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Dating The Historic Garden

The Economic Framework.

We take as our starting point the following:

Gardens are a sensitive barometer of economic activity, for in times of hardship there are no resources for new creations, and sums available for maintenance are reduced. Just as they reflect the financial climate, so too are they an expression of the artistic and social pursuits of their times. They can never be seen in isolation for they are as much a part of the cultural fabric as interior decoration or music.” Visions of Arcadia, European Gardens from Renaissance to Rococo, M. Woods, 1999, p11

From this standpoint the most likely period for the creation of the historic garden adjacent to Restoration House is pre 1607. This is because the most lavish and expensive part of the house is the South wing and was built before then by Nicholas Morgan and given in that year to his daughter Grace, as a wedding portion on her marriage to his clerk, Henry Clerke. All the work which followed in the 17th century by Henry Clerke (and his son Sir Francis) was of an inferior standard to that set by his father in law. This South wing of the current house is traditionally dated to 1587 and with its ogee capped double height bay window, monumental fireplaces, oak panelling and other joinery, along with its profusion of mullion windows, stylistically bears out a late 16th century date in every particular.

It is therefore consistent to start with the assumption that such a house would have had a garden of some consequence. The John Speed map of 1611 illustrates just such a garden enclosing a large house outside the city walls, to the South of Eastgate. The only realistic candidate for this depiction is Restoration House. This map shows a detached mansion bounded to the West, East and South, with walls which closely relate to the newly discovered boundary walls to the East and to the so called Tudor wall to the South. These walls enclose a garden itself indicated by trees. Moreover the ogee bay window of the South wing with its angled facets would have commanded views over the area enclosed by these Speed documented walls to the East and South, thus strengthening the logic that the most lavish part of the house and the newly revealed garden are contemporary additions, with evidently, the diapered brick and flint Tudor wall as the most spectacular feature. The only discrepancy in the Speed map is the exact location of the house and that the front of the house is further bounded by a wall to the West, rather than being tied as is now the case, discussed below.

The parts of the house attributed to Henry Clerke  (active 1607-30) and his son Sir Francis (active 1630-84), run north from the South wing and include an anachronistic Great Hall and a converted stable block. Significantly neither of these new built sections has views back onto the earlier garden and indeed appear to have been further separated from it by a wall at the end of the 17th century. This wall effectively closed off the raised terrace walks running North, which are a main feature of the early garden. The house itself was divided in the late 17th century with corresponding partitions aligning exactly with this garden wall, and the creation of Lower and Upper Restoration House with their separate entrances. The focus of the garden had now moved North to behind the new built Great Hall and North wing, and it is likely the earlier garden lost form and status.

Historic Map

Cartographic Evidence

Whether by accident or elimination, the John Speed maps (c1610) have been hitherto entirely overlooked as an aid to dating the garden. Elizabeth Hall (1994) relied on the 1633 Alnwick map to conclude there was no garden to the South and does not mention Speed.

This view has been adopted by Compass Archaeology (2008) and appears to have guided their interpretation. Yet Elizabeth Hall  (d.1998) did not have the advantage of the recent excavations, which bear out the Speed map, while Compass refer to no cartographic evidence prior to the 1854 OS map.

Every map apart from the Alnwick shows walls in positions which can be directly related to the recent findings. Thus the Tudor wall to the South features in the Speed maps (c.1610), the Baker map (c1768) the Hasted map (c1790), the Sales map (1819) and all the OS maps up to (?).Similarly the East wall is shown in Speed, Baker, Hasted and Sales. Given that it is only the Alnwick map which fails to show these garden walls, yet shows walls to the distant North which appear to delineate fields rather than a garden, it is fair to agree with the Cartographic Society that “like so many historical documents these early printed maps…need to be used with a certain amount of caution…yet by plotting the additional information of Stow’s survey directly onto Agas map, a much fuller and more realistic picture of the Elizabethan city can be built up.  (The A to Z of Elizabethan London, 1979. p.ix & concl). Likewise to plot Speed’s Survey onto the Alnwick map yields a “fuller and more realistic picture”.

