History of the garden at Red House
The garden visitor’s experience today at Red House, is very different from the garden Morris had laid out. Just as the design of the house itself was inspired by Medieval literature and artworks, so too was the garden. Images such as Burne-Jones’ Lovers in a Garden (Tate Britain) and The Backgammon Players (Fitzwilliam Museum) give us a glimpse of what the garden may have been like.
" Large or small, it [the garden] should look both orderly and rich…It should by no means imitate either the wilfulness or the wildness of Nature, but should look like a thing never to be seen except near a house. It should, in fact, look like a part of the house."
In 1858 when William Morris began to look for a site to build his country retreat, the situation and surrounding countryside was a matter of the utmost importance. Morris eventually settled on a site in the hamlet of Hog’s Hole, near the village of Upton, with its well-established orchards of apple, cherry and plum trees.
Indeed, the preservation of the orchard and surviving planting was so important that the builders were not permitted to remove any trees or bushes without Philip Webb’s express permission. In his plans for the elevations of the house, Webb included notes of the plants and climbers that were to be planted once the house was constructed, very much linking the house and garden in the manner later expressed by Morris.
Alongside the Orchard, Morris’ garden included the bowling green and a series of garden “rooms” to the North and East of the house. Webb commissioned local craftsmen to create wattle fencing and trellises for these garden rooms, which were planted with a plethora of native and traditional flowers, such as white jasmine, honeysuckle and wild roses. Morris was fascinated by the natural patterns made by plants, and early Morris & Co. designs such as “Trellis” were most likely inspired by his very own garden rooms at Red House. For Morris, both the house and the garden were intended to be a place of repose from the modern world, and the garden rooms were a key feature of this.
Morris’ insistence on designing the house and garden together, in the historian Fiona McCarthy’s opinion, helped to inspire the Arts and Crafts Garden Movement of the 1890s and 1900s.
The garden after Morris
In 1866, Morris sold Red House to James Heathcote, whose daughter Marian described the orchard and “...pleasaunces...” in her memoir, suggesting that Morris’ garden remained for some time after he and his family left. However, by the time Charles Holme acquired the property in 1899, a number of changes seem to have taken place.
An Ordnance Survey map of 1897 shows that the Coach House had been added to the south of Webb’s stable building, and glass houses added behind the outbuildings by the time Holme took ownership of Red House. Holme was a keen collector of orchids, and used the glass house to store his collection. The survey also seems to show that the intimate garden rooms had been replaced, and the garden opened up, with photographs showing a grass area and love seat possibly to the north of the house.
The garden of 1 acre was enlarged by an additional land purchase to the west of the property in the early 20th century, by the then owners Henry and Maud Maufe. This protected Red House somewhat from the rapid urbanisation of the once rural area, and maintained the sense of seclusion that Morris himself had sought.
Between 1920-1950 a series of different owners took over Red House, but it was Ted Hollamby and his wife Doris, in particular, who rescued the garden from a near-derelict state, replanting with native plants and preserving the remaining elderly fruit trees.
The garden today
The garden today seeks to evoke that same feeling of repose from the modern world that appealed to Morris when he first came across Hog’s Hole, but has a variety of modern challenges to contend with in order to achieve this.
Rather than open views of the long-vanished countryside, the urbanisation of the local area means that today the garden and house are enclosed by a variety of shrubs and trees, that screen the house from the surrounding surburban environment that has grown as the railway has spread. This however, succeeds in recreating the sense of seclusion from society that Morris sought.
An elderly apple tree has been preserved, with grafts taken with the aim of re-establishing the orchard that was such a dominant feature within the enclosed garden of the 1860s.
Climate change has also had an impact, with some native plants that Morris would have been familiar with struggling to thrive in the warmer climate that we have today. Therefore, beds are planted in a modern interpretation of the medieval and detailed feel that Morris advocated, creating a planting scheme that would feel familiar to Morris, even if it looks slightly different.
Future plans for the garden include plans to reinstate a garden room of Morris’ time. The creation of more a intimate and reflective space will truly recapture the creative and experimental atmosphere that Morris and his circle created during their time at Red House. To explore these plans more fully please visit our Garden Snug pages.