Formal gardens by Edwin Lutyens adjoining a country house which he remodelled in 1901-2, with other early C20 gardens and a mid C19 landscape park with medieval origins.
The manor of Lower Swell was purchased in the mid C13 by Richard, Earl of Cornwall and King of the Romans, who created a park there. Before 1257 he gave the manor to the Cistercian abbey which he had founded at Hailes. The manor was purchased in 1659 by Sir Robert Atkyns (d 1710), lawyer and MP, and father of Sir Robert Atkyns (d 1711), author of The Ancient and Present State of Gloucestershire. A house at Bowl Farm, the historic demesne farm 400m south-west of Abbotswood and alongside the River Dikler was, from 1683 or earlier, one of the elder Atkyns' two country seats. His son seems never to have lived there. The manor remained in the Atkyns family until 1844 when it was sold to John Hudson. In 1865 a large part of that estate, including 400 acres (c 162ha), the manor house, and the park, was sold to Alfred Sartoris, who also owned a large part of Upper Swell. In 1867 he built a new house, Abbotswood, on an elevated site in the park, away from the river and the old house's farm and service buildings.
In 1901 Abbotswood was sold to Mark Fenwick, wealthy from his family's coal and mineral interests in Northumberland and from the sale of Lambton's Bank in Newcastle. He was a keen gardener, while his wife, Molly, was interested principally in country sports. The house, 'far too ugly to be lived in as it was' (quoted in Brown 1996), was extended and remodelled by Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), whose initial advice to the Fenwicks about the existing house was to 'Blow it up, and start again!' (ibid). Instead the existing house was reordered both internally and externally, especially the north (entrance) and west (pool terrace) facades. The main, south, garden front was changed little, if at all; instead Lutyens planted it with climbers and creepers. West and south of the house Lutyens designed strongly architectural gardens. The planting of those gardens, and the creation of others, was apparently by Mark Fenwick himself. Fenwick remained at Abbotswood until his death in 1945 when it was sold to Harry Fergusson (d 1960), the tractor manufacturer and inventor. It remains (1999) in private ownership.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Abbotswood stands within its park, which extends between the villages of Upper and Lower Swell. Both villages stand on roads from Stow-on-the-Wold, 1.5km to the east: Upper Swell on the B4077 to Broadway, and Lower Swell on the B4068 to Cheltenham. The same roads in part bound the park, as does a minor road between the two villages down the west side of the park. Running from north to south through the centre of the park is the River Dikler, and the house stands on the east side of its shallow valley with views, especially from the south garden, west and south. The area here registered is c55ha.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The principal approach to the house is via an entrance on the B4077 400m south-east of Upper Swell. The Lodge (with gate piers etc listed grade II) is a one-and-a-half-storey, L-plan building of 1869 by Haywood in the Cotswold style. The adjoining gate piers with wrought-iron gates and c 2.5m high, snecked rubble, semicircular flanking walls are by Lutyens and of c 1902. From here a 200m long drive winds downhill, through shrubberies and specimen trees, to the north forecourt of the house. Some 50m north of the house that drive is joined by one from Lower Swell. This enters the park at the east end of the village where a C19 stone cottage stands alongside stone gate piers. From here the 1km long drive runs north-east through the park, midway passing the Bowl Farm complex.
Abbotswood (listed grade II) was built in 1867 and remodelled in 1901-2 by Edwin Lutyens. It is a modestly sized, L-plan building of Cotswold stone, its two arms running around the south and east sides of its tarmacked forecourt. The main entrance, on the north side of the south wing, comprises Lutyens' most dramatic contribution, a doorway framed by a projecting two-and-a-half-storey gable whose eaves drop almost to ground level. Lutyens also considerably remodelled the west end of the south wing, adding narrow gables to compliment the terrace with lily tank which he laid out beneath it. The south, garden front is fairly plain, with a central door flanked by double-storey bay windows. At the east end of the south range, opening onto the south garden, is a loggia. Although of Lutyenesque style this post-dates 1913 (cf CL 1913). It was part glazed in the 1950s or 1960s, as were the two summerhouses in the south garden. At the same time the Fergussons replaced about half of Lutyens' leaded light glazing with plate glass.
The chief house at Bowl Farm, built c 1671 for Sir Robert Atkyns, was partly demolished or rebuilt on a smaller scale c 1800. That house replaced one which stood until 1671 within a moat on the south edge of the park, at the north-east end of Lower Swell village. Poplar trees on the moat platform were felled in the 1990s.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
An arch in a buttressed yew hedge against the north-west corner of the south range of the house gives access to a flight of steps down into the garden. A short path leads to the west end of a flagged terrace abutting the west end of the south range. The terrace is c 25m long from east to west and c 14m wide, and has 2.5m high buttressed walls of rubble stone down its north and south sides. Running down the centre of the terrace is a rectangular lily pool (called the 'lily tank' in CL 1913). At the end of this, set into the house's gable wall, is a semicircular dripping well with a head of Neptune as the keystone and source of the water which falls into the circular pool below. Herbaceous borders run around the edge of the compartment. Missing are the columnar cypresses which stood within the beds at regular intervals (CL 1958).
