Living as we do in the semi-independent city state of Liverpool, Sarah and I enjoy the occasional day out in England. Having been some time since we visited the grand nob house of Chatsworth for Sarah’s birthday today we motored through Cheshire and, just, into Staffordshire to visit the gardens at Biddulph Grange, between Congleton and Stoke.
Not quite a nob house this one as it was bought by Robert and Maria Bateman in 1840 from ill-gotten coal and steel money. But they never did hold on to this money long enough to do enough crawling to become ennobled, and therefore ‘nobs’ – as they spent all they had on building their garden and stocking it with pilfered exotic specimens from all over the world.
Having passed to someone else, the house mostly burned down in 1896 and was rebuilt the following year in imitation of Queen Victoria’s Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, only the two end blocks visible at the top of the post surviving from the original house.
After that it spent most of the 20th Century being an orthopaedic hospital (at first charmlessly called the North Staffordshire Cripples’ Hospital). And the garden was left neglected and overgrown, like a secret.
In recent years though, the National Trust have got hold of the garden, restored it and rebuilt it where they had to, and now it’s considered the finest example of a Victorian garden in England.
The rest has been privately split into nine apartments.
As you may know, I’ve previously had little time for the National Trust, considering them virtually a wing of the Conservative Party (conserving a version of England none of us lot ever lived in etc etc). But anyway, let’s move on.
Now by normal nob house standards this garden is reasonably compact. Split into small sections and containing more than a few follies.
On a warmer day than in mid-February books and sketch pads would have been brought here and we’d have stayed an hour on that seat. Today we walk on.
I told you there were follies here. We are in fact in a Willow Pattern version of China.
And just wait, there’s still Egypt to come.
And I warned you about this.
We imagine Robert and Sarah Bateman, after a few drinks each Christmas, sniggering about which extra bit they’ll get built this year. Until by 1861 they’ve only got enough money left to keep the Kensington house going (and not the Kensington in Liverpool). Poor souls.
But their garden’s restored now and with us again.
Well fifteen anyway.
For her ongoing ‘Monkey Map’ of all known monkey puzzle trees. (In fact a single-day record total of twenty six monkeys is gathered today. Many as we pass through Congleton. A top monkey town by any standards). Sarah’s parallel post to this one, all about monkeys, is here.
Many planted on mounds like this so we can see their roots, see the whole tree.
And I enjoyed it too, despite my general feelings about the National Trust and the £15 it cost us to get in. Days out in England can be a pricey do, but occasionally we all need a holiday.
By the way, I haven’t shown them on here but there were a good number of children in the garden and every one of them appeared to be having not merely a good time but a great time. It’s full of secret magic, surprise paths to run off along and dark tunnels to scream in. So there was none of that obediently sullen trudging that many a visitor attraction causes. And don’t bring them in their best clothes because there’s mud as well!
National Trust details for Biddulph Grange garden here. See, I can be a public service when I want to be.
Sarah’s parallel post to this one, all about monkeys, is here.