Sunday, 12 May 2013

Lord Leycester Hospital and The Master's Garden

I just have to strike another post out while the iron is hot following an excellent visit to the Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick, just a stones throw from the well known Warwick Castle. The reason for this Saturday visit was a first visit to a ‘Tweet-up’ of all things, more accurately represented as the #LLHtweetup!



A small group collected to meet the staff responsible for care of the site, followed by a guided tour which saw the group grow in size as we collected extra followers. The Master of the Lord Leycester Hospital, Gerald Lesinski led his pack through a tour that revealed key points in the fascinating history of the hospital with more than a few comedy moments thrown in - a first rate tour indeed. I must add that it isn't a hospital in the normal sense of the word; there were certainly no doctors and nurses in sight!

We learned of the Robert Dudley the 1st Earl of Leicester who founded the hospital for disabled soldiers and their wives; of the 12thC chapel of St. James that is positioned above the West Gate to Warwick; and also of the connection to the Queen's Own Hussars with related museum display pieces. Intertwined with the age old timber framed structures and leaded window panes are tales of international importance. If you get the chance of a guided tour of the Lord Leycester Hospital; I can thoroughly recommend it!


I digress of course for whilst the Lord Leycester Hospital itself is very special and very worth a visit in its own right, as a gardener at heart I have to tell you about a lovely little garden tucked away behind the building called The Masters Garden. A beautiful oasis of calm, the garden sits behind ivy clad stone walls high enough to block out the pretty yet at times busy town of Warwick. The present design dates from the early 1990s, a collaboration between landscape designer Geoffrey Smith and landscape historian Susan Rhodes, which pays respect to the gardening heritage of the location which stretches back at least to the 16th Century.


We toured the garden for a short while, the group threading itself between vibrant green box hedging, learning about key elements of the garden however I couldn't resist another, more leisurely visit afterward. The high walls, mature shrubs and pleached trees focused the views nicely, yet hedging and screening helped created further intrigue, ensuring a trip along each path was required so that nothing was missed.


This was a garden with many a nooks and cranny, where colourful bulbous plants blended with shrubs, bedding, herbaceous perennials and garden statuary, a real cottagey feel. One particular statue tucked into the shrubbery is that of St. James, having been recently retired from the chapel due to its fragility. Another artifact with a mind boggling history is the Nilometer, relocated to the Masters Garden in 1838 from Warwick Castle itself by the Earl of Warwick, having originally come from the banks of the river Nile. 



One other element I must mention is the gazebo, a brick structure built tight into the south western corner walls. A very early feature said to have been adapted from a dovecote, it welcomes viewers to a lofty position to look over the walls and 'gaze-about' Warwickshire. Adjacent to the gazebo and back down on ground level is a sheltered feature created to grow and exhibit pineapples. The exact relationship between the gazebo and pineapple pit is interesting and remains of a heated flue system still exist. It is said that plants were once collected from the nearby castle 'pinery' and grown on as specimen plants. Although almost entirely aesthetic these days, the gazebo and environs retain their functional feel with stacked pots and old garden tools, sitting peacefully as hugely important garden heritage assets. 

I could continue, especially about another little garden area called the Millenium Garden, which features a bear sculpture by Rachel Higgins. On the whole I found the Lord Leycester experience a really positive one. The military link with the Queens Hussars and the Lord Leycester connections, through to the architectural quirckiness of the buildings and the beautifully formed Masters Garden. The site is so picturesque that in recent years even Dr Who and Mr Darcy saw fit to make a visit; the two gentleman probably stopping by having heard of 'The Brethrens Kitchen' - an ambience packed tearoom in the heart of the hospital with a delicious menu - do take cash though as no cards accepted!

If you find yourself within distance please do put the Lord Leycester on your list - but please do check the website prior to visiting. It is a little jewel of a destination and a bright feather in Warwick's cap.

Lord Leycester Hospital Website
Parks & Gardens UK, Garden Listing and site history
Queens Own Hussars Regimental Museum


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