PARKS ARE SAID to be a city’s lungs. They are places where one can escape from the noises and fumes mainly created by traffic. On New Year’s Day 2023, we took a walk in Bangalore’s Cubbon Park. Almost as soon as we had entered it, the air seemed cleaner, and we experienced an uplifting sense of serenity.
Cubbon Park was laid out in 1870 under the direction of Major General Richard Sankey, British Chief Engineer of Mysore State. Initially named after Sir John Meade, it was later renamed to honour Sir Mark Cubbon (1775 – 1861), the longest serving Commissioner of Mysore State. The name was changed again in 1927 to Sri Chamarajendra Park, in honour of Sri Chamarajendra Wodeyar (1863–1794), ruler of Mysore State when the park was created. There is a statue of this man in the park. Despite that change of name, the place is still popularly known as Cubbon Park. Even the recently built metro station at the northern edge of the park has that name.
The popular park has plenty of trees that provide shade. Many different species grow in the park, several of them flowering trees. Footpaths cris-cross the park, but visitors do not need to be confined to them. A main road winds its way through the verdant landscape, but this is closed to vehicular traffic on Sundays.
Words are inadequate to convey the joys of Cubbon Park. Only by entering this lovely island of nature in Bangalore’s ocean of urban development can one appreciate the beauty and delightfulness of this city’s important green lung.
WHILE TRAVELLING AROUND India, I have seen many trees that serve some kind of Hindu religious purpose. Often they are peepul trees, whose leaves are heart-shaped. Frequently, there is some kind of shrine next to the trunk, and often there are fine threads wrapped around the circumference of the trunk.
Near the middle of the market place in 8the Goan town of Mapusa, there is an old tree next to which there are two shrines. The tree’s leaves did not look like those of a peepul tree. What interested me was that at first sight both of the shrines, which resemble small huts, looked similar.
On closer examination, it could be seen that one of the shrines was, as I expected, Hindu, and the other was, to my surprise, Christian.
Whether this close proximity of the two shrines was pure coincidence or related to the fact that the tree provides good shade, I cannot say. Another possible explanation of the closeness might possibly be a symptom of inter-religious tolerance in this small Goan town. Who can say? Whatever the explanation for the closeness of the two shrines, it was heartening to see.
A SOLITARY CHIMNEY stands in the middle of East Harptree Woods in the Mendip Hills of Somerset, not far from Bristol and Bath. This tall, not quite vertical, chimney and the surrounding uneven landscape is all that remains of the local tin and zinc mining activities in the area. Known as Smitham Chimney, this was built in the 19th century and was the exhaust for the toxic fumes created by the furnaces smelting lead-bearing materials. The unevenness of the surrounding area, now richly populated with a variety of trees, was caused by the pits and spoil heaps created during the era of mining activity. The chimney was built in 1867 and by 1870, the East Harptree Lead Works Co Ltd were producing about 1000 tons of lead per year (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smitham_Chimney,_East_Harptree).
Today, the chimney stands amongst a fine collection of trees including conifers and birches, all growing in a sea of ferns and other bushes. Much of the woodland is mossy. Maintained by Forestry England, the Mendip Society, and Somerset County Council, the woodland has good, fairly level paths, easy on the feet. The place and its industrial archaeological feature make for a pleasant and interesting short excursion.
THE NAME BOSTON is often associated with a revolutionary tea party in a former British possession. Some might also associate it with a town in Lincolnshire. And Londoners might connect it with a tube station on the Piccadilly Line of the London Underground. The station, which is a stop on the line to Heathrow Airport is Boston Manor, a place which I first visited in April of this year (2021).
In the case of Boston Manor, the name Boston is derived from an older name ‘Bordeston’, which comes from the word ‘borde’, meaning ‘boundary’. Another etymology of the name, which is unrelated to that of the Boston in Lincolnshire, is that it derives from the name of a Saxon farmer named ‘Bord’. Whatever the origin of the name, Boston Manor, the house and its lovely gardens, stand on the border between Hanwell and Brentford.
