How to build a ha-ha

A section of ha-ha being rebuilt at Croome Court. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

A section of ha-ha being rebuilt at Croome Court. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The ha-ha, a ditch with a wall built along one side, was developed as an aesthetically pleasing way of keeping grazing cattle out of the pleasure garden. Even from a short distance the ha-ha is invisible, and its name is said to have been derived from the exclamations of surprise it provoked.

The ha-ha at Croome Court before repair and rebuilding. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The ha-ha at Croome Court before repair and rebuilding. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The ha-ha at Croome Court has been undergoing a rolling programme of repair and rebuilding. Previously it is was  in quite poor condition and it had even collapsed in places.

Sections of the ha-ha had completely collapsed. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

Sections of the ha-ha had completely collapsed. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

Advice was sought from a structural engineer in order to provide a more durable solution for the collapsed sections. A backing wall of concrete blocks was inserted first, which was then covered by historically appropriate bricks.

Stable sections were preserved. The large blocks further behind provide structural support to contain the earth. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

Stable sections were preserved. The large blocks further behind provide structural support to contain the earth. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The sourcing of new, ‘old-look’ bricks proved to be quite challenging, as the colour and texture of the bricks of the original ha-ha varies considerably along its length. In the end different bricks and mortar mixes were used in different sections.

Concrete blocks provide the containment structure for the sections that had to be rebuilt. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

Concrete blocks provide the containment structure for the sections that had to be rebuilt. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The stable sections of the ha-ha were preserved as much as possible and repointed with traditional mortar. As time goes by the new brickwork will further blend in with the old.

An original section of ha-ha is repointed. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

An original section of ha-ha is repointed. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

A significant proportion of the funding for this work was provided by Natural England.

 

14 Responses to “How to build a ha-ha”

  1. Chris Gallagher Says:

    Hi Emile, I have never seen any real evidence about the origin of the term ‘ha-ha’ although the ‘surprise’ explanation is credible (I have also seen it written ‘Aha-ha!’, or even ‘Ha ha ha’ in 18th century accounts).

    I was once in the garden at Chirk Castle in Wales, which has an enormous ha-ha overlooking the park, built by William Emes in the mid-1770’s. An American family came wandering down the garden and when their young son (about 10 years old) arrived at the top of the ha-ha wall and saw the scale of the ditch below him (about 7 feet deep), he let out a cry of “holy moly!!!”.

    It is possible therefore to see how the name might have arisen. It’s a pity they aren’t known as ‘holy moly’s’ – perhaps they are in the States.

    Regards
    Chris

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    I think that is an excellent alternative (and still suitably polite) 🙂 I say ha-ha, you say holy-moly…

  3. artandarchitecturemainly Says:

    Certainly the wall was an aesthetically pleasing way of keeping grazing cattle out of the pleasure garden. But if I was the owner of a stately home with an extensive estate, I would ensure that nothing spoiled my view of the rolling gardens from the front rooms. So the front wall would be largely glass and the view would be sensational.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Interesting idea. I seem to remember that the same argument was used in favour of green-painted iron fences (as opposed to brick walls) in the Regency period – that they appeared almost invisible from a distance.

  5. Susan Walter Says:

    There is a street in our village called Impasse du Ha-Ha. The house on the corner is for sale and if we had the money we’d buy it. Imagine being 1 impasse du ha-ha — it must be the best address ever!

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Wonderful – the ‘ha-ha’ being the exclamation as the driver turns into the impasse 🙂

  7. Toby Worthington Says:

    Well! Quite a departure from chinoiserie and pietra dura, yet every bit as interesting and informative. The ha-ha concept has always intrigued me and now I know precisely how to build my own when the time comes.

  8. Margaret Huff Says:

    I have my own version of a ha-ha on my Kentucky farm…saw pictures in books and then at Mount Vernon and our contractor had a crew make it. I enclose two pictures…or try to…we use it to shield the view of lawn waste, big limbs, leaves in the fall, etc. and once a year the waste is burned. We love it. Tried to send pictures…no luck.

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Toby, yes pietra dura funiture and ha-ha brickwork are both potentially part of the country house mix 🙂 Knowing your taste, your ha-ha will probably have subtle Soanean detailing!

    Margaret, yes I am sorry it is not possible to post pictures here, but you could perhaps put a DropBox link in a comment post. Fascinating to hear about your ha-ha, which sounds very useful. I didn’t know there are ha-has at Mount Vernon – they can be seen here, (under fact no. 8): http://bit.ly/1ANYDYU

  10. katia weber Says:

    a wnderful blog always wth interesting information!

  11. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks, glad you like it.

  12. Grounds Team Says:

    Fascinating, and very timely as we prepare to restore a section of 18th century ha-ha at Compton Verney this year, which includes a set of steps down into the ditch – no sign of a gate ever having existed – very strange! Great post.

  13. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    How interesting, do let me know how you get on (and I suppose I should keep an eye on your blog).

    Perhaps the cattle at Compton Verney were just very well behaved and never ventured ‘upstairs’ 🙂

  14. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    And here are a few more ha-has, as picked up by the Royal Oak Foundation blog: http://bit.ly/1Dtg2Fz

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