The history of Upton House and Gardens
Upton House was acquired in 1927 by Lord and Lady Bearsted, a couple who often used their fortune for philanthropic ventures. They also set to improve the estate itself, including hiring the garden designer Kitty Lloyd-Jones.
The Bearsted fortune came from Lord Bearsted’s father, a co-founder of the Shell oil business.
It enabled the Lord and Lady to have a main London residence, a grouse moor estate, a holiday villa on the French Riviera and Upton, a place in which to house their large collection of art, entertain friends and enjoy Warwickshire’s country pursuits.
The acquisition of Upton House in 1927 by Walter Samuel, the 2nd Viscount Bearsted, coincided with the Great Depression.
Unemployment and deprivation ran high, not least in the local village. Lord Bearsted wrote to the local community announcing that:
‘Any man who presents himself at my house at 9am on Monday morning shall find work there.’
The local community had an early taste of the fortune and philanthropy which characterised their new neighbour.
Lord and Lady Bearsted recognised that great wealth brought great responsibility.
They both made regular and substantial donations to a range of charities from hospitals and children’s societies to seaman’s missions, from cancer charities to Jewish schools.
Walter gave the grounds surrounding his father’s estate in Kent to the people of Maidstone.
Lady Bearsted supported the Bearsted Maternity Hospitals (founded by the 1st Viscount) with donations, and during the Second World War personally helped with supervision and management.
The consequences of war
The war formed the backdrop to Walter’s efforts on behalf of German Jews. Jews fleeing to Britain were expected to be independent of the state.
Wealthy Jews accepted the need to help their fellows, and Viscount Bearsted pledged more than £500,000 to the fund he helped create.
A love of art
Walter Samuel enjoyed art and created one of the nation's finest private collections of the 20th century.
He acquired for personal satisfaction rather than ostentation, and the subject matter of his collection is a testament to his sympathy for people and his concern for the human condition.
Walter gave money to the National Art Collections Fund and donated paintings to national collections.
He served as chairman of the board of trustees for the National Gallery and was a trustee at the Tate for a time as well as Chairman of the East End’s Whitechapel Gallery.
Empathy and acumen
Following his death in 1948, The New York Times obituary succinctly captured the man:
‘Rich in possessions, Lord Bearsted spent unostentatiously and wisely, and shrewd in his judgments he maintained a happy balance in his life between sympathy and recreation.’
The history of the garden
Discover how one of the first female garden designers came to Upton in the 1930s and changed the face of the gardens forever.
From humble beginnings
The daughter of a Swansea doctor, the ninth of 10 children, Kitty Lloyd-Jones was a pioneer amongst female garden designers.
Kitty gained a diploma in Practical Gardening from the Royal Botanical Society, going on to become one of the first women to take a degree in horticulture from Reading University in 1924.
At first, Kitty found it difficult to obtain work at a time when professional women gardeners were rare, but gradually built up an impressive network of wealthy clients and friends, despite her lower social standing.
Upton before Kitty
Before the Lord and Lady Bearsted, the garden’s main purpose was to provide food for the house, with few thoughts of pleasure and recreation.
Arriving with fresh ideas, enthusiasm and ample resources, Lady Bearsted set about improving the garden for leisure and pleasure.
She commissioned Kitty Lloyd-Jones to advise on designs and planting.
Coming to Upton
Kitty’s letters to Lady Bearsted between 1931 and 1934 survive and her informal, chatty style shows how she formed close friendships with her clients.
In July 1931, Kitty sent a long letter to Lady Bearsted outlining her suggestions for re-designing the gardens:
‘The two bare places where the greenhouses were pulled down are certainly rather difficult, but I have an idea which I would like to think about. There is plenty to get on with at the moment and this could be done during the winter. I thought I’d better mention that this is being considered because Tidman said you were most anxious to get something done there this year and I was afraid you would think we’d forgotten it.’
- Kitty Lloyd-Jones
Kitty stayed at Upton for a few days at a time when she designed plans for the garden, itemised the work to be done with the Head Gardener, Mr Tidman, and wrote lists of suggested plants for Lady Bearsted to approve.
The Bog Garden
This area was an overgrown marshland. When Kitty first mentioned this site in her letters to Lady Bearsted she said,
‘Perhaps we could begin to clean the piece below Tidman’s house (Bog Cottage). Not ‘till the spring probably because it is wet there in winter – with the other jobs really done I feel we can begin something new, don’t you?’
This ‘something new’ became the enchanting Bog Garden. A natural spring comes into the garden in the far corner, to the left of the cottage, through a grotto known as Monks’ Well.
This was used to feed the series of streams which now flow through the bog garden.
See Kitty's influence today
When you visit the garden today you can see her influence in many areas: the soft planting, strong colours and fashionable style.
Lord and Lady Bearsted’s 1930s country retreat with dramatic terraced gardens and world-renowned art collection.
Immerse yourself in one of the finest art collections in 20th-century England, which was the country house and weekend retreat of 2nd Viscount Bearsted, Walter Samuel.
Visit Upton's historic garden and marvel at the view that unfolds in front of you. Discover the Mirror Pool and wander along the Winter and Woodland Walks.
Stop by the Pavilion Café on your visit to Upton House and grab a bite to eat, a hot or cold drink and a slice of cake. Buy a souvenir of your visit in the shop, or pop into the second-hand bookshop for a new read.
Find out what's on for families at Upton House and Gardens, spot wildlife on the Woodland Walk or simply let off steam in acres of space outdoors. If you're planning ahead for Christmas, find out more about about all we have coming up to celebrate.
Take a look at some of the conservation work that takes place at Upton to look after this place for everyone, for ever.
Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.
From landscape gardeners to LGBTQ+ campaigners and suffragettes to famous writers, many people have had their impact on the places we care for. Discover their stories and the lasting legacies they’ve left behind.