Kedleston's Pleasure Grounds

Robert Adam's south front of Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, at an angle

Winding lawns lined with trees and shrubs, a gravel walk separated from the park by a ha-ha, expansive views across the landscape – when the agriculturalist Arthur Young visited Kedleston in 1770, he was swept away by the beauty of the pleasure grounds.

What are pleasure grounds?
Kedleston’s pleasure grounds are one of the best surviving examples of an 18th-century informal landscape. Although it looks natural, the landscape is actually designed to show the Hall and its environment in the best possible light. Following in the footsteps of the owners of other great landscape gardens such as Stourhead, Painshill and Stowe, Sir Nathaniel (from 1761 Baron Scarsdale) instructed Robert Adam in 1758 to redesign the park and gardens on a grand scale. It was Adam’s first major job and he took to it with great enthusiasm.

Immediately after he received the commission, Robert wrote to his brother James:

" I have got the entire management of his grounds put into my hands with full powers as to temples, bridges, seats and cascades."
- Robert Adam (1758)

Sweeping away a more formal garden, which had been designed by Charles Bridgeman in the 1720s for Sir Nathaniel’s uncle John, the 3rd Baronet Curzon, Robert Adam proposed an ambitious design to complement the new hall. The proposed landscape garden included a circular walk with a number of stopping places along the way and a small ‘garden’ with ornamental shrubs and trees closer to the hall.

Autumn trees in the Pleasure Grounds at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire
Autumn trees in the Pleasure Grounds at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire
Autumn trees in the Pleasure Grounds at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire

Who was involved in creating the pleasure grounds?
Nathaniel Curzon was a bit of a talent spotter and dedicated to following the latest fashions. Several architects and landscape gardeners started their careers at Kedleston and moved on to become household names in the late 18th century.

Of these Robert Adam is the most well-known. But he was preceded at Kedleston by William Emes, who’d been hired as a gardener in 1756. Samuel Wyatt, who is probably responsible for the design of the stables, also made his mark in the pleasure grounds by designing the pedestal for the lion and by moving a mature beech to the south lawn from a different part of the park.

William Emes was succeeded as head gardener by John Sandys, who later became involved in the landscaping at Holkham Hall in Norfolk. Arthur Young credited Lady Caroline as the driving force behind the pleasure grounds. Her mother-in-law, Mary Curzon, was the creator of a garden nearby and may also have been involved.