1907, the bidding had reached £6,500, at which point it was withdrawn from sale.  Three weeks later Lawrence Johnston, acting on behalf of his mother, agreed to purchase the estate from John Tucker for £7,200.

Lawrence arrived at Hidcote in October 1907, his mother arriving from America in June 1908.  The house was adapted to suit their requirements, with an extension being built. 

As there was little existing garden, Lawrence effectively had a blank canvas to work with.  He began to put into practice what he had learnt from studying gardening books such as The Art & Craft of Garden Making by Thomas H. Mawson.

The gardens begin

The period 1907 – 1914 saw the creation of intimate garden rooms around the house, the Circle; to the south, the Fuchsia garden and the Bathing Pool Garden; and to the west, the Red Borders and the steps up to the two gazebos.  The outbreak of the Great War (1914 – 1918) in which Lawrence fought, suspended progress.

In 1919, Gertrude bought the farm at the end of the village road, enabling the garden to be extended to the current boundaries.  This period saw the extension of the Long Walk and the creation of the Wilderness, Mrs Winthrop’s Garden, the Pillar Garden and the Rock Bank.  By the early 1920s the garden design was largely complete. Lawrence’s interests then moved on to plant hunting, both for Hidcote and the new garden he was developing in the south of France (Serre de la Madone).

The 1920s and 1930s were Hidcote’s glory days attracting many well connected people interested in gardening and widespread critical acclaim.  It was also open to the public for charity on two or three days each year.

By the 1940s Lawrence, then in his 70s, began to put his mind to the long term future of the garden.  He first approached the National Trust in 1943 to see whether they would take over the garden.

Hidcote and the National Trust

In 1948, after much deliberation, the Trust acquired Hidcote.  It was the first garden of national importance taken on under the Gardens Fund.  This fund was established by the Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society to save significant gardens.

Hidcote has now been under the stewardship of the National Trust for longer than Lawrence Johnston owned it.  For a number of years the Trust’s management policy has been to return Hidcote as close to a representation as possible of how it would have been in its heyday of the 1930s.      

This has involved the restoration of several buildings and garden areas.  The Tennis Court has been also been reinstated, recalling the house and garden parties enjoyed by Lawrence and his friends.

Much of this work was undertaken thanks to an anonymous donor who made two large donations in 2002 and 2005 on the understanding that the National Trust would provide matched funding.

Today income generated by approximately 175,000 people who visit Hidcote every year ensures the garden is maintained to a high standard, and that the beauty that Lawrence Johnston created between 1907 and 1948 will be preserved for future generations to enjoy.