Funds from the Historic Houses Foundation will cover the restoration of three garden benches in the Victorian gardens at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire. The benches are a key feature in the gardens designed by Lewis Vuillamy for the Holford family in 1874, now looked after by Westonbirt School.
We know Westonbirt mostly for the National Arboretum, gifted to the nation by the Holford family in 1956, whose fortune was based on profits from an early 19th century canal system supplying drinking water to Londoners. The first specimen trees were planted in the arboretum by George Holford in 1829 and augmented by his son, Robert Stayner Holford. When Robert inherited his father’s regency villa at Westonbirt, he determined to improve it, employing Lewis Vuillamy to build two great houses for him, Westonbirt in Neo-Elizabethan style and Dorchester House in Park Lane in a grandiose classical style. No expense was spared; Westonbirt has a reputation as the most extravagant house of its day, costing around £200,000 which equates with over £24 million today.
Today, the house and gardens are separated from the arboretum and belong to Westonbirt School. The Holford family were significant figures in the history of gardening. Robert was a keen plantsman, inspired by the rare trees he imported for arboretum when a young man and he saw the opportunity to develop a garden at Westonbirt, providing glass houses and sheltered spots for tender plants. His son, George, continued to develop the gardens at Westonbirt introducing new species, particularly orchids, amaryllids and rhododendrons, until his death in 1926.
Formal gardens in 1874
The gardens designed by Vuillamy used already established specimen trees to shelter and frame a more formal garden around the house. A series of Italianate terraces with central steps lead down to a circular pool, each terrace defined by paths that linked other key parts of the gardens - the Sundial and Mercury gardens and the walled garden with its Camellia House.
Enjoy the views
Strategically placed at points around the garden were benches which allowed visitors to sit comfortably while admiring carefully planned views of either the view of the church, the pool or through to the Mercury Garden. The stone benches are highly ornamental, framed with architectural elements and carved decoration and currently in a poor state.
The surviving structure of the landscaping will allow the restoration of five parts of the gardens. The restoration of the benches, which were fundamental to the enjoyment of the gardens, is an important element of this restoration and the Historic Houses Foundation is pleased to be able to give £10,000 to repair and conserve 3 benches.