Great local gardens and historic homes to visit (after lockdown) – #3 Upton House and Gardens
Written by Karl Quinney on June 29, 2020
Article Published on Monday June 29, 2020 2:56 PM by Karl Quinney
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For the third in the series looking at great local gardens and historic homes to visit (after lockdown), we head into North Oxfordshire and look at Upton House and Gardens.
Located seven miles from Banbury, the National Trust property of Upton House and Gardens is famed for being the 1930s country retreat of Lord and Lady Bearsted. However, to get a true measure of the vast history of this fabulous property, you have to go back as far as the 12th century when it is known the gardens were in use.
The house didn’t emerge until some time after as it was built on the site of the hamlet of Upton which was destroyed in about 1500 when the land was cleared for pasture. The estate passed through various hands until the early 16th century when it was bought by Sir William Danvers. It remained within their family until 1688 when Sir Rushout Cullen purchased the estate for £7,000, a vast sum in their day and the equivalent to over £1million in today’s terms. Cullen built the house for himself in about 1695.
In 1757 the house was bought by banker Francis Child for use as a hunting lodge. It remained in the Jersey family until the end of the 19th century when it was held by George Child Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey.
In 1927 the estate was acquired by Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted, who owed his fortune to his father Marcus Samuel Bearsted, the founder of the oil company Shell Transport and Trading. Lord Bearsted donated the house, gardens and art collection to the National Trust in 1948, but his son, the 3rd Viscount, lived here from this point until his death in 1986. He added the collection of fine porcelain to the National Trust and on his death the furniture and other items on view in the rooms were offered to the nation by his daughter, Hon. Mrs. R. Waley-Cohen, through the “in lieu” system. However, this was on condition that they remained at Upton House.
Before the Bearsteds arrival, the garden’s main purpose was to provide food for the house. With her fresh ideas, ample resources and undoubted enthusiasm, Lady Bearsted set about improving the garden for leisure and pleasure, to an extent she commissioned Kitty Lloyd-Jones, one of the first professional female garden designers, to advise on designs and planting. A doctor’s daughter with a degree in horticulture from Reading in 1924, Lloyd-Jones had her own nursery business and was well-qualified to reinterpret the spaces according to Lady Bearsted’s wishes. And it was her design talents and practical determination that won her respect from the aristocratic clients she advised.
Her commission at Upton marked the start of her own flourishing career and the herbaceous borders remain a legacy of her knowledge and craft in this form of planting. Lloyd-Jones chose cleverly by adding varieties of plants that still emerge and reach their peak between July and September, just when the Bearsted family would have been at home and could enjoy them to the full. Although they may appear a little overgrown due to the current limitations of work permitted, when you visit the gardens you can still see her influence of the soft planting, strong colours and fashionable style in many areas.
The garden team at Upton House and Gardens is well into an ambitious conservation project to return the impressive double herbaceous border to its 1930s heyday. The work is part of a three-year project to revise the planting scheme but also control the perennial weeds. The gardeners have now replanted two thirds of this impressive 56 metre long border and started work to clear the last section.
Whilst the main house is currently closed due to social distancing rules, the gardens at Upton House have now re-opened for visitors to enjoy. However, you will need to book your visit in advance. A ticketed booking system is in place and designed to limit numbers and maintain public safety. So remember to book in advance, as from personal experience it is well worth a visit.
Head to their website here and check the What’s On section to get the latest information regarding ticketing and to book your visit.
Telephone: 01295 670266
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