Subject: Hestercombe Gardens
Journal: The Daily Telegraph
Date: Autumn 1996
Author: Clive Fewins
The leat appears to run uphill ...
Two years ago this January Philip White forced his way into the almost impenetrable undergrowth that he knew covered 40 acres of Britains best-known gardening secret. Today he has the satisfaction of showing the public round the restored great garden at Hestercombe, Somerset for the first time. The work is only part-complete. White and his colleague David Usher at the Hestercombe Garden Project reckon the task will take another eight years to complete. However, in two years they have achieved a great deal. Yesterday the Lord Poltimore marked the occasion by blowing a horn, in much the same way as the creator of the garden in the mid 18th. century Coplestone Warre Bampfylde, is believed to have done to celebrate the opening of his great landscaped garden in 1786.
Lord Poltimore is a direct descendent of Bampfylde, architect, painter, soldier and owner of the Hestercombe estate for much of the 18th. century. White, a former farmer, and keen conservationist, founded the Hestercombe Garden Trust two years ago and now directs it. When he began his researches into the garden he became so struck by Bampfylde’s dazzling array of talents that he organised an exhibition about the man, Hestercombe and his paintings in August 1995. The money raised helped towards the £250,000 it has cost to employ contractors to clear the undergrowth and fell most of the trees planted as a commercial crop on the site in the 1960s after the Crown Comissioners took over the estate. White said: “I had heard stories of Bampfylde and the great lost garden during my youth in a village near Hestercombe. “In 1991 I gave up farming and let my 56 acres to a tenant. I took a job with for the Somerset Wildlife Trust as wildlife sites officer and found myself working in, of all places, Hestercombe House. However it was another three-and-a-half years before I was able to negotiate a lease with the Crown Commissioners and form the Hestercome Garden Project.”
A folly awaiting restoration.
Garden enthusiasts might well find themselves puzzled over Hestercombe. Bampfylde’s great enterprise - he referred to it as his ‘pleasure grounds’ - occupies a narrow combe to the north of Hestercombe House that stretches from the foot of the Quantocks to the former mill pond beside the great house. It is not to be confused with the garden created by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll in 1904-6.
That garden – originally eight acres but since its restoration in the 1970s reduced to four acres – occupies lower ground to the south of the great house. When Bampfylde’s landscaped garden was open to the public in the 18th and 19th centuries they were able to view seven follies. White and Usher have masterminded the restoration of two of them, the Temple and the Mausoleum. In March they found the foundation of another one – the Gothic seat – while the sites of the witch’s arbour, the Chinese seat, the alcove seat, Octagon temple and Turkish tent have yet to be found.
However visitors to the reopened garden – a three pound fee covers both Bampfylde’s garden and the Lutyens/Jekyll garden – will be able to see Bampfylde’s great 50ft. cascade in full working order. It is fed by the stream which flows from the Quantock Hills down the combe and over the cascade to fill the five ornate ponds created by Bampfylde from which 17,000 tonnes of silt were removed in 1995. “The exciting thing is that we are still making discoveries,” said White. “Two years ago I wondered if I would ever find the two follies we have restored – the temple and the mausoleum. Now I believe we are close to finding the remains of all the others.”
Further information: The Hestercombe Garden Project, Hestercombe House, Cheddon Fitzpaine Taunton TA2 8LQ. 01823 413923.