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History of Farnborough's parkland

The gardens at Farnborough Hall, Warwickshire
The gardens at Farnborough Hall, Warwickshire | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

The unique landscape we see today at Farnborough Hall is a combination of Sanderson Miller's garden designs and the 'ferme ornée', or ornamental farm concept. Miller's vision for the parkland moves away from formal design towards a natural style of landscaping, on a smaller scale than his contemporary Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

Designing Farnborough's parkland

After buying Farnborough in 1684 Ambrose Holbech built the house soon after, moving into the completed house in 1692.

William Holbech II succeeded his father in 1717. During his time at Farnborough, he had ample time to adapt the rest of the house and combined the house and gardens to present an intriguing 18th-century Italian villa.

In the mid-18th century, he used designs by architect Sanderson Miller to draw attention to the wonderful views and vistas; a mix of high and low points which would have been admired whilst riding out on horseback or carriage around the estate.

A designed ferme ornée

The 500 acres of parkland are a rare example of a ferme ornée, or ornamental farm. The style was devised by English garden designer Stephen Switzer in 1742 and described as 'an ornamental landscape within a traditional working farm'.

The farm buildings are made of cut stone and look like dwellings, whereas the land is planted with deep shrubberies and thick hedgerows to enhance the curves of the fields.

A practical landscape

When Miller started designing Farnborough’s parkland, he was keen to use Switzer's concept to create a visually stunning landscape that was still practical. You can see the impact of this design when you look out from the main grassed terrace at the rear of the house towards the serpentine.

The little farm building on the left there looks like a quaint cottage from the outside, but it's a very practical sheep shed. Miller didn't stop there though; he went to great lengths to ensure that the views were also stunning.

A view of the landscape garden at Farnborough Hall with open countryside, distant trees and the lake visible on the right
The landscape garden at Farnborough Hall | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Views along the terrace walk

The centrepiece of the parkland at Farnborough is a terrace walk, which is built on an existing slope with a backdrop of trees and shrubbery. It’s supported by no fewer than 26 viewing points, two of which are made of stone to give the impression of a medieval fortification when viewed from below.

Miller even included distant horizons in his landscapes and the planting of distinctive trees including Scots pine, which he used to great effect on surrounding hills of the estate.

Buildings along the terrace

The 18-metre-high obelisk is of tapering proportions and built of local limestone. Of the three follies passed on the way to the obelisk, two were built by Miller. The game larder provides a tranquil view to St Botolph’s church.

The oval pavilion has a lovely aspect room providing views over the parkland. The oval design and construction required complex geometry; it’s not surprising that Miller’s obituary notice included the phrase 'his skilful application of mathematics to architecture'.

Trademark water features

Miller constructed a canal purposely designed in an ‘S’ shape to give the perception, when viewed from the Hall, of a flowing waterway, but in fact, it abruptly ends around the corner. Informal lakes can be seen around three sides of the hall.

The River Sor was built up by five metres to form a pool that could be seen from the hall; this was a considerable feat of engineering, involving the construction of weirs and dams.

Miller’s study of classics may have inspired him to also include a cascade to create the calming sound of falling water.

A round temple in the landscape garden at Farnborough Hall, surrounded by trees and lawns on a sunny day
The temple in the garden at Farnborough Hall | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Reinstating the parkland views

The views across the estate have been lost over the years, with additional planting for screening the M40 motorway and increased field margins, where hedgerows have been removed to allow for more extensive farming to take place.

With the help of historical research and archaeological evidence, we’re gradually returning the landscape to reflect how it was first recorded on the estate map in 1772, when William Holbech II returned from his grand tour of Europe.

Holbech family move in

The Holbech family moved into the house in 1692, and apart from during the First and Second World Wars, when the house was used as an auxiliary hospital, the family have remained living in the house over the centuries.

The 14 large windows of Farnborough Hall, Warwickshire, an 18th-century house made from honey-coloured stone

Discover more at Farnborough Hall

Find out when Farnborough Hall is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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