Hall Place Gardens in the last quarter of the 19th century
Robert Marnock – The Hall Place Garden Designer
Many people remember that George Devey was employed by Samuel Morley as the architect for Hall Place in 1870. But not so many realize that Samuel Morley also employed probably the best-known landscape gardener of the Victorian era to redo completely the Hall Place gardens.
His name was Robert Marnock. His career spanned a fifty year period, starting with Bretton Hall near Wakefield in the 1820s, (where he was the young head gardener), until 1889 when he designed the gardens at Rousden in Devon just before his death. By the early 1870s, therefore, he was in his prime, living in Regent’s Park, which he had helped re-landscape, and was perhaps the obvious choice for the richest commoner in England – Samuel Morley – to choose to re-landscape the park around his large, new house.
Marnock was famous for having rolling, informal gardens with particular emphasis on groups of mature trees with patches of ornamental shrubbery. (He would be pleased by the way the trees in Hall Place gardens have matured). He was influenced by natural forms and, with a remarkable eye for the landscape, he managed the effects of light and shade to achieve what seemed to be informal – although often it involved much work by the staff. His style became known as ‘Gardenesque’ which has been described as meaning that trees and shrubs are planted so that they may best display the natural form and habitat of each. His ideal garden was long established with trees of 30-40 feet so that they throw scattered shade over smooth lawns. It is those lawns, which at Hall Place have the broad sweep going down to the lake, which most typify Robert Marnock and his Gardenesque style.
Marnock’s huge knowledge of horticulture and of unusual trees and shrubs and plants is reflected at Hall Place. His book, “English Garden Flowers”, is still in print.
Soon after completing Hall Place, Marnock moved on to Ragley Hall near Stratford-upon-Avon, and over his career he landscaped Dunorlan Park in Tunbridge Wells (then a private house), parts of Kew Gardens and Regent’s Park, Gravetye Manor, parts of the Warwick Castle grounds and over a dozen other prestigious projects all around England.
Samuel Morley chose well. The gardens at Hall Place are still magnificent and Robert Marnock would be proud of its present gardener, Tim Bance, who manages it all with probably a twentieth of the workforce in the 1870s to 1920s.
Next month an article from an 1877 gardening magazine about the newly-built garden. A map which goes with the article is in the Society’s Archive.
Parish Magazine Article by Chris Rowley (Mar 2015)
Below is a 9 June 1877 article from the magazine called ‘The Garden’ about what they felt Marnock had achieved. Quite clearly a good amount of manpower was used, bearing in mind the damming and digging of the lake and moving some 40 foot trees.
“Hall Place, Tonbridge
This, the residence of Samuel Morley, Esq., M.P. adjoins the village of Leigh, near Tonbridge. The mansion, a modern erection, is situated on a gentle eminence, and surrounded by a well-wooded deer park. When the estate came into the hands of the present owner, the old mansion was taken down and the present one built on a new and more elevated site; the original pleasure grounds and kitchen gardens were, however, retained, and much enlarged. The surplus material for the foundations of the mansion was formed into a mound and planted. By means of this mound and plantation, the walls and other erections connected with the kitchen garden were wholly concealed from the grounds on the private front of the house. On this mound is built a brick tank capable of containing over 1000 gallons of water, supplied from a well in the valley. The water is forced upwards through a line of pipes about half a mile in length by means of the water power of an adjoining stream and the use of a turbine wheel. The elevation of the tank – about 30 ft. above the average level of the ground – is found to supply ample power to work hydrants, with which the gardens are everywhere provided. On the north or carriage entrance front, the lawn slopes towards a lake about 13 acres in extent, formed when the mansion was built. This lake occupies a natural valley in the centre of the deer park, and beyond, on elevated ground, is a considerable breadth of woodland, consisting chiefly of Oak, Elm, Beech, and Lime. During the progress of improvement, a considerable number of large Horse Chestnut and other deciduous trees were successfully transplanted when in full leaf, but of these we hope shortly to give more detailed particulars. Many fine and interesting trees are scattered about the grounds, such as Cedars, Taxodiums, and various Conifers, including an example of Pinus insignis, 40 feet high.”
Leigh Parish Magazine Article: April 2015
Note: The Leigh Historical Society now has an article in its archives from Country Life Illustrated dated 15 December 1900 which is entitled “Country Homes and Gardens Old and New: Hall Place, Leigh Kent”. It is a detailed article on the planting with some lovely early photographs.