Saturday, 1 November 2014

Landscape Tour at Hagley Hall

I count myself fortunate to have made a visit recently to Hagley Hall, Worcestershire for a seminar arranged by the Historic Houses Association. Held in the grand mansion, the focus of the day was the commercial opportunities for Gardens and Parkland, and after the seminar came the chance to tour of some of the extensive landscape garden.

Hagley Hall, from 1754 by Sanderson Miller. © Gary Webb 2014

Currently undergoing restoration, the landscape is very special but despite being a shadow of its former self it remains full of character and significantly Georgian - indeed there are several contemporary eye catchers and garden buildings. Although steeply inclined, we set out with vigour trying to keep pace with Head of Landscape Joe Hawkins, and before long we arrived at the recently restored Palladian Bridge.

Delegates explore the restored Palladian Bridge at Hagley Hall.
© Gary Webb 2014
Clean and freshly re-constructed, the bridge drew us near and before long the steps and alcove were filled with folk listening to tales of the buildings re-discovery and reconstruction. Starting from remains that were little more than a soil covered arch - those involved pieced together the story to inform this grand restoration. The original builders and George Lyttelton, one of those responsible for the Georgian landscape would surely be very proud to see its rebirth.

Looking east across the cascade, the rotunda visible in the distance.
© Gary Webb 2014
Working from old illustrations, the style of the bridge seems not to have been in doubt, its original materials however caused some debate. Fortunately, an archaeological discovery in the silt turned up some balustrade sections in stone - not timber as previously thought, which triggered a more solid reconstruction. In any case, let's hope that this bridge lasts much longer than the first!

The Palladian Bridge at Hagley Hall.
© Gary Webb 2014
From the bridge, we returned to the route up the hill, on recently re-laid gravel paths hearing how they had all but disappeared. It was clear that much work had been undertaken recently with tales of a previously closed tree canopy and pools which had all but disappeared due to decades of silt build up. Crunchy re-laid paths now follow clear land forms which have clearly been sculpted and manipulated in times past to create winding and undulating walks.

Shenstone's Urn. © Gary Webb 2014
 At one point a view opens to another recently returned object: Shenstone's Urn, William Shenstone of course having laid out the nearby Leasowes landscape. Back in the day, in terms of landscape supremacy both Shenstone and the Lyttelton's were very competitive, choosing it seems gardening for their friendly field of battle.
Rotunda, Hagley Hall. © Gary Webb 2014
Towards the top of the valley we found the rotunda overlooking a series of ponds with the Palladian bridge as a focal point way below. From here it's easy to put yourself in the mind of Georgian garden visitors who would have enjoyed a stroll through such an interesting garden. They would have threaded through shelter giving shrubberies, crossed bridges whilst viewing cascades and shaded dells, and most likely would have paused for refreshment at this perfectly positioned rotunda for tall stories. 

View from rotunda at Hagley Hall. © Gary Webb 2014
During our pause we heard about the previously poor state of the rotunda, its unusual stone roof having eroded to the point of collapse. The delicacy of the structural repair is admirable; its age and maturity still showing through and it's great to see this special feature preserved. If you ever find yourself enjoying a tour of this landscape, do ask of the comical story relating to finishing the very top of this structure - a builders joke indeed!

HHA group pausing to enjoy Sanderson Miller's mock ruin at Hagley.
© Gary Webb 2014
Despite running late, we voted to stay longer and ventured up to see the mock-ruined castle which was begun in the late 1740s by Sanderson Miller. The sandstone structure is still lived in (imagine that eh!) with the tower featuring up to four floors.

Sanderson Miller Sham Ruined Castle at Hagley Hall.
© Gary Webb 2014
As the day drew to a close we began to descend the slopes towards the house, where mature tree belts cleverly sheltered the route. The views were also cleverly controlled during the steady walk until we arrived at Milton's seat, which provided the breath taking views you can see in the first and last images of this post.

Milton's Seat at Hagley Hall.
© Gary Webb 2014
The views through the tree tops and towards the house are wonderful from Milton's seat, which itself acts as an eye-catcher when viewed from the house. From the bright white and high backed seat birds could be seen flying high with deer grazing pasture far below, unfortunately however the tour was but minutes from closing at this stage, so I shall have to wait for a future opportunity to sit and stare.
© Gary Webb 2014
Apart from the seminar which was really useful and engaging, I particularly enjoyed the landscape tour. I'm more used to giving tours like this and rarely get to see other guys in similar roles do the same, but Joe certainly shows his passion for heritage landscapes - in his language, knowledge and enthusiasm. If you happen across a Landscape Tour at Hagley Hall by Joe anytime soon, be sure to grab the opportunity - you won't be disappointed!

Gary Webb, Oct 2014

Hagley Hall
Hagley Hall - Parks & Gardens UK
Historic Houses Association   


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