Charles Bridgeman

Garden designer - 1711-1730's, Stowe

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Charles Bridgeman - Garden designer - 1711-1730's

Charles Bridgeman started at Stowe in a gardening career that would create a whole new style of garden design and would lead him to become the Royal gardener.

A lake reflects the image of autumn coloured trees at Stowe

A new type of gardener

Bridgeman came to Stowe in 1711 at an early stage in the development of the estate. With a newly constructed house and various small walled gardens, Viscount Cobham had big ambitions.

Bridgeman worked alongside architect, Sir John Vanbrugh to begin work transforming areas of the gardens. Initial alterations included the creation of the Octagon Lake and other formal ponds, the planting of trees along the South Front and formal pathways to create a walk around the gardens. His collaboration with Vanbrugh as architect allowed for fast building work whilst keeping up with the vast expansion of the estate by over 400 acres. Though still formal, their ideas and creations in the garden had a much more modern take on the classic designs.

The Ha-ha

One of Bridgeman's most famous additions to the gardens was a pioneering new system to border the gardens.The expansive Deer Park and farmland surrounding the estate created issues in keeping animals out of the gardens. As a solution, Bridgeman created England's first Ha-ha, a sunken wall designed to keep the livestock out. It meant views would not be disrupted whereas the use of a hedge, fence or wall would be a visiable barrier on the horizon. The idea has since been used around the world for various different reasons.

The Ha-ha wall at Stowe also provides a great habitat for wildlife.
A stone wall hugs the perimeter of the gardens with sloping parkland creating a ditch on the opposite side.

Collaboration at it's best

Working at Stowe for over 20 years gave Bridgeman the chance to drastically alter the gardens. Whilst he didn't add any buildings, he did design much of the early landscaping to work around the additions by Vanbrugh and Gibbs, towards the south end of the gardens. This included the creation of the original Eleven Acre Lake and walks constructed to take in the new additions. Old maps of Stowe show long, straight avenue style paths between the Octagon Lake, Rotunda and Nelson's Seat near the house.

A map of the Stowe estate and surrounding parkland created in 1736 by Sarah Bridgeman, wife of Charles Bridgeman. The map shows the original geometric shape of Octagon lake and formality of the gardens
Part of a black and white map of Stowe estate created by Charles Bridgeman's wife, Sarah in 1739

A further area designed by Bridgeman is the small woodland area known as Wick Quarter near the Gothic Temple. The area has evolved over the decades and provides a secluded walk through between the Gothic Temple and Queen's Temple. With trees recently planted, the area is being restored. It features the Saxon Deities in an isolated circle of statues representing the seven days of the week.They were moved from their previous location around the Gothic Temple in 1777. In the early 1730's they stood in an impressive open air temple of elm trees close to Nelson's Seat. Only six remain today with a final plinth formally used by the Saxon god of Thuner, representing Thursday. This statue currently sits in the Victoria and Albert museum having been sold in the great sale of 1921.

The story continues...

In his earliest stint at Stowe, Bridgeman was paid £1 2s 6d for his work, worth around £90 today. But the pioneering work he started was carried on by William Kent. The gardens continued to be modernised and slight alterations made to naturalise the more formal areas of his work, particularly the lakes. Bridgeman went on to work on other famous gardens including prestigious work for the Royal family with the creation of the serpentine in Hyde Park and the gardens at Kensington Palace.

Stowe's Historic Team

A view across a lake with bright sky reflections of clouds in the water to golden style temples at Stowe

Sir John Vanbrugh

Sir John Vanbrugh's work at Stowe was fundamental in laying the groundwork for the monuments, landscapes and temples that were to come in the earliest phase of the garden design.

Tell me about Vanbrugh's impact on Stowe
17 busts sit in a semi-circular monument to various british worthies. Further along the shell bridge provides a crossing over the lake which reflects both buildings.

William Kent

Prior to 'Capability' Brown, Kent created some of the most atmospheric areas of the gardens.

Discover more about William Kent
The view from the Temple of Friendship showing the Palladian Bridge with the Gothic Temple in the distance on top of a large grassy hill of Hawkwell Fields

James Gibbs

As an architect, James Gibbs created the most impressive buildings in the gardens.

Tell me about his work at Stowe
Taking a moment to think about their work at Stowe for over 30 years, Barry Smith - Head of Gardens and Estates and Paul Stefanovic - Assistant Head Gardener

Overlooked and underestimated

Some world famous gardeners have shaped the landscape at Stowe's over the years, but there are many unsung heroes who've contributed to the place you see today.

Meet the team