Soho House and Gardens in Birmingham

matthew_boulton_house_birminghamMatthew Boulton was a notable  industrialist, James Watt’s partner and the designer of his own ‘landscape garden’, between 1761 and 1809.  It was a key period between the classicism of the eighteenth century and the eclecticism of the nineteenth century. Boulton took an interest in many of the arts and sciences of his time. His approach was summarized in verse:

Nor Knight, nor Price nor Burke sublime
I ape in landscape nor in Rhyme

These lines define Boulton’s garden horizons: he was influenced by the Brownian approach; he was not willing to adopt a fashionably picturesque approach; he had a fondness for follies and a fondness for flowers. But, judging from  plans and paintings,  he lacked design talent.  The garden has been carefully and usefully researched by three authors [Phillada Ballard, Val Loggie, Shena Mason: A lost landscape – Matthew Boulton’s gardens at Soho (Phillimore & Co, Chichester, 2009 ISBN978-1-86077-563-5)]. Their work is good but it is a pity they did not invite a fourth contributor: the book lacks the specialist perspective of a garden historian.  It lacks a stylistic oversight of the period in which the garden was made.  Brown died in 1783. Repton’s career began in 1788 and reached its first peak in 1794. Boulton’s work casts a fascinating light on the ‘gap’ between the famous designers – but the authors seem unaware of their subject’s wider significance. This will not matter to those with a broad kowledge of the period but it could limit the popularity of the book. Another source of regret, for me, is that the conjectural plans of Matthew Boulton’s garden in 1794 and 1809 are casual sketch plans. It they had been drawn with more care they would have been more useful.  The book should have been a study in the early development of the picturesque. But I recommend the book to local historians and to specialist garden libraries.  Boulton’s house has become a museum and the authors have undertaken a botanically interesting garden re-creation.

Image courtesy jo-h

6 thoughts on “Soho House and Gardens in Birmingham

  1. Christine

    It is a surprise to find that Tadao Ando was a key motivational speaker at a Japanese business Conference […/99016-4-07%20-%20Program%20of%20Seminars%20&%20Sessions%20-%202004.doc]at JCI University Japan []. The synoposis of his talk was as follows:

    “To Create Your Own Future”

    After World War II, people in Japan began to focus on mass production and consumption. Thanks to its diligent and skillful people, Japan soon developed into an economic giant. However, this rapid growth and materialism have left many people unhappy and facing various contradictions. Cities have expanded without any plans, natural environments have been destroyed, and people are suffering from pollution.

    Tadao Ando of Osaka, Japan, Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, who has emerged as a cultural force in the world, tries to restore the unity between house and nature (light and wind) that was lost in the process of modernizing Japanese houses during the rapid growth of the fifties and sixties.

    The scars left by rapid and uncontrolled growth affect the daily life of Japanese people, many of whom feel that the time has come to return to their time-honored tradition “to cherish all things under the sun,” which they feel they have lost. Tadao Ando’s architecture honors that tradition.

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    I find comparisons between the Japanese Islands and the British Islands endlessly fascinating. Both groups have so obviously drawn on the culture of ‘the continent’ and both have cared so much about their identity and their independence and, perhaps because of their island status, about their relationship with nature. Perhaps that is why they are both such great gardening nations.

  3. Christine

    Kendo is a modern Japanese form of martial arts which its origins in the Zen Buddhist Samurai culture. [] There is a British Kendo Association also. []

    Kendo as a modern sport is practiced indoors.

  4. Christine

    Yes. I does seem a little obscure.

    After Matthew Boulton [] inherited his father’s toymaking business at 31 he is said to have presented Prince Edward with a sword through a friend. The gift so impressed Edward’s older brother the Prince of Wales(the future George III), an accomplished fencer, that he is said to have ordered one also. []

    So, as you say, it is highly probable that the industrialist Boulton is more famous for his social finesse and connections than for his design talents!

  5. Pingback: Some link for February 14th through to February 16th | Birmingham Conservation Trust

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