Studley dredged

The Cascade at Studley Royal. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The water gardens at Studley Royal, North Yorkshire are a rare surviving example of early-eighteenth-century landscaping in the grand manner.

They were created by John Aislabie (1670-1742), an ambitious politician who became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1718. He was implicated in the South Sea Bubble in 1720 – the credit crunch of its day – and as a result was barred from public office. Aislabie subsequently poured his energies into the creation of the Studley gardens.

View of the Lake and Cascade c. 1760 by Balthazar Nebot, showing how the different elements of the landscape were intended to interact, including the reflective quality of the water. ©NTPL

Studley is also remarkable as one of the first gardens where formal landscaping was combined with a natural setting. The intentionally created vistas between the different pavilions interact with the topography of the wooded valley. In addition, the enlarged and formalised sheets of water reflect the sky, add light and enhance the sense of space.

The Lake at some point before 1890. ©National Trust

As the water gardens are part of the course of the river Skell, the lakes and ponds have always been prone to silting up, and they need to be regularly dredged. In spite of this, the appearance of the Lake remained more or less unaltered until the second half of the nineteenth century.

Recent aerial view of the Lake, showing how two of the vistas were being blocked by the island. ©National Trust

At some point between 1854 and 1890 an island appeared in the Lake, probably created from dredged silt. Although an artificial island can of course serve a useful picturesque function, in this case it obscured the vistas down the Canal and to the Half Moon Pond.

The Lake with the island still in place. ©National Trust

Recently it became necessary for the Lake to be drained and dredged once again, so that the dam containing it could be inspected.

Based the historical evidence mentioned above, collated by gardens curator Christopher Gallagher, the decision was taken to also remove the island and open up the vistas again.

The drained Lake in spring 2010. ©National Trust

The work was undertaken this year and has just been finished.

The newly opened-up view, September 2010. ©National Trust/Ian Gilkinson

The trees that had slowly encroached towards the edge of the Lake have also been cut back, so that the bank could be shored up and the original lakeside walk reestablished.

More information and videos about the project can be found here.

8 Responses to “Studley dredged”

  1. Guy Says:

    A prime example of ‘less is more’ – nice to see funds being well directed.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Guy – come to think of it, it’s a bit like cleaning the discoloured varnish off a painting, but on a giant scale 🙂

  3. Barbara Says:

    Spectacular photos. Never seen the painting before. You are so appreciated way over here in Maryland. Thank you.

  4. columnist Says:

    Excellent job. I am familiar with the problem at the gardens in Scotland. Keeping the natural idyll “look” means a lot of hard work!

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Barbara – I am still waiting for a witheringly critical and crushingly condemning comment from you 🙂

    Columnist, thanks, yes it’s an unglamorous job, but with glamorous results.

  6. Editor Says:

    Really fascinating! I visited Studley Royal about ten years ago. Sounds like it’s now time for a second trip. Thanks for a terrific piece with really helpful photos.
    -Craig Hanson

  7. Barbara Says:

    Well, I know it’s in there. I just wrote a rather scathing email to the rector of our church. Oh well, this too shall pass.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Craig, yes it is a fascinatingly multi-layered place – Chris Gallagher mentions that the reflections of the sky and the pavilions in the sheets of water may have had Platonic connotations, for instance. And there used to be a chinoiserie pavilion at Studley as well (chinoiserie being my pet subject), built by John Aislabie’s son William.

    Barbara, I shall value your kind comments all the more, knowing you have a scathing side 🙂

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