‘Why is this house called a “Castle”?’
‘It used to be one until they moved it.’
‘What can you mean?’
Just that. We had a castle a mile away, down by the village. Then we took a fancy to the valley and pulled the castle down, carted the stones up here, and built a new house.’
Evelyn Waugh- Brideshead Revisited
Sebastian Flyte called his family “the ravening beasts” and they proved too much for his father, Lord Marchmain, who decamped to Venice, where he felt more at ease. ‘It has been my tragedy’, he said, ‘that I abominate the English countryside. I suppose it is a disgraceful thing to inherit great responsibilities and be entirely indifferent to them’.
The next best thing to Brideshead in Cumbria is Holker Hall whose family, the Cavendishes have a similar reputation to the Marchmains as prodigious drinkers. But Hugh Cavendish is no Lord Marchmain – he takes his responsibilities seriously. When he inherited Holker Hall at an unexpectedly early age he gave up alcohol and devoted his life to the estate. In his memoir, A Time to Plant, he describes how the garden at Holker had been, in earlier centuries, transformed from ‘formal Dutch’ with bowling green, to ‘contrived natural landscape’. When he took over, the garden had a formal Mawson design which he, and the visiting public, disliked and he very boldly swept it away. This annoyed the people at English Heritage who downgraded the garden in the register of historic gardens, but they good-naturedly said that if he lived long enough they would consider upgrading the garden again to reflect the fact that he and the garden had become historic together. Next year Lord Cavendish is handing over the reigns to his eldest daughter Lucy. She will take over something very special. But what’s fascinating is the way he’s done it, as this revealing extract shows:
‘I have to mention a group of small Chinese trees called Photinia beauverdiana. I grew these from seed without knowing what they were, having discovered them in the lining of my dinner jacket pocket. Once I remembered how those seeds came to be in my pocket it did not take me long to realise whose plants they came from: it was from the superb garden of Robin Herbert, a previous distinguished President of the RHS.
The occasion that brought them into my rather formal pocket was a dinner of a dining club to which I belong. The club meets at intervals in London and members bring plants and seeds. At the close of the meal, we discuss our contributions and then help ourselves to whatever we feel will survive the journey home and remain fir for propagation. I most gratefully acknowledge that many of the best things I have collected come from this source.’
There’s something very 18th century about this description and I’ve no doubt that English Heritage will be justified in renewing Holker’s historic status.