Until the Priory of St Helens in Bishopsgate was suppressed in 1538 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Helen%27s_Church,_Bishopsgate), the Manor of Bordeston was owned by it. King Edward VI granted it to Edward, Duke of Somerset (1500-1552), Lord Protector of England during the earlier part of Edward VI’s reign, and later it reverted to the Crown. In 1552, Queen Elizabeth I gave the manor to the Earl of Leicester, who immediately sold it to the merchant and financier Sir Thomas Gresham (c1519-1579). After several changes of ownership, the property was sold in 1670 to the City merchant James Clitherow (1618-1681; www.bhsproject.co.uk/families_clitherow.shtml). James demolished the existing manor house. He modified and enlarged Boston House, originally built by Lady Reade in 1622 in the Jacobean style. This house with three gables still stands but is closed as it is undergoing extensive repairs. It looks out onto grounds planted with fine trees, many of them cedars of Lebanon. The grounds that include a small lake slope down towards the River Brent. The house and grounds, Boston Manor Park, remained in the possession on of the Clitherow family until 1923, when Colonel John Bourchier Stracey-Clitherow (1853-1931) sold the house and what was left of the estate (after some of it had been sold to property developers) to the then local authority, Brentford Urban District Council. During his military career, this gentleman was taken prisoner during the ill-fated Jameson Raid in South Africa, a prelude to the Second Anglo-Boer War.
Before the Clitherows began selling off their land at Boston manor, there was a house in the grounds called ‘Little Boston’. It stood until the early 1920s when it was sold to a developer named Jackman, who demolished it to build houses now standing on Windmill Road (https://littleealinghistory.org.uk/node/6). John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), who became the sixth president of the USA in 1825, resided in Little Boston house between 1815 and 1817 whilst he was American minister to Britain during that period. Adams was born in Massachusetts. So, it seems fitting that he lived in a house and an estate both bearing the name of an important city in that American state.
On our way to see our friend who took us to see Boston Manor House and Park, we drove along a road named in memory of the Clitherow family. Sadly, what with the building works and covid19 restrictions, we were unable to view the fine interior of Boston Manor House. However, the garden and its lake, where we spotted its resident tortoise sunning itself on a log, proved to be a lovely surprise, well worth visiting … and you need not cross the Atlantic to get there from London.
DRIVING ALONG THE NORTH Circular Road, I noticed a long wall over the top of which I could see what looked like the pinnacles of a Gothic revival garden folly. We were driving past Gunnersbury Park in West London and did not have time to stop. So, the next day, we drove back to the park and spent some time exploring it. What we found was a fascinating estate consisting of beautiful park land and a series of architectural delights. This is hardly far from where we live, but it was the first time that we had visited it. Had I not noticed what I did when on the North Circular Road, I am not sure that we would not have considered making a trip to find out what lies behind the wall next to which queues of slow moving traffic can often be seen.
The first impression one gets on entering Gunnersbury Park with its wealth of trees including many Cedars of Lebanon is that you are inside the grounds of a great house such as you can find at, for example, Ham House and Osterley Park. That impression is justified because Gunnersbury Park is basically what is left of the grounds of a mansion built in the Palladian style for the lawyer and politician Sir John Maynard (1604-1690) between 1658 and 1663. It was designed by the architect John Webb (1611-1672). Maynard died at Gunnersbury Park.
Between 1762 and 1786, Gunnersbury Park was used as a summer residence by Princess Amelia (1711-1786), who was King George III’s aunt (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000808). In 1761, she had bought the estate from George Furness (after 1688-1756). His father had been a ‘factor’ in the East India Company. George was a British merchant and politician as well as being an art collector. He was a Member of Parliament between 1720 and 1756 and had bought the property in 1739 from John Hobart (1693-1756), 1st Earl of Buckinghamshire, a British politician. Furness improved the grounds by employing the famous gardener William Kent (1685-1748). I am not sure how much of his original design has survived the passage of time.
Princess Amelia, the second daughter of King George II, did much to improve the grounds, by landscaping, arranging planting, and by adding ornamental buildings, which still add to the charm of the place. These buildings include the bath house and a neo-classical temple, which overlooks a circular pond.
