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The history of Hidcote

Lawrence Johnston sits surrounded by four members of the garden team at Hidcote
Lawrence Johnston with members of the garden team at Hidcote | © National Trust Images

For centuries, the hamlet of Hidcote Bartrim led a quiet rural existence. Located 600 feet above sea level in the northern Cotswolds, its sole purpose was agriculture. All of this changed in 1907, however, when Lawrence Johnston purchased the estate on behalf of his mother. The National Trust began caring for Hidcote in 1948 and this year celebrates 75 years of looking after this historic garden.

Early history

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

In the 17th century, the Manor was turned into a farmhouse. It exchanged hands several times before local farm worker John Tucker inherited it from the Freeman family in early 1907.

Lawrence Johnston buys Hidcote

Within a couple of months of probate being granted, Tucker put the estate 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 farmhouse... with lawns and a large kitchen garden’.

At the auction in July 1907, the bidding reached £6,500, at which point it was withdrawn from sale.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

Work begins on the garden

Lawrence moved into 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 in the way of a garden, Lawrence effectively had a blank canvas to work with. He began to put into practice what he'd learnt from studying books such as The Art & Craft of Garden Making by Thomas H Mawson.

Lawrence went on many plant-hunting expeditions to far-flung places such as South Africa, China and the Alps, looking for rare and unusual species to add to his collection. Today, Hidcote’s plant collection still contains many species of national importance.

Lawrence’s plantsmanship was recognised as early as June 1911 – less than four years after he’d arrived at Hidcote – when he received an Award of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society for the Hidcote strain of the candelabra primrose (Primula pulverulenta).

Extending the garden

The period between 1907 and 1914 saw Lawrence create a series of intimate garden rooms around the house. However, his progress was suspended by the Great War, in which he fought.

In 1919, Gertrude bought the farm at the end of the village road, enabling the garden to be extended to its current boundaries. This period saw the extension of the Long Walk, along with the creation of the Wilderness, Mrs Winthrop’s Garden, the Pillar Garden and the Rock Bank.

By the early 1920s, the garden 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).

Volunteer working in the flower borders at Hidcote, Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds
Volunteer working in the flower borders at Hidcote, Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds | © National Trust Images/Sarah Davis

Critical acclaim

During the 1920s and 1930s, Hidcote attracted many well-connected people and received widespread critical acclaim. The garden was opened to the public on two or three days of each year, to help raise money for charity.

In the 1940s, Lawrence – by now in his 70s – began to think about the long-term future of the garden. He first approached the National Trust in 1943 to see if they would take over the garden.

The National Trust acquires Hidcote

Hidcote was transferred to the National Trust in 1948. It was the first garden of national importance acquired through the Gardens Fund, which had been established by the Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society to save significant gardens.

Hidcote has now been under the stewardship of the Trust for longer than Lawrence Johnston owned it, and income generated by visitors ensures that the garden is maintained to a high standard. This will enable future generations to enjoy it as Lawrence intended.

75 years of the National Trust caring for Hidcote

This year we are celebrating Hidcote as a place of inspiration, creativity and solace with a series of inspiring exhibitions as we celebrate 75 years of being cared for by the National Trust.

Exhibitions at Hidcote

More information

If you would like to read more about Lawrence Johnston, copies of his biography by Graham S Pearson – Lawrence Johnston: The Creator of Hidcote – can be purchased in the Hidcote shop.

If you have any information or photographs relating to Hidcote from 1907 onwards, we would love to hear from you.

Please send an email to

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