Peaches for the King

Vanbrugh’s Belvedere at Claremont. ©National Trust Images/John Miller

Sophie Chessum has published an article about the garden at Claremont in Surrey in the May 2012 issue of ABC Bulletin. Sophie describes some of the archival evidence which provides glimpses of the use of the garden in the eighteenth century.

View towards the grass amphitheatre designed by Charles Bridgeman. ©National Trust Images/John Miller

In 1711 the site of Claremont was bought by Thomas Pelham-Holles, later Duke of Newcastle and twice Prime Minister. The Duke employed Sir John Vanbrugh to build the dramatic Belevedere which still sits on the top of its Mount. He also commissioned Charles Bridgeman to create a number of avenues, paths, a pond and a grass amphitheatre in a mixture of geometric and naturalistic styles.

View over the garden from just above the amphitheatre. ©National Trust Images/John Miller

In the early 1730s the Duke employed William Kent to introduce more garden buildings and to make the planting even more picturesque. Kent introduced grassed ditches, or ha-has, as a means to achieve visual unity between the garden and the fields beyond while keeping the cattle out.

Kent’s island pavilion in which the Duke of Newcastle occasionally wrote his letters. ©National Trust Images/Wendy Aldiss

Kent also gave the lake an irregular shape and created an island with a pavilion, linked to the shore by a wooden bridge. The archives show how the Duke wrote letters in the pavilion, presumably using it as a quiet and relaxing kind of study.

Peaches of ‘the red sort chiefly’, similar to the ones sent from Claremont by the Duke of Newcastle to King George II. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

One of the Duke’s letters to his wife provides another glimpse of life at Claremont, as he writes that ‘the King is extreamly fond of our peaches […] I beg my Dearest would order Greening to send tomorrow & Every two days, eight peaches only the best sorts, the same L.Y [Lady Yarmouth, George II’s mistress] had last, the red sort chiefly, six nectarines, & six plumbs […].’ 

The Grotto, created in 1750. ©National Trust Images/John Miller

The same issue of ABC Bulletin also has an article by visitor experience consultant Anita Goodwin about an ongoing project to use the archival evidence to make Claremont speak more directly to visitors. Instead of traditional text panels, the project has created benches with historical quotes and picnic blankets printed with images of people important to the history of Claremont. The aim is to present Claremont not just as a work of art, but also as a pleasure garden.

6 Responses to “Peaches for the King”

  1. style court Says:

    It doesn’t get much more idyllic than a private Kent-designed island pavilion. The benches and picnic baskets for visitors sound like a great idea.

  2. Andrew Clegg Says:

    Hi Emile

    many thanks for featuring the garden. We walk there all the time and it is a very special place. Old prints show there to have been a room atop the amphitheatre and indeed the foundation stones remain in situ. Is there any plan to reinstate this feature. If not, is it on architectural grounds / cost grounds or principle.

    Many thanks


  3. Lynne Rutter (@lynnerutter) Says:

    oh that grotto! how I long for a grotto in my garden!

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, yes a Kent garden pavilion is the ultimate combination of art and pleasure, isn’t it? The surviving prepraratory drawings by Kent often show his whimsical sense of fun, as if he saw his gardens as stage sets for comedy plays.

    Andrew, thank you. I will ask Sophie about the ifs and whys (and possibly the why nots) of restoring the structure on top of the amphitheatre, and report back.

    Lynne, yes grottos are very picturesque – but always tricky to keep in that ideal state of pleasing decay 🙂

  5. columnist Says:

    The vistas created by Vanburgh and Bridgeman are truly stunning. Such a pleasure just to see them photographically. I must get there one day.

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes i too love that baroque sense of theatre and drama.

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