The princess held fabulous parties at Gunnersbury. In “Handbook to The Environs of London” by James Thorne, which was published in 1876, the politician and intellectual Horace Walpole (1717-1797), author of the Gothick novel “The Castle of Otranto”, who attended some of these parties, is quoted thus:
“Ever since the late king’s death, I have made Princess Amelia’s parties once or twice a week … I was sent for again to dine at Gunnersbury on Friday, and forced to send to town for a dress-coat and a sword. There were the Prince of Wales, the Prince of Mecklenburg, the Duke of Portland, Lord Clanbrassil … The Princess, Lady Barrymore, and the rest of us, played three pools at Commerce till ten … While we were at the Dairy, the Princess insisted on my making some verses on Gunnersbury. I pleaded being superannuated. She would not excuse me. I promised she should have an Ode on her next birthday, which diverted the Prince; but all would not do.”
The next morning, Walpole composed three verses for the Princess. One of them (quoted in a letter from Walpole to HS Conway dated 18th of June 1786) reads as follows:
“Oh! Why is Flaccus not alive,
Your favourite scene to sing?
To Gunnersbury’s charms could give
His lyre immortal spring.”
Walpole admitted in his letter to Conway that his poem was not one of his best. He wrote:
“If they are but poor verses, consider I am sixty-nine, and was half asleep, and made them ex-tempore – and by command!”
Following the death of the Princess, the Palladian mansion was demolished in 1801. Its contents were sold by auction and the 205 acres of its grounds were divided into lots and sold at the same time. Most of their area was bought by Alexander Copland (1774-1834), who built a new house, which forms the basis for the present building, which now houses a museum, which is currently closed because of the covid19 pandemic. Copland, a builder and business partner of the architect Henry Holland (1745-1806), was a son of Alexander Copland and his wife Barbara (née Smirke). The Alexander, who bought Gunnersbury was a cousin of the architect Robert Smirke (1780-1867), whose brother, also an architect, Sydney Smirke (1797-1877) designed the Orangery, which was built at Gunnersbury Park in 1836, and has been restored beautifully.
Copland built The Large Mansion (now the museum). Either Stephen Cosser or Major Alexander Morrison, a retired East India Company officer who bought the plot from him, built the so-called ‘Small Mansion’ to the east of the Large Mansion, which is currently in a poor state of repair. A gardener explained to us that it was supposed to be cared for by one London borough whereas the Large Mansion was under the care of another. In 1828, the part of the estate with the Small Mansion was bought by Thomas Farmer, who lived there as Copland’s neighbour until 1835.
In 1835, Copland’s Large Mansion was bought by the banker Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836). After his death a year later, his widow Hannah (née Barent-Cohen; 1783-1850) used Gunnersbury Park as her second home and employed the architect Sidney Smirke to make alterations to it (https://family.rothschildarchive.org/estates/37-gunnersbury). Following Hannah’s death, her oldest son Lionel Rothschild (1808-1879), the first ever practising Jew to become a Member of Parliament, took over the property and enlarged its park as well as improving the house’s facilities. After his death and that of his widow Charlotte, the estate moved into the possession of their youngest son Leopold de Rothschild (1845-1917).
In 1889, Leopold purchased the Small Mansion and thereby reunited the two parts of the original Gunnersbury estate. Under the ownership of the Rothschild family, many improvements were made to the grounds, some of which I will mention soon. After Leopold died in 1917, the estate was broken up and parts were sold off. In 1925, both mansions and about 185 acres of attached grounds were purchased for public use by the then Boroughs of Acton and Ealing. Now, the park and its mansions are maintained by the boroughs of Ealing and Hounslow.
The Large Mansion is elegant but not as attractive as the one which was demolished long ago and can be seen in old drawings. Nearby, the temple that overlooks a pond is delightful and reminded me of some of the garden architecture at Stourhead (in Wiltshire). Wandering around the garden, you will come across the Gothic revival architectural features I saw when driving past Gunnersbury Park on the North Circular Road. These are built around ‘Princess Amelia’s Bath House’, a garden folly built in the 1780s. Not far from this, there are very picturesque ‘Gothick’ ruins near to the estate’s farm buildings. These might be the remains of the dairy mentioned above in the quote from Horace Walpole or possibly later additions to the grounds constructed by an owner who bought the Princess’s estate. One source (https://brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk/publications/the-journal/journal-10-2000/princess-amelias-bath-house/) suggests that what is now called the ‘Bath House’ might have been the dairy in Amelia’s time at Gunnersbury. Whatever its history, lovers of romantic Gothic revival ruins will get great pleasure from what can be seen at Gunnersbury Park.
