The Landscape Guide


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Cirencester Park, Gloucestershire, was a major forestry enterprise and survives as the best example of the English Forest Style

Royal leadership in the art of garden design began to decline after the accession of George I in 1714. He did not share the Stuart passion for the arts in general or for gardens in particular. Artistic leadership passed to the nobles - especially to the Whig nobles. This was the begining of the most creative century in the history of British garden design. The first of the new styles was the English Forest style. Its central features were avenues and extensive plantings of forest trees.

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The name for the style comes from Stephen Switzer. He was critical of the 'stiff Dutch way' of London and Wise and wrote a three volume book on 'the general designing and distributing of country-seats into gardens, woods, parks, paddocks etc, which I therefore call Forest, or, in a more easy style Rural Gardening'. Switzer admired the magnificent gardens at Versailles, Marly and Fontainbleau and confessed that '`tis to them I owe a great part of that knowledge I have in the designing part of gardening'. Switzer saw himself as the first English author rather than mere translator to advocate the French style. However he had not visited France and the style which he advocated deserves a separate name. It differs from the French style, and the Dutch style, in important respects.  

Switzer believed that the Forest Style was more economical and more beautiful than the style of London and Wise. He thought that money should be spent on forest planting and that it should be obtained by reducing the size of parterres or by laying them to grass. Since few avenues could be made by cutting through existing woods in England, massive tree planting was essential to create any semblance of the French style. Switzer also believed that money was being wasted on levelling hills and filling dales to comply with a pre-ordained plan. He distrusted paper plans because they often led to the felling of a noble oak 'to humour the regular and delusive schemes of some paper engineer', and he disliked costly garden walls which so often obstructed views of 'the expansive volumes of nature herself'. These comments come from the 1742 edition of Ichnographia Rustica and provide an excellent illustration of the way in which swing from rationalism to empiricism was affecting the art of garden design. Switzer emerges from his writings as a delightful man who may well have played a crucial role in the evolution of British garden design. It is sad that no gardens which he designed are known to be in existence. There are however a number of gardens which were made between 1700 and 1750 and illustrate the principles of the Forest style.

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The best examples of the Forest Style are Bramham Park (1700-1731), Cirencester Park (1715-1740), St Paul's Walden Bury (1720-1725), and Wrest Park (1706-1740). Their geometry is 'French' but their other characteristics are sufficiently distinct to justify a separate name. They are quiet rural retreats with extensive woodlands, radiating avenues looking towards distant views and small or non-existent parterres. 

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St Paul's Walden, Bury, Hertfordshire, 1720-5 Bramham Park, Yorkshire, 1700-31


The quietness and relative economy of these estates indicates another fundamental difference between the French and the Forest styles: their use. To Louis XIV, Versailles was a symbol of his sun like magnificance. Power radiated outwards into France from Versailles like the great avenues, but extended to the furthest corners of France. All Louis's subjects were drawn into the orbit of his power and crowds milled through the grounds at Versailles. On festival days there were masques, garden parties and firework displays.  

British estates which were laid out in the Forest style, like Alan Bathurst's park at Cirencester, served a very different purpose. They were intended not for the grandeur of court life but for a Horatian idyll of rural retirement. Switzer described Bathurst as 'the best of Masters, and best of friends', and wrote that 'the retirement You are pleased to make into your fields and gardens, are evident demonstrations how greatly You prefer solitude before the noise and hurry of public life'. It not known whether Switzer advised on the design of Cirencester Park but it is probably the best surviving example of the Forest style. Pope was a close friend of Bathurst's and had enjoyed a rural life-style during his early days in Windsor forest. He expressed the classical ideal lyrically in his Ode on Solitude of 1717:  

Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mixt; sweet recreation;
And Innocence, which most does please
With meditation.
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown,
Thus unlamented let me die,
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.  

This is not at all the life which Louis wished to live at Versailles. Nor is it the life which Charles II wished to live at his London palace gardens.  

Bathurst's park at Cirencester was formed almost entirely by new planting. The avenues which radiate from his house were planned according to aesthetic criteria but their function, like modern forestry roads, was to give access to the new plantings. Pope asked 'who plants like Bathurst?' and invested £4,000 at 4% in his friend's forestry venture. Pope's own garden at Twickenham was small by comparison with Cirencester Park but may be considered an example of the Forest style. It had avenues and grass but no topiary or parterres. The probability is that Pope was influenced either by Switzer's book or by advice from Switzer's fellow apprentice, Charles Bridgeman.  

Bridgeman was a friend of Pope's. He shared Switzer's liking for extensive prospects and also his willingness to respond to the genius of the place. It is for these reasons that Willis describes Bridgeman as a pioneer in 'the transition from the geometric layouts of the early 1700s to the freer designs of Capibility Brown '. Bridgeman's most important project was Stowe. A plan of the park was published by his wife in 1739, the year after her husband's death. It shows some features of the Dutch style but there is also a network of newly planted avenues which are linked together by a series of bastions. The bastions were characteristic of both Bridgeman's and Switzer's work. They commanded wide views of the surrounding countryside and formed part of the ha-ha which protected the garden from sheep and cattle. Forest style bastions can be found at Bramham Park and Levens Hall, and there are examples of long avenues at Castle Howard and Studley Royal. Forest style bastions can be found at Levens Hall and Bramham Park, and there are long avenues at Castle Howard, Stowe and Studley Royal. 

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Charles Bridgeman's plan of Stowe, as it appeared in Views of Stowe, 1739, published by Sarah Bridgeman. The area by the ouse, in the lower part of the plan, contains 'Dutch' canals and parterres, while the upper part derives from the Forest Style.

Bridgeman and Switzer's desire to open up views and respect the genius of the place was certainly a move towards more natural estate layout. But taste moved quickly. Some of their clients, and all their clients' descendants, became unable to see what was natural about their designs. At Stowe, and elsewhere, all was swept away to make room for later and freer garden designs. There is a parallel with Pope's poetry. It was regarded as 'natural' during his lifetime but came to be described as 'artificial' by Wordsworth and the romantic critics. The poems survive but Pope's garden, like Bridgeman and Switzer's work, has almost vanished.

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This house is on the site of Pope's villa at Twickenham. Pope's grotto survives beneath the house, shown right.
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Studley Royal, Yorkshire.


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