For Mythic Landscapes thesis by Michael Trinder scroll further on . . .
But we hope the following may be a useful introduction.
The parkland is undocumented but its history is fascinating.
In 1693 a tiny part of the Wealden forests adjoining the Ashdown Forest was felled to form the grounds to the former house on the present site. It is possible that the Hammer Pond remaining from the local iron industry was converted into an ornamental lake at that stage.
The landscape 'improver' Capability Brown had been dead 9 years when work on Hammerwood Park began in 1792. In the garden world this was a period of transition of styles. Hammerwood Park was 'new' in concept with the Greek influence. The new owner of Hammerwood was young and adventurous - as shown by his choice of architect and of architectural style. At the time of its building Capability Brown's rules were still in vogue: it was requisite that grass or meadow be brought right up to a house so that the building stood visually on a 'sea' of grass. Signs of this are found at Hammerwood where hinges exist on the façade where gates hung, obviously to form a minimal 'barricade' for animals and persons. Within the landscape Brown always put at a good distance any incidence to take the eye. In this respect the relative position of the lake to the site of the house was particularly convenient.
On 24th October 1792 Benjamin Henry Latrobe took his brother, Christian Ignatius, on an inspection of the building works at Hammerwood. Christian Ignatius recorded the visit in his diary and whilst Benjamin was directing the builders, its owner John Sperling - "took me all round and across the woods to explain his intended plan of improvement. Nature has done a good deal for him. He has low and high woods, hills, vales, runs of water, springs etc. but a little assistance from art is wanting to render this as delicious a Spot as any in the Kingdom."
Ring counts of two surviving oak trees blown down record that they were planted between 1793 and 1796 - so the 'improvements' must have been executed.
Latrobe researchers have discovered that Latrobe was on friendly terms with Repton's son "Jack" [John Repton (1775-1860)], who was also an architect. By 1788 Repton had begun his landscaping career and in 1793 he published 'Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening.' Features of the Hammerwood parkland show Repton's influence and in particular the 'fingers' of woodland on the hills opposite which follow a contour of the hill so as to appear as the brow, multiplying the appearance of the hills. He did not imitate Brown; in fact Repton reversed many of Brown's ideas and so unknowingly began paving the way for the future garden styles associated with fine imported plant collections. Repton brought the decorative form from the distant landscape right up to the building where he formed terraces, steps and balustrades, placing urns of flowers upon them. Where Brown had permitted mere cushions of trees within the landscape, Repton used trees more lavishly. He cleared away all 'ruins' and follies which had been in fashion - he allowed only a thatched miniature cottage with a chimney giving out wispy smoke as the eye-catcher. Thus was the 'Repton Landscape' and we have found ruins of such a cottage at Hammerwood on an island in the lake south of the house.
Both the Dorrien Magens family and Oswald Augustus Smith in the last century were related to Augustus Smith who formed the famous Tresco Gardens in the Scilly Isles. Sale catalogues of subsequent years list the multitude of hothouse species once at Hammerwood. These, the fine rhododendrons by the water garden, and the abundance of rare trees suggest the possibility of a horticultural link between the two gardens.
William Robinson, who lived nearby at Gravetye Manor, had strong ideas about planting. He, unlike Loudon, considered that rhododendrons should be banked (as at Hammerwood) and that no garden feature should obstruct the view of the house from the distance. He favoured pale or white roses, or other blooms climbing the house walls. All these ideas were followed until 1927 when the Yew Garden, below the South Terrace, was planted. The Gardens at Sheffield Park were created by Capability Brown and there Loudon's ideas of planting rhododendrons singly prevailed. The two gardens are similar in geography, climate and natural form but, created by opposing ideas, they compare and contrast interestingly.
Following the hurricane of 1987 we much appreciate the assistance of The Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust, The Men of the Trees, the Countryside Commission and the South East Electricity Board in replanting the clumps of parkland trees together with other aspects of the parkland restoration. In addition Ashdown Forestry has donated a very considerable amount of work with the further contributions of Richard Wright and his NTAG volunteers.