The Orangery stands next to a large pond. This structure was built whilst the Rothschilds owned the estate. It was constructed in 1836, designed by Sidney Smirke. The family were responsible for another water feature on their estate. It has a name that intrigued us: the Potomac Pond. This almost circular water body is surrounded by a fence and almost hidden by the trees and other vegetation growing around its perimeter. It is only accessible to members of a local angling club. The Rothschilds had purchased a former clay pit and converted it into the pond. One of the claypit’s kilns was rebuilt to create a Gothic revival tower on its shore. This lovely folly, which would look at home in a painting by the German Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), might have once been used as a boathouse.
I have described a few of the features that make it well worthwhile to visit Gunnersbury Park, whose history is not exactly simple. The place is so near to London and the M4 motorway, yet it feels so far away. If it were not the background roar of the traffic and the low flying aeroplanes descending towards Heathrow Airport, fewer than usual these days, it would be hard to believe you were not deep in the countryside.
THE BUILDING MATERIALS COMPANY TARMAC is not a company that you might immediately associate with leisure activities. Yet, today, our good friends in Hertfordshire, Gareth and Moyna, took us with their two dogs to a park that has largely been created by Tarmac. Panshanger Park is owned by Tarmac Holdings, who extract sand and gravel from the area. After taking what they need, they restore the ground they have dug to render it attractive to humans, wildlife, and cattle.
William Cowper (c1665-1723), First Earl Cowper and once the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, acquired the Cole Green Estate, which includes the land on which Panshanger Park is situated, in about 1700. His descendant the Fifth Earl Cowper commissioned the architects Samuel Wyatt (1737-1807) and then later William Atkinson (c1774-1839) to design a house to replace the existing one. It was designed in the ‘Regency-Gothic’ (Gothic Revival) style and its construction commenced in 1806. The grounds of the new house were landscaped by Humphry Repton (1752-1818), who also landscaped the grounds at London’s Kenwood House. Seeing the grounds at Panshanger reminded me of those at Kenwood. Sadly, the house was demolished in the early 1950s. All that remains of it is a grassy mound and the roofless ruins of the extensive orangery, whose supporting pillars and lintels remain. The lintels bear a bas-relief of floral wreaths, crumbling in parts. The ground in front of the mound sweeps down towards a lake, just as is the case with the lawns in front of the still extant Kenwood House.
A path leads from the remains of the orangery through woods towards an enormous oak tree circled by protective cast-iron railings. This huge oak tree is said to be the largest maiden oak in the country. It is defined as ‘maiden’ because it has never been subjected to pollarding (artificial control of growth by trimming selected branches). One of the tree’s long branches has grown towards the ground and, unusually for oaks, set down new roots, rather like what is commonly found in banyan trees. This tree is said to have been planted by Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603). Whether she planted an acorn or a sapling, we cannot say. My uneducated guess is that planting a sapling rather than random acorn would have been a more reliable way to be sure that the tree would thrive. The tree trunk’s circumference is at present 75 feet (www.chilternsaonb.org/ccbmaps/489/137/panshanger-great-oak.html) and increasing because the tree looks remarkably healthy.
Saplings taken from this royal oak have been used to grow the Prince Consort Oak in the Forest of Dean, and another in the same forest planted (as an acorn) by Queen Elizabeth II, as well as another tree planted by Sir Winston Churchill, which has outlasted this former Prime minister.
Apart from the amazing oak tree and the intriguing remains of the Panshanger orangery, the park is well worth visiting to enjoy its views of lakes, its variety of trees, the long-horned cattle grazing in the fields, and the lovely vistas of the valley of the River Mimran and the rural Hertfordshire landscape. It is gratifying to see that a company, whose activities, such as digging gravel and sand, can easily wreck the countryside, have managed to carry out their work and at the same time to preserve the estate in superb, unsullied condition. Once again our friends in Hertfordshire have opened our eyes to another wonder in the depths of the English countryside.