A criticism of the Speed maps, (and one reason which may account for their past rejection?) is that Restoration House appears to be shown closer to the City wall and Eastgate than is truly the case. Interestingly it is shown slightly closer in one Speed edition than another. Yet in both these editions St Margaret’s Church is much more drastically misplaced, and its identity might be questioned were there not a written identification in one edition. It too is jammed just outside the City Wall when it is about ¼ mile distant. This may be because of a different importance placed on being “Within” or “Without” the City wall in the pre –modern world view. Thus likewise “ the Tower (of London) as a whole is not shown in its correct position relative to the City wall”  (ibid, p.vii). This view is embodied in the nomenclature of London churches, whether “within” or “without” the wall, being an essential distinction. Likewise Restoration House is traditionally referred to as a “city mansion outside the city wall”.

On balance the cartographic evidence strongly supports the notion that there have been notable enclosing walls to the South and East of Restoration House since at least 1610, possibly earlier. This notion is further supported by the evolution of the house itself. For the current South wing of Restoration House was the North wing of the Tudor hall house, and the newer parts of the house were all built further North. The new North wing complete with a full set of large mullion and transom windows facing North (to the river) and with two observation windows angled onto the river from the buttressing tower, was probably finished by c 1600-20. The canted bay window was now in the south of the house, commanding the Tudor garden while the newly built Great Hall and North wing gave no views back to the old garden. Indeed by the time Henry Bockenham built a new north wall (c1700), butting up to the raised terraces, the importance of the old garden was surely on the wane. Nothing of quality north of this wall appears to have been built, as the house was now divided between Upper and Lower Restoration House and in part tenancy throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is most improbable that a garden as powerfully conceived and executed as that under review would have been attempted under such circumstances.

Interpreting the Garden Walls

The historic garden as plotted from excavated or surviving evidence shows a powerful square conception, open to the North, closed to the South by the diapered Tudor Wall, with another behind. Two parallel projecting arms created the northward thrust. These arms took the form of raised terrace walks and they projected North in order to purposefully command the River Medway, probably from a gazebo on the East terrace, from which a plinth section survives. By projecting North to the river and tying back into the Tudor wall to the South, a set of raised terrace walks created views without and enclosure within.

The importance and allure of the Medway is basic to an understanding of the North-South orientation of the garden. Just as country house gardens exploit or visually incorporate the landscape beyond, and the Japanese garden utilises “borrowed scenery” so this garden took as its subject the riverscape northwards and possibly East. That Henry VIII had been overwintering his fleet at Chatham Reach (then known as ‘Jillingham Water’) from as early as the 1530’s probably contributed, just as the diaries of Evelyn and Pepys testify to the spectacle and fascination of the fleet. Even up to Dickens’ time the commerce of the river and its narrative power was taken for granted. Again it is perhaps a late 20th/21st century perspective which obscures this more elemental approach. That the 18th and 19th centuries saw the closing down of this river vista by built development along the progressively embanked foreshore is demonstrated by the blocking up of the view from the Harbour Master’s House (top of Nag’s Head Lane) which is now hopelessly overshadowed by later development.

The 16th and early 17th century garden was centred on the now lost Tudor hall house, on the footprint of which Vines House now, it is believed, largely stands. This Tudor hall house directly looked out on the garden. The Tudor wall would be powerfully apparent with walks in front of it and above, connecting up with the northerly raised terrace walks. While this brick diaper and flint wall spectacularly faced the river, the raised terrace walks nearly 20feet wide were formed by dressed ragstone walls, probably with red brick upper sections. The scale of the enterprise is truly impressive, the ragstone walls appear to have been of fine quality, coursed and galletted, their inner and outer faces 20feet apart. Likewise the discovery of another ragstone wall 20feet behind the Tudor wall confirms the same massive scale to the South. The sheer might of the conception and its powerful northwards thrust suggests the confidence and wealth of the owner.

The newly published garden drawings of Elizabethan and Jacobean architect Robert Smythson, (England’s Earliest Garden Plans, by Paula Henderson, Country Life, 2nd Dec, 2009) show gardens which mirror these features. All were dominated by “a great square enclosure” several  “with terraces around three sides” many commanding river views. The garden of Northampton House on the Strand had “plain square beds between terraces, the farthest overlooking the Thames”. Nearby Somerset House had two square gardens commanding the Thames, “the greater of these aligned with the main body of the house”

The South wing of Restoration House similarly demonstrates these qualities, its canted bay window commanded both the garden and the river, echoed by a responding Pavillion or Gazebo on the N end of the East terrace walk. That this bay and wing, conforming as it does in quality and conception to the garden, predates 1607 is certain enough. Smythson’s drawings were done in 1609 and “are crucial evidence for Jacobean gardens –their size, their planting, and most intriguingly, their striking boldness of design” (ibid, Henderson, p.64).