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.