Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.
William Andrews Nesfield
William Andrews Nesfield
William Andrews Nesfield was born at Lumley Park, County Durham. In 1808, after the death of his mother, the family moved the few miles to Brancepeth where his father became rector of St Brandon’s church. His stepmother was Marianne Mills of Willington Hall, whose nephew was the noted architect Anthony Salvin, and Nesfield’s younger sister married Salvin.
Nesfield was educated at Durham School, then located on Palace Green, before entering the army. He fought under Wellington in Spain and at Waterloo, and he also served for two years in Canada, where he was present at the Siege of Fort Erie and the Battle of Chippawa. He retired in 1816, and took up a career as a painter of watercolours, particularly of waterfalls, earning the praise of John Ruskin in Modern Painters.
While still exhibiting at the Old Water Colour Society, Nesfield began work as a professional landscape architect, with the encouragement of Salvin.
From 1840 until his death in 1881 he was responsible, either singly or with his sons Arthur Markham and William Eden for no fewer than 259 commissions in the British Isles. His military training enabled him to design the water features which were so effective in many of his gardens.
The Witley Court fountain in Worcestershire, which cost the equivalent of more than £1 million in 1853, is the triumphant centrepiece of elegant gardens designed by Nesfield, who described them as his “monster work”. It has 120 separate jets hidden amongst giant shells, sea nymphs, dolphins and a monstrous serpent. The main jet reaches up to 90 feet (27 m). Performing artist Bing Crosby was keen to acquire the fountain for his Hollywood home, but the monumental, 20-ton, block sculpture with 54-metre-wide pool, which can be compared to the smaller Trevi Fountain in Rome and fountains at Versailles, remained in England. The gardens and fountain were designed to reflect the wealth of the 1st Earl of Dudley and the grandeur of his Italianate mansion, which was often visited by royalty and other rich landowners. Nesfield’s dramatic south parterre was set against the wide spaces of the surrounding parkland and the distant wooded wild landscape.
Castle Howard’s South Lake in North Yorkshire was refashioned by Nesfield at the same time as he installed the Prince of Wales Fountain in the 1850s. Ten years later between the South Lake and New River Bridge, the area was formalised with the construction of the Cascade, Temple Hole Basin and the Waterfall. These features remained but fell into disrepair after the 9th Countess changed Nesfield’s planting which surrounded the South Lake.
Oxon Hoath in Kent was built more than 600 years ago by Sir John Culpeper, a knight of King Henry V, as a royal park for oxen and deer. Over the centuries the estate has been the family home to eleven knights, many of whom enhanced the house and grounds in a variety of classical architectural styles. In 1846 Sir William Geary commissioned the renowned French gothic revivalist architect Anthony Salvin to build the mansard dome, and the chateau tower. Sir William, son of Admiral Sir Francis Geary who was Nelson’s mentor, also engaged W. A. Nesfield to create the formal gardens in the style of Capability Brown. The Oxon Hoath gardens are the only surviving unaltered parterre gardens in England today.
Three great vistas are Nesfield’s signature on today’s Kew Gardens, London. In a ‘goose foot’ pattern radiating from the Palm House, Pagoda Vista was a grassed walk some 850 m (2,800 ft) long; Syon Vista was a wide gravel-laid walk stretching 1,200 m (3,937 ft) towards the Thames; while the third, short, vista fanned from the northwest corner of the Palm House and focused on a single 18th-century cedar of Lebanon towards Kew Palace. Pagoda Vista is lined with paired broadleaved trees with, flanking them and to their exterior, paired plantings of evergreens. Nesfield’s idea of being able to both see and walk to the Pagoda along the centre line of Kew Gardens was, in fact, a return to the turn-of-the-century landscape.
Treberfydd house was built near Brecon by John Loughborough Pearson for the Raikes family in 1852. The Treberfydd grounds contain the only remaining example of a Nesfield garden still tended by descendents of the patron for whom he created it. While the detailed planting of the Nesfield parterre has been grassed over, Treberfydd contains one of the gardener’s signature vistas, called The Long Walk. It can be found by standing at the gate of the kitchen gardens and looking back through a landscaped woodland to the manicured lawns of the estate.
Kinmel Hall is the third house to be built on the site in Conwy county borough. Designed by W. A. Nesfield’s son, William Eden Nesfield, it was completed in the 1870s, and W. A. Nesfield was responsible for the adjoining 18 acres (73,000 m2) of walled gardens.