Patience Trevor is a Senior Designation Adviser working in the South team, based in London. She has over thirty years experience first as an Archaeologist and then in recommending buildings for listing, and was one of the first people at English Heritage to work on the first Register of Parks and Gardens.
In 1983 we had the go-ahead to produce a Pilot Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, for the first time giving recognition to man-made, designed landscapes in the planning framework. Brief descriptions, similar to list entries at the time, covered the best-known sites in eighteen selected counties from Northumberland to Hampshire, and from Somerset to East Sussex, representing a historical, geographical and geological spread.
We looked at early sites such as Fishbourne Roman Villa, W Sussex, and at the possibility of adding new gardens: Geoffrey Jellicoe’s additions to the garden at Sutton Place, Surrey, designed in the 1980s was then too new – that is, under 30 years old – and was only added to the Register in 2001. The sample included great 16th century and 17th century formal gardens which in Northamptonshire survive particularly well as earthworks, for example the gardens at Kirby Hall, now partly restored by English Heritage.
As well as notable 18th century and early 19th century pleasure grounds and parks, the Register included a selection of 19th century Sussex Wealden plantsman’s gardens such as Nymans, E Sussex, and that combination of architectural form and eye for colour achieved in Sir Edwin Lutyens’ and Gertrude Jekyll’s gardens, here seen at Hestercombe, Somerset.
Over the course of six winter months, at its peak at a rate of six sites a day, we produced several hundred entries under the watchful eye of York University which supervised the project. The only initial drawback was that in its infancy it was a desk-based project. Country Life, such a useful source of information on country houses, often literally stopped short on the gardens, photos tantalisingly clipping the edge of a pleasure ground or the view of a park. Very few images from the early editions were in colour, which again posed problems when assessing foliage or swathes of colour in herbaceous borders.
As the entries used the template designed for spot listing at the time, they were brief summaries and did not have space for the longer free text descriptions we use now which can describe the wider setting of a garden or views to an eyecatcher – a folly or temple placed at the end of vista, or the progression through a designed landscape. We summarised planting schemes and trees – trips to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew proved very useful for identifying species.
We now take for granted electronic links to GIS mapping and to websites such the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) which allow us access to linked listed buildings and scheduled monuments and other heritage assets in a Registered landscape. In its original form the Register was a stand-alone paper-based record like the eponymous Greenbacks for listed buildings.
On completion of the six-month pilot, work continued on the remainder of England and the full Register was completed by the late 1980s by garden historians Dr Christopher Thacker and Dr David Jacques. A major revision, involving site visits and meetings with owners, took place in the years after 1996, and ten years ago dedicated projects saw the addition of considerable numbers of cemeteries and municipal parks.