Bringing back the Farm Track at Standen
The Farm Track at Standen is an ancient route that has been present since medieval times, a long time before the Beales commissioned Philip Webb to build Standen, and connects the old farm with Hollybush Wood, Stone Farm and Standen Rocks. The Beales had a love for traditional farming techniques and made use of this ancient route by walking the cows back and forth from the milking sheds twice each day. This must have been quite a spectacle amongst the glorious gardens during this time. With your generous support through donations and memberships, we are carrying out essential conservation work to bring the Farm Track back to its former glory.
Staff and four volunteers have recently embarked on a major project to restore the Farm Track, to rescue important plants, improve access and to make it a feature of this prominent area once again for all to enjoy.
Follow updates from our volunteer team to stay informed about the project.
Due to the amount of the restoration work involved, a plan was drawn up which splits the project into a number of separate tasks. The first of these was to remove the current surface, which had become damaged and unsightly following years of use and several attempts at repair. This was completed by assistant ranger Ben Wiles using a large bucket excavator towards the end of 2017.
At the end of March 2019, the team of four volunteers then set about tackling the problem of drainage which has been an ongoing issue. The area around the brick steps at the top of the Track was removed and a series of drainage channels with cast iron tops installed to channel away any rainwater. This task involved carefully removing the existing brick and stone-work, building a couple of concrete foundations for the drainage channels to rest on, installing the channels and associated pipework, and then rebuilding the brick and stone edges in keeping with the original design of the brick path.
In addition, 100mm pipework was installed to take the water into a soak away area situated around 8m from the path on the bank leading down to the Croquet Lawn. This entailed digging out a channel in the existing bank and a large hole to take the two soakaway crates.
This first stage, took around three weeks to complete, including preparing the surrounding area ready for planting by the staff gardeners at a later date.
The project volunteers then moved on to the next major task, which is to build a concrete foundation on each side of the Farm Track. These foundations will support compressed concrete block-work that will provide both a means of holding back the earthen banks and a base onto which the final sandstone walls will be secured. Although the sandstone walls will be fixed to the block-work by mortar, the final effect will be that of a dry-stone wall.
Three more tasks have been finished this month. Firstly the groundworks to prepare the two concrete foundation pads were completed, which involved a considerable amount of digging out and then removing the old edges to the existing track. This was mostly the dry and very hard clay subsoil and some sandstone rocks that once lined the Farm Track on both sides. Over time, most of these rocks had either rotted away through exposure to water seeping through the soil or been re-used in other locations around the estate, but a few of the intact older, now brittle, rocks were still in situ. We also encountered tree roots, house bricks, tiles, pieces of metal and in some places even the original cobblestone edging to the track.
We then moved on to mixing, pouring and levelling the two concrete foundation pads on either side of the track. Careful measurement was needed at this stage to ensure that the southern pad sits slightly lower than its northern counterpart. This to ensure that when finished any surface water will flow not just down the natural slope from top to bottom but also across the new track. To further help with drainage we plan to install a set of five regularly spaced brick-built channels that will be offset slightly across the track. These five channels will be built later in the project to match the style and materials used on similar existing structures around the gardens.
Finally some 400 compressed concrete blocks were cemented onto the foundation pads to hold back the earthen banks and provide a stable base for the new sandstone rock walls. The blockwork on the northern side of the track is a whole course higher than the southern side and topped with a row of engineering bricks for extra height. This is to cater for the difference in height caused by the natural slope that runs across the Track from the Sloping Lawn (a slight clue in its title) down to the Croquet Lawn.
Now that the preparation work is complete we start building the new walls, using sandstone from a nearby source at West Hoathly. This is the same seam of rock that was used in construction of the original walls that ran down the edges of the Farm Track.
For the past two months we have been working on building the new sandstone walls that will line both sides of the Farm Track. The process involves initially selecting appropriate stones from the different shaped and sized one tonne bags supplied from the nearby West Hoathly Quarry. These are laid in place along a short section and gradually built up until the finished part of wall is complete. Once we are happy that the section is in keeping with the overall design, the individual stones are then fixed to the supporting concrete wall with mortar for extra stability.
The task is time-consuming due to the varied shapes and sizes of the stones, therefore the need to cut and dress many of them to fit properly together. This is particularly challenging with the capping stones that sit on top of both walls, as anyone who has tried to cut sandstone will understand it has a tendency to split fairly easily, but not always in the required direction.
To date we have put around 7 tonnes of stone in place and we are making steady progress with both walls. We estimate that about 50% of the walls are built to date, so we look forward to completing the task this winter, weather permitting.
At last we have completed laying and mortaring the new sandstone walls along the north and south sides of the Farm Track. As builders we are very pleased with how it looks and although a lot of thought, construction, trimming and mixing went into the stonework, it was still a relief that it fitted so well and looks pleasing to the eye. It is also a chance for the four volunteers to express our thanks for the grateful support and encouragement from the Trust gardeners at Standen. Without ordering the right material and then making a number of trips with the tractor and trailer carrying, sand, stone and bricks to the site this job would have taken significantly longer. A great testament to the working ethos in the gardens at Standen.
We estimate that we have used around 11 tonnes of new sandstone from nearby West Hoathly Quarry in the construction work on the new walls. This stone is from the same seam of sandstone that was used originally in construction of many of the walls around the Standen estate, and although it looks nice and shiny at present it will not take more than a couple of wet winters before it becomes darker, stained and starts to chip and crack, one of the inevitable challenges of putting sandstone in a wall.
There are couple of weeks of work left to clear away the accumulated stone, brick and debris from the Track. We can then start on the next phase of the project, which is the lower part of the Farm Track to bring it up to the same standard as the work just completed. This will involve more groundworks, building the bases and compressed concrete blocks and then building the sandstone walls as before.
Please note that due to this work the farm track will be closed on Thursdays.