The archaeological approach was symptomatic of the English Greek Revival. It set the agenda for much of the early work, and pervaded the investigation of classical monuments. The search for a rational definition of beauty had led the Neo-classical movement into the arguments over proportions, precedents, measurements and details which continue today. In 1962, Vincent Scully followed the few previous attempts to redress this prejudice by investigating the relationship between the Greek temple forms and their sites - returning to study the sculptural power that had sparked off the Greek Revival in the first place. He saw the exclusion of the landscape within which these monuments were set from any discussion of their nature as `obdurate blindness' which is `hardly less than humanistically irresponsible.'1The fundamental nature of the Greek temples lay in the fact that they were not intended as human shelters but as houses for specific gods. They were architectural projections, within landscape, of the deity's qualities. Since the sites were regarded as holy in themselves, well before the building of any temple, these qualities were to be found primarily in the landscape. In other words, the architecture was a secondary element with regard to the nature of the landscape as a whole. Edith Hamilton summed this up neatly: to the Greek architect the setting of his temple was all-important. He planned it in clear outline against sea or sky, determining its size by its situation on plain or hilltop or the wide plateau of an acropolis he conceived of it in relation to the hills and the seas and the arch of the sky ... So the Greek temple, conceived as a part of its setting, was simplified, the simplest of all great buildings of the world2
The Greek conception of landscape was Scully's starting point: what he identified were the landscape features that the Greeks thought significant. Structured by an anthropomorphic religious tradition, the Greek mind saw the land as physically embodying the powers that ruled the world. From early Cretian beliefs in the earth as mother, and a reverence for the herbivorous animals which both represented her and were her creation (all of which, except the horse, bore horns),3 the essential elements of an expressive landscape distilled as, first, an enclosing valley in which the palace is set; second, a gently mounded or conical hill on axis with the palace to north or south; and lastly a higher, double-peaked or cleft mountain some distance beyond the hill but on the same axis.4All the early Minoan palaces, Knossos, Phaistos, Mallia, Gournia are structured in this way, and the later Hellenic temples built upon these theoretical foundations, identifying the character of particular landscapes. For example, at Paestum, the two temples of Argive Hera are oriented eastward towards a conical hill, and beyond that a cleft peak (see figs 35 & 36). The simple, repetitive nature of the buildings both allows the eye to take them in and contain them in one place, but also carries it away into space, following the implied axis to the specific landforms of the earth mother. The axis is developed as a connection of land, temple and sea, arcing across the sky to form a fundamental measure for the colonial town. Scully refutes criticism that the Greeks can have had no such conception of landscape, because they did not paint it, with an important point. To notice the Character of a landscape as described by Homer,5 the ancient Greeks must have appreciated landscape as a full-scale, three dimensional reality: as a holistic entity in their minds there could be no such thing as a `picture' of it. Such an appreciation is wholly at odds with the archaeological garden that is Shugborough. It is closer to a refined, reduced, Greek Picturesque, treating the landscape as a powerful generator within which architecture can be set. It is, in fact, the dedication to the story of the place that Latrobe had set out in his Essay on Landscape. Whether Latrobe's holistic appreciation of landscape was confirmed or inspired by the sculptural siting of Paestum is of no importance; it is still a fundamental part of his aesthetics. He is personally rather modest about the role of landscape in his architectural thought, writing in his essay that his profession, though one of the arts to which painting is nearly related, does not depend upon a practical knowledge in either Landscape or figures, and besides, occupies the time in which it might be acquired.6 However the tone of the Essay as a whole refutes this; he cannot have maintained separate aesthetic judgements regarding painting and architecture. What remains most significant about the Essay on Landscape is that here, as an amateur painter, he is attempting to reconcile his memories of the ancient Greek landscape with his appreciation of the Picturesque ideal. As a professional architect inspired by the Greek spirit, Latrobe's attempts to re-connect a picturesque tradition originating in Arcadian myth with his memories of ancient Greek composition stand today, largely unaltered, in Sussex.