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History of Biddulph Grange Garden

A view of the area known as The Pinetum, with tall pine trees lining a path, taken in the evening light, from the Cheshire Cottage, at Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire
The area known as The Pinetum, taken from the Cheshire Cottage, at Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire | © National Trust Images/Nick Meers

The history of Biddulph Grange Garden is both rich and varied, and includes a farm, a hospital and a garden considered to be a Victorian masterpiece. Read about the people that have created it and learn how plants from around the world came to be in the garden.

From farm to family home

Biddulph lies in a valley on the edge of North Staffordshire. James Bateman lived at the southern end of this valley with his family at Knypersley Hall. In 1842 he married Maria and moved to what is now Biddulph Grange Garden. Up until the Bateman's arrival, the Grange had been a farm, hence the name ‘Grange’, probably since the 1400s.

30 years of the Batemans

James and Maria Bateman lived at Biddulph Grange for 27 years and created the house and the garden, with the help of James' friend, the famous marine artist, Edward Cooke.

Bateman spent more than 20 years collecting plants from all over the world. He didn't go on the expeditions himself, instead he employed plant collectors who sent the specimens back by sea, and purchased new plant arrivals from the nurseries of the day.

The plants and trees were brought together at Biddulph amid rockwork, topiary, tree-stumps and an extraordinary collection of eclectic garden buildings, again designed by Bateman and Cooke.

London calling

In 1868 James Bateman moved to London, leaving his son John behind to live at Biddulph Grange. John eventually sold the house in 1872 for the modern equivalent of £2 million.

The Heath family take ownership

Robert Heath bought the property and his family lived at Biddulph Grange for close to 50 years. During their residency, the original house, an Italianate-style villa, burnt down destroying the central part of the house and the surrounding glass houses and orangery. Today the middle section of the house is an 1897 rebuild and bears no resemblance to the original house.

Stone sphinxes in the area known as 'Egypt' at Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire
Stone sphinxes in the area known as 'Egypt' at Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire | © National Trust Images/John Miller

Medical history at Biddulph Grange

The Heath family left in 1922, selling the house to the North Staffordshire Cripples Aid Society to use as a hospital. Within three years the Society could no longer afford it, and it became a children's orthopaedic hospital run by Lancashire County Council.

The hospital authority built wooden wards on the Cherry Orchard in the mid 1920s. In the 1930s, the remaining glasshouses, music house and part of the Geological Gallery were knocked down to build new wards and a ‘modern’ hospital complex during which time the house was used as nurses’ quarters.

Saved by campaigners

In the mid-1970s, the estate was saved when a campaign to have the area put under a conservation order was successful. The hospital had closed by 1991 and the garden, thanks to a large fundraising effort, was bought by the National Trust and opened to visitors in May 1991.

It was the largest garden restoration project the National Trust had taken on at the time, and continues in its restoration journey to this day.

The house remained derelict until a developer bought it and converted it into nine apartments. The 78 acres of woodland that was part of the Grange estate was taken up by Staffordshire Moorlands District Council and is now the Biddulph Country Park.

The red and white half-timbered Cheshire Cottage, with the date 1856, in Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire
Cheshire Cottage, in Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire | © National Trust Images/Derek Hatton

A historic look at the garden

The Egypt Court

Here you will discover topiary obelisks and a tunnel topped by a topiary pyramid. Bateman planted plain green yews to make the obelisk shafts, but around their base, as a plinth, he planted golden yews. The mix was a regular trick of Victorian gardening that continues to this day in formal gardens where contrast is required between clipped shapes.

In the court there are four stone Sphynx, an influence from Bateman’s visit to the Great Exhibition, and deep in the tunnel a statue of the Ape of Thoth – the god of botany – by sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse-Hawkins.

The Stumpery 

The stumpery at Biddulph Grange was designed in 1856. It was the first to be built anywhere and went on to be widely copied in many Victorian gardens and, more recently, in the woods of Highgrove, Prince Charles’s home in Gloucestershire.

The Pinetum

Historically, the word 'pinetum' described a collection of conifers – pines, monkey puzzles, firs, spruces, cedars, cypresses – and also deciduous conifers such as larch. This is what Bateman planted, but with the addition of trees such as oaks and thorns for good measure.

The Cheshire Cottage

A half-timbered Cheshire Cottage was built in the garden in 1856. James and Maria Bateman's initials are engraved alongside the date in the maroon plasterwork of the upper storey.

Perhaps this was a nod to the Swiss Cottage, built in 1853 for Queen Victoria’s nine children at her Italianate private home, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight? Or is it in honour of Bateman’s wife Maria who was from Cheshire? Like many of Biddulph’s buildings, there was a considerable input from Edward Cooke, who made several drawings for it.

The gilded water buffalo sculpture in China at Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire

Biddulph Grange Garden's collection

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Biddulph Grange Garden on the National Trust Collections website.

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Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.