The formal parterre at Bodrhyddan Hall in North Wales was designed by W E Nesfield in 1874. The scrolling beds of box converge on a central pool , flanked by two shallow stone bowls lifted up on the bills of three stone pelicans. Urgent repairs to these charming garden features will be funded by the Historic Houses Foundation.
Queen Anne Revival at Bodrhyddan
Bodrhyddan Hall does not immediately strike you as a Victorian house, despite the fact that it was remodelled by William Eden Nesfield for Conwy Rowley-Conwy in 1870. Nesfield had studied under the gothic revival architect Anthony Salvin but his own taste and that of his one-time partner, Richard Norman Shaw, was less elaborate. Nesfield would have found himself working on a house that dated mainly from the 1680s, with a dining room tacked on in the 1780s. It was a square brick house which perfectly suited Nesfield’s enthusiasm for Queen Anne revival style, so he rearranged the internal spaces and moved the front door, creating a new entrance front which complemented rather than challenged the gabled garden front.
Where did the pelicans come from?
To the 17th century landscape gardens, Nesfield brought a sense of Victorian order, with an extensive parterre which today is planted in blue and red with geraniums and ageratum. He took his inspiration for the pelican basins from a well house built over an ancient holy spring which was incorporated into the earlier 17th century water garden and probably built between 1730 and 1750 (despite a carved date of 1612 and a slightly dubious attribution to Inigo Jones). The small building is topped by a cupola featuring a pelican. The family at this time were catholic, John Conway translated an anti-Protestant tract into Welsh and the incorporation of the pelican may have been an oblique reference to their faith since the Pelican in her Piety was a popular pre-reformation religious symbol. If so, Nesfield continued the tradition by repeating the symbol in the secular gardens he created two hundred years later.
The restoration of the pelican basins, funded by the Historic Houses Foundation, is a good example of how the restoration of one damaged feature can help to secure the integral design of an historic garden.