29 May 2012

Thence I Went: To The Monument

I've just spent a good amount of time working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week to finish my historic garden project. I'm pleased to report it's finally finished - finally! It was one of those situations where you invest so much of yourself into this one thing that when it's finally over, you sit there and sort of don't know what to do next and end up staring off into space, eyes glazed and jaw slacked (thank goodness I wasn't out in public!). Then a little voice inside my addled head whispered, "Now you've got a dissertation to write". Oh, yeah. That.

Now I get to turn my thoughts back to our intrepid traveller Celia Fiennes and the gardens she visited but felt after all that work I deserved at least a weekend off so on the first day, I slept. On the second day I decided to go see some London landmarks that Celia included in her journal. Celia went to live with relatives in London after her mother died in 1691 but obviously visited the city before then because she witnessed the coronations of James II (1685), William and Mary (1689), and Anne  (1702) as well as the funeral processions of both Mary (1695) and William (1702). She describes the processions, the pomp, and the finery in quite a lot of detail which makes me eager to witness Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Perhaps 300 years from now someone will stumble on my diary and read about it. Must take good note of things!

Well, to get my head properly in place, I went to London on a fine, sunny day and had this odd thought: I think I'll climb The Monument. I entreat you now, if ever I have the odd thought of climbing 311 stairs inside a 15-foot wide, 202-foot high free-standing fluted Doric column just for the fun of it, please slap me.


Of The Monument Celia says: There is alsoe at ye Bridge a Great Monument of stone worke...this is of a Great height 300 stepps up and on ye top gives ye view of ye whole town. This was sett up in memory of Gods putting a Check to ye Rageing flame wch by ye plotts and Contrivance of ye papists was Lighted. There is a Large Inscription on it all round mentioning it, and alsoe of ye popish plott and ye gun powdr treason and all by ye papists.

The Monument, or The Monument to the Great Fire of London, commemorates the Great Fire of 1666 which wiped out most of the Medieval City of London within the ancient Roman city walls.

A Plan of the City and Liberties of London,
Shewing the Extent of the Dreadful Conflagration in the Year 1666 by John Noorthouck 1772 (
Christopher Wren, one of the most highly acclaimed architects in history, designed The Monument. He also designed the new St. Paul's Cathedral, worked on a number of royal palaces, Westminster Abbey, the Greenwich Naval Hospital, and is generally credited with rebuilding London after the fire. Being also well-read in science, Wren designed the structure to double as a scientific instrument. The winding staircase's central shaft can be used as a zenith telescope (a hinged lid on the top of the structure covers the opening to the shaft).

The start of my ascent

As I climbed, huffing and puffing, I kept trying to imagine what it would have been like to attempt this monumental feat (pun absolutely intended) in a long skirt, petticoat, bodice, and corset (don't even get me started on the shoes), with no light but the knifes of sunlight through the slitted windows in the building (the steps are black, by the way, and even with modern lighting it's dark and dangerous up there!). The mind boggles. Still, I did it, and when I reached the top I was entertained to see climbers of yore had left their mark.

Antique graffiti (the top says, "RD 1794", the bottom, "THD 1792")

Celia was wrong, though, it's not 300 steps to the viewing platform 160 feet up, it's 311 and I climbed each and every one of them. She doesn't specifically state that she climbed to the top (she could have heard it from someone else) but I bet she did so we'll give her the benefit of the doubt. The view is still spectacular, but other than a few remaining landmarks, I don't think Celia would recognize the city.

The Tower of London was there in Celia's time but the iconic Tower Bridge wasn't begun until nearly a century later, in 1886.

Looking south toward London Bridge. The London Bridge Celia knew was burned twice then demolished in 1831 when the new London Bridge was built. That was replaced by the present bridge, which opened in 1973. The tall building on the left is The Shard, currently the tallest building in the European Union.

The dome of St. Paul's (just visible behind the protective wire cage) wasn't complete until 1711 so depending on when Celia climbed these steps, she may or may not have seen the dome.

I didn't scratch my name in the wall, but I did receive a nice commemorative certificate when I successfully made it back down (at which point my entire lower half turned to jelly). I spent about half an hour recovering on a bench conveniently located midway between The Monument and the spot at which the Great Fire started, at a baker's shop in Pudding Lane. If the management had any marketing sense, there would be a bakery there now instead of an ugly modern office building, selling Monument cakes and meringues shaped like Doric columns with little flames on top in yellow marzipan or edible gold leaf. Perhaps they could serve a refreshing and restorative draught called 'Fluted Fizz' which the public would appreciate, I'm sure, after such an exhausting accomplishment.