The main formal garden is the roughly square compartment against the south front of the house, overall c 65m long north/south by c 60m wide. Steps (some semicircular) from the gardens west of the house lead up to a terrace across the front of the house, from which the whole of the south garden can be enjoyed and the parkland beyond. The path along the terrace, along with every other path and the forecourt, was tarmacked in the Fergusson period. At the west end of the terrace, looking south, is a summerhouse with two Roman Doric columns to the front and a hipped stone tile roof, originally open-sided but glazed in the mid C20.
A drystone terrace wall divides the south garden into two halves: north (upper), and south (lower). The north half of the garden is itself subdivided by clipped yew hedges into three compartments. To the centre, and reached by a short flight of steps off the terrace, is the c 30m square formal Flower Court, with numerous small flower beds arranged symmetrically around domed yews in the centre of each quarter. Down its west side, and overlooked from the summerhouse at the end of the terrace, is the Rose Garden, c 8m wide internally, with box-edged beds. At its north end is a small apsidal pool (?Fergusson period). Down the east side of the Flower Court, again c 8m wide, is the Flagged Parterre. In the 1950s, as today (1999), its L-plan rose beds were edged with box but originally (when the compartment was called the Paved Garden) the beds were hedgeless (cf CL 1913, 1958).
Steps from the centre of the Flower Court lead down to the Sunk Tennis Lawn, c 60m east/west by c 35m. A 0.5m tall and c 5m wide raised grass walk runs around its edge retained by drystone walls, and around the edge of the raised walk are narrow herbaceous borders. At the south-west corner of the garden, looking back across it and to the house, is an open-fronted, six-sided garden house, its hipped tile roof supported on circular rustic stone piers. A short flight of semicircular steps leads down to the tennis lawn. In the centre of that lawn, aligned east/west, is a narrow, rectangular, apsidal-ended lily pool. This post-dates 1913, a photograph of that date (CL 1913) showing the lawn in use for tennis, and probably dates from the Fergusson period. In the centre of the south side of the Sunk Tennis Lawn (and hence south garden compartment) are wrought-iron gates on 2.5m high stone piers surmounted with balls. An Iris Wall running west from the west pier (and presumably east from the east one) shown in a 1913 photograph (CL) is no longer extant. The iron gates give access to a 15m wide lawn, divided from the parkland beyond by a sunk fence.
A broad path runs down the whole of the east side of the garden, aligned on the loggia at the east end of the house. A low stone wall runs down either side of the path. As originally conceived, a pergola rose over the north half of this path, its stone piers (the same as those at the south end of the garden) rising off the wall. Roses grew out of large ceramic oil jars (no longer present) placed midway between the piers down the west side of the pergola, alongside the Paved Garden (CL 1913). Running uphill from the east side of this path is the Heath Garden, part of the original planting. Rock steps carry a path eastwards through this to the Arboretum beyond.
A broad herbaceous bed runs along the outside of the west side of the south garden compartment. A path alongside this leads south to a door into the basement storey of the summerhouse whose upper level opens onto the Sunk Tennis Lawn. Originally columnar cypresses stood at intervals along the west side of the path, as well as across the south end of the garden. These survived in 1958 (CL 1958) but have since been removed. The lawn to the south of the formal garden continues along its west side. Here it is c 50m wide, sloping downhill to the woodland and specimen trees fringing the Stream Garden which occupies the shallow valley running around the north and west sides of the lawn. The north-east end of the Stream Garden, with several small pools and rockwork, adjoins the west side of the north forecourt. West of the forecourt the ground runs uphill, and here the stream, again with rockwork, is flanked by a Rock Garden. At its upper, east end is a rustic summerhouse (date unknown). Shrubberies and specimen trees extend northward to the north lodge. The Stream and Rock Gardens were created, and tree planting begun, by Fenwick before 1913.
The house of 1867 apparently had little in the way of gardens, and was set in terraced lawns. The planting of the Lutyens garden was apparently the work of Mark Fenwick, later in conjunction with his gardener Fred Tustin who began work there in 1908 and remained into the Fergussons' time.
Abbotswood stands in the north-east part of its park, which is c 1km long from south-west to north-east and up to 1km wide. The park occupies a shallow valley either side of the River Dikