Christopher Holliday, the garden designer and writer, will always have a special place in my affections because of his generosity when I first started on the garden here at Yewbarrow House. He had a rather famous and very splendid garden just down the road from me, which inspired me to have a go at mine, and Christopher not only encouraged my new-found enthusiasm but helped me with the design. When Christopher’s latest book “Houses of the Lake District” landed (with a thump – its massive) I happened to be looking at “Gardens Old and New” by Avray Tipping, which was published in 1900. Both books have chapters on Old Hutton Hall and it’s fascinating to compare the differences in style of the two books, written more than a century apart.
Christopher has a crisp, modern, no-nonsense style and I’d have expected the Victorian volume to be fusty and stuffy and dry. Not a bit of it. Avray Tipping surprised me by being racy and readable. In the 18th century the house was owned by Sir Henry Fletcher, who, Christopher says, “improves the gardens, grounds and estate… and does not marry”. Avray Tipping paints a rather more colourful picture, telling us that “the house was overrun with rats, which ate Sir Henry’s beds and hangings: but the gardens were in good condition, new plants from the Indies being nourished there with plantations of fir, beech, elm and lime”. Eventually, he tells us, Sir Henry became a monk and gave up the house.
Christopher tells us of another relative, Sir Harry Vane, “a prominent parliamentarian (who) was executed for treason in 1662”. In the Victorian narration: “Sir Harry died steadfastly on the scaffold, a ruffle of drums and a flourish of trumpets drowning his last words, even the vindictive Cavaliers knew that they had slain a great man, and had no joy of revenge”.
I must say that I love the extravagant hyperbole of the old style. There seems to be so much more life to it. I also love the black and white photography of the Victorian book. The photos of Old Hutton Hall are intriguing for their portrayal of some wonderful old topiary – in the western terrace, the ‘haunted walk’, the south lawn and the south terrace. The photos take up four pages and show topiary which is even more splendid and mature than that at Levens Hall, which is featured in the same volume. The current owners believe that the topiary at Old Hutton was planted by Margaret, Lady Vane in the 1890’s, but on the evidence of Avray Tippings’s book, a lot of it is much older than that. I was also intrigued by Avray Tipping’s assertion that the design of the classical building added by Sir George Fletcher was attributed to Inigo Jones, whereas Christopher says it was “possibly designed by Talman”. As Inigo Jones died 30 years before Sir George inherited the property, I’d say Christopher’s guess is more likely to be correct.