On three sides of the 40-foot high pedestal are inscriptions in Latin and a bas relief sculpture by Caius Gabriel Cibber depicting the destruction and resurrection of the city. And the bit about the Papists starting the fire - well, that has to do with the Popish Plot, an imaginary anti-Catholic conspiracy cooked up around 1678 and 1781 that had the country in a bit of a frenzy. The last words of the inscription on the Monument that Celia refers to were added after the fact, in 1681, and erased in 1830.

Sculpture on the west face of the pedestal, by Cibber
On the left side of the sculpture is The City of London, represented by this fallen female figure sitting on ruins and her hand lying on her sword in an attitude of exhausted defeat. Supporting her is Time and another female figure whose sceptre points upward toward two goddesses (below). Beneath is the dragon of the City of London with a shield bearing the arms of the city.
On the right side is King Charles II in Roman garb, with three attendants heroically coming to the aid of The City of London. Behind Charles is his brother, the Duke of York (and future King James II), holding a garland with which to crown the City and an uplifted sword in her defense. Behind the Duke are the figures of Justice and Fortitude, holding the reins of a lion. Below the foot of the King is the figure of Envy, munching on a heart and emitting noxious vapours from her underground den. Above them are workers rebuilding the city.
Above are two goddesses, one with the cornucopia of Plenty and the other with the branch of Peace. It's hard to tell in the photo, but beneath her foot is a beehive denoting Industry.

After that climb I was ready for a nice long sit and a cup of tea. It's been a few days and my thighs still scream when they encounter a staircase so I might wait a bit before attempting something like this again. Still, if you're one of those who likes to tick boxes on a list then a climb to the top is a must when you're seeing the sights of London. If Celia and I can do it, so can you!


Things To Know:

The Monument sits at the intersection of Monument Street and Fish Hill Street just north of London Bridge. The nearest tube stop is London Bridge. Exit the station and take the Tower Bridge Walk across the bridge. Keep going north, you'll spy it towering above you on the right.

The Monument is open daily from 9:30am to 6:00pm (last admission is 5:30pm). Prices are £3.00 for adults, £2.00 concessions (like students), and £1.50 child. There's a special combined ticket with The Tower Bridge Exhibition for £9, £6.20, and £4. Read more of its history and restoration here:

After your adventure, head to Borough Market on the south end of London Bridge and treat yourself to a coffee and fresh pastry or cake. You've already worked them off!


London Garden History Walk

OK, I'm a little late since the Chelsea Flower Show ended on Saturday, but it's never too late to get a copy of Tom (my tutor) Turner's London Gardens Walk. It's an eBook containing a map with a 30km walk, cycle, or ride route to places in London which illustrate different eras and styles of garden history. It was published to coincide with this year's first annual Chelsea Fringe festival, which is still going even though the flower show is over.

The printable .pdf route map includes sites of the Fringe festivities so if you're in London for Chelsea or the Jubilee (I'm getting a wee bit excited about that, aren't you!?), there's still time to catch these events.

For more info on both the London Gardens Walk and Chelsea Fringe 2012, check out these websites: and

06 May 2012

Thence I Went: Uppark House and Garden

Another installment in my continuing quest to visit the houses and gardens mentioned by Celia Fiennes in her seventeenth century travel diary.

Uppark 115

Of Uppark, Celia says:

"...I went to Chichester through a very ffine Parke of the Lord Tankervailes [Ford, 3rd Lord Grey of Wark, Viscount Glendale and Earl of Tankerville, 1655-1701], stately woods and shady tall trees at Least 2 mile, in ye Middle stands his house wch is new built, square, 9 windows in ye ffront and seven in the sides. Brickwork wth free stone coynes and windows, itts in the Midst of fine gardens, Gravell and Grass walks and bowling green, wth breast walls Divideing each from other, and so discovers the whole to view. Att ye Entrance a Large Coart wth Iron gates open wch Leads to a less, ascending some stepps, ffree stone in a round, thence up More Stepps to a terrass, so to the house; it looks very neate and all orchards and yards convenient."

The new house was actually a rebuild of the old house circa 1690 and the fine gardens probably looked a lot like this:

'Up Parke in Sussex, the Seat of the Rt. Hon'ble Ford Ld Grey Baron of Werke, Viscount Glendale Earle of Tankerville and one of His Maj'ts Most Hon'ble Privy Councill' (engraving by Knyff and Kip as published in Britannia Illustrata, 1707)

Since Celia never intended her travel diary to be published she was rather, shall we say, free with her style of writing to say nothing of her varying spelling. In case you're not up to 17th century English, much less 17th century English written in a sort of personal short hand, allow me to attempt a translation with the aid of the above image marked for clarification.

Up Parke lettered plan
(A) bowling green, (B) breast walls, (C) entrance gates, (D) terraces, (E) gardens and orchards (F) deer park

As you can see, the house stood - and still stands - proudly on the rise of a hill, hence its name "Up Parke" (and yes, before you ask, there was also once a "Down Parke". I find this very common among English place names - they many times have an opposite: Upper Sloughter, Lower Sloughter, Great Dixter, Little Dixter, Broadbottom, Narrowbottom, Right Wingnut, Left Wingnut, etc. If you don't believe me, just have a look at a UK road atlas and try not to let the names make you chuckle out loud).

If you count the windows in the image above you will see that it does indeed have 9 windows across the front (facing left in the image, which is south) and 7 on the side (facing you, which is east). The  stone 'coynes' or what in architectural terms is called 'quoins', from the French 'coin' meaning corner, refers to the projecting brickwork or stone on the corners of buildings but the larger stones used on the corners at Uppark are also used around the windows (see photos).

The bit about the entrance is a little tricky. I have it on good authority (well, a volunteer house guide that I spoke to) that the original front door to the house was on the south. There are gates (C) from the road on the west side of the middle terrace in front of the house but entering from that way looks like it would make turning the coach and getting to the stables on the east side a bit tricky as there are no corresponding exit gates on the east side. There are also two sets of gates and two courtyards on the east near the service buildings with two wee riders on horseback to communicate the purpose of that area. The handy Uppark guidebook (new edition first published in 1995) also states that the "approach was from the east via two courtyards" and "the day-to-day entrance was then on the east side of the house", and they ought to know. Right?

I'm finding this to be one of the tricky questions in garden history: 'Where did the carriages arrive?' In the 1800's the entrance to the house was moved to the north, so it's not inconceivable that the approach could have been moved once before, say, from the south to the east. Looking at the entrances on the south and east as they are today, the south stairs and door case are far more grand than the east side, and first impressions being so important, wouldn't you want visitors to come in through the best door? I sure would, and if I had a house like this you can bet I'd want them to come in the front and be impressed!

Uppark 122

But then if one were to arrive from the east, would one's coach, and the horses before it, be required to drive all the way around the house to experience the grand south entrance, or would they just come in the side door and see the better doorway when they were shown round the garden (the visitors, not the horses)? Celia's description seems to imply that one entered the house by ascending steps and crossing terraces but without a comprehensive architectural history of the house, who really knows?

I get hung up on the question of where the carriages arrive. I mean, I lose sleep over these things (as evidenced by the fact that I'm typing this at 3am, thanks in part to the drunken brawl that took place outside my window an hour ago). A painting of the house and grounds, the mammoth original of which hangs in the house and covers an entire wall, shows a different view. The house guide in that room told me the painting dates from 1697, which is about when Leonard Knyff was drawing his famous birds-eye view and I doubt the garden could have changed that quickly, unless by some alien force (hey, if they can be credited for stone and crop circles, why not gardens?), but the caption under the image of the painting in the guidebook gives a date of 'before 1734' while the National Trust Collections website lists it at 1720. Agh!

A View of Uppark, c. 1730 or 1720 or 1697 (depending on who you believe) by Peter Tillemans (1684-1734)

The earlier Knyff and Kip engraving hangs in what used to be the bathroom, and the house guide there had never heard of 'Biff and Nip' so I think we can toss the guide's assertions about the date of the painting right out the window, leaving us with a decade or so to quibble over. Whatever the date of the painting is, it's after the Knyff and Kip drawing published in 1707 because the compartmentalized 17th century gardens have been replaced with Brownian (as in Capability Brown, doyen of the English Landscape Movement) 'natural' gardens complete with pond. The terraces have been smoothed and the two sets of iron gates near the service buildings taken down and probably melted into door hinges. In this image, it's clear that the entrance would be from the east but the ghost of the terraces can be seen in the color of the grass in the painting, and the tell-tale signs of them are still evident in the topography today. Based on Celia's account of her journey, she was on her way to Chichester from Nursted, and very likely would have approached Uppark from the west road which makes her descriptions of the south terraces as the entrance front entirely plausible. So there.

As you can imagine, the garden now looks nothing like what Celia saw, or even what the Tillemans painting depicts, and on the day my friend and I visited it was raining cats. Not to be deterred, we saw the garden and met with the head gardener, Andy Lewis, who said he was actually happy to get out of the office and into the garden even in such bad weather. Sign of a true gardener, that.

Uppark 015
New north entrance to Uppark, by Humphry Repton c. 1810

What I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, is that the house and gardens are now approached from the north, a change made by landscape designer Humphry Repton in the early 19th century. An avenue of Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) under planted with hornbeam (Carpinus) guides the way from the ticket kiosk and we were entertained to see a rogue red-leaf Acer specimen in the otherwise green allĂ©e.

Uppark 070
North entrance with Repton's classically styled addition c. 1811-14

The simple Georgian square house was added to around 1750 and again around 1811 so now you enter the door above and pass through a narrow hallway to the staircase hall, which felt rather odd compared to the grand entrance halls in other houses of this period that I've visited (no photography was permitted in the house so you'll have to take my word for it).

Uppark 049

When Andy came to Uppark just a short time ago, he inherited a much overgrown garden suffering from about 25 years of neglect. One formula gives the calculation of three years to recover from every one year of neglect, making it a 75 year occupation to take the garden back to its 1810 form. In order to achieve this, Andy has had to take some drastic measures which not everyone has agreed with. This yew hedge, for example, was given a drastic regenerative cut and the area of ground revealed created an opportunity to plant a new border.

Uppark 024

The irregular beds in the lawn were added sometime in the 20th century and are not historically accurate so there is talk of eventually removing them. Not surprisingly this has met with resistance, mostly from the garden volunteers who helped plant the beds in the first place. I understand a gardener's possessiveness but I also understand the historian's desire for authenticity as well as the need to keep plants healthy. Given that garden plants have a sell-by date and don't last forever without some kind of human intervention, be it pruning or replanting, I think working to restore the garden to its 19th century character is a good call even if a few beds have to be sacrificed and some hard cuts have to be made.

These shrubs, branches of which have propagated themselves by layering (rooting into the soil where they touched the ground), have to be taken back in stages. So while fighting what Andy calls "the creep" takes an iron will and stout saw, it has to be done with sensitivity and sound judgement. Just whacking back to the original shrub line or removing self-sown plants would leave gaping holes and make the border look moth-eaten. They may not look great now, but the cut ends of these shrubs will sprout new growth and green up in a year, and in a few years' time, perhaps, more rejuvenation can take place. 'Instant  gratification' isn't an option when you're talking about garden restoration.

Uppark 048

The house commands a breathtaking view of the South Downs and on a clear sunny day you can see right down to the coast. We tried to imagine it as we sheltered from the incessant rain under the entrance to the old dairy and my friend and I both wore out the Jane Austen quote, "There's some blue sky! Let us chase it!" during our trip. The old bowling green is now a wide meadow grazed by sheep and flanked on either side by the house and managed woodland, creating a fantastic frame for the view beyond. The sheep are pulled off the meadow a few weeks before the garden opens for the season to allow their "added goodness" (i.e. fertilizer) to work itself into the ground before the process is aided by visitors' feet.


The restoration of the gardens follows on the heels of the restoration of the house after a devastating fire in 1989. Ignited by the flame of a blowtorch when the roof was being replaced, the whole house was nearly gutted. After the smoke cleared, the walls were found to be remarkably in tact and the heroic efforts of the fire brigade meant nearly all the contents were rescued (except for the family's personal possessions, all of which were lost in the blaze). All the historic collections - paintings, furniture, tapestries, curtains, china, even large strips of wallpaper - going back to the 17th century were saved. After much debate it was decided that restoration would be a better choice financially than a payout for a complete loss and less than two months later the decision was made to restore Uppark to its appearance the day before the fire. If it weren't for the guides' explanations and the photos in each room of the destruction after the fire, it would be difficult to tell that the place had once been so badly damaged. The plaster or wood carving in some rooms has been left unpainted to show the difference between old and new but the craftsmanship on the new is so good that were it not for the unpainted portions, an amateur (like me) could scarcely tell the difference. One door case in the servants' rooms downstairs has a bit of the charred wood exposed to show the extent of the fire's reach and an exhibit in the basement used burned timbers, lengths of balustrade, plaster, and twisted metal to create a sculpture to commemorate the disaster. I even bought a piece of painted Uppark plaster for £1, which goes toward a maintenance fund for the house.

It's really interesting to follow in the footsteps of a traveller more than 300 years later, to see what she saw, what hadn't yet existed, and to learn how it's being cared for. Being able to compare a landscape with Celia's descriptions and historic drawings like Knyff's gives me the chance to time travel, in a way, and I can't help but wonder what the place will look like in 2312 after Andy's thoughtful stewardship? In one respect it's almost too difficult to think in those terms, but the people who built these estates were doing just that. They had a family legacy at stake, after all. The legacy we leave is no less important, even if our heirs are the general public and not privileged kin.

Uppark 129
Celia and me on the south porch at Uppark

Uppark House and Garden
(The National Trust)
South Harting, Petersfield
West Sussex, GU31 5QR 
Telephone: 01730 825857
For opening times and admission, see the National Trust Website:

*I'd just like to add that we undertook this garden tour during the wettest week of the wettest April in 100 years, which means we saw more of the insides of houses than we might have had the sun been shining, but that didn't make the trip any less interesting since Celia describes the interiors of some country houses in great detail.

04 May 2012

May the Fourth Be With You

photo by simononly on Flickr
How is it possible that Star Wars was in theatres 35 years ago!? And still one of the all time best movies in history. Happy Star Wars Day!

03 May 2012

The Journeys of Celia Fiennes: An Introduction

It has occurred to me that although I've mentioned Celia a number of times, I haven't properly introduced her. Please excuse my manners and allow me to put things to rights. Celia, meet my gentle readers. Gentle readers, pray meet Celia.

Born 7th June, 1662 to the younger son of the 1st Viscount Saye-and-Sele, Celia Fiennes descended from a noble, politically active, and spirited family. Celia herself is best known as 'an English traveller', reputedly being the first woman to visit every county in England during her travels between 1698 and about 1710. What made this feat remarkable was that a) she was a single woman and b) she did it mostly on horseback, riding sidesaddle no less.

Equestrian portrait of Grand Duchess Ekaterina Alekseyevna (Catherine the Great), 18th century
Being from a noble family - her grandfather was the 1st Viscount Saye-and-Sele, her older half- brother the 2nd Viscount, her nephew the third - she had relatives and social connections to many of the families who owned vast estates and grand country homes. Visiting these homes was becoming more commonplace and it was not unusual for a party of travellers to apply to the housekeeper of a stately home for a tour; however, Celia was often a guest at these houses and enjoyed the hospitality of her noble hosts.

Celia's accounts of her travels were recorded but she never intended her notes to be published or read by anyone beyond her family circle. In an introductory passage addressed to the reader she remarks:

"My Journeys as they were begun to regain my health by variety and change of aire and exercise, soe whatever promoted that Was pursued; and those informations of things as could be obtein'd from inns en passant, or from some acquaintance, inhabitants of such places could ffurnish me with for my diversion, I thought necessary to remark: that as my bodily health was promoted my mind should not appear totally unoccupied, and the collecting it together remain for my after conversation (with such as might be inquisitive after such and such places) to wch might have recourse; and as most I converse with knows both the ffreedom and Easyness I speak and write as well as my deffect in all, so they will not expect exactness or politeness in this book, tho' such Embellishments might. have adorned the descriptions and suited the nicer taste."

She comments on everything from the state of the roads, a town's industrial and market trades, the interior decoration of stately homes, and the layout of their gardens. Some are treated in minute detail, some just get a passing mention, but all are keenly observed.

I feel somewhat of a kindred spirit with Celia as I've spent the last decade travelling to gardens and stately homes around Britain and Europe and have kept a travel diary on every trip. One requirement of my MA course is to complete a Historic Garden Tour so it only made sense that I should follow in Celia's footsteps, er, hoof prints. Sadly I only had a week to visit ten gardens and as my tutor hinted that there were no 20th century gardens on my itinerary, I had to deviate from Celia's map somewhat, but I'm a few sites closer to my goal of visiting every country house she did.

With the help of a 1947 copy of Celia's diary complete with (then) updated place names and footnotes, I've compiled a list of houses - 133 so far - to visit. Some, like Holywell House, no longer exist while some have been converted to luxury hotels or subdivided into apartments. No matter. If they're on my list, I will visit them. Eventually.

Keep an eye on this spot for upcoming posts and pictures about Chatsworth, Stowe, and a few other sites Celia and I visited together!


When I started reading Celia Fiennes's travel diary and studying the country house gardens that she visited, little did I know the quest that would begin. When I found the site of Holywell House, I decided then and there that I would visit every country house Celia visited, whether it still existed or not. Last month I visited a few more. Here's a little something to whet your appetite until I can write a proper post about each one.

027 (2)
West Wycombe Park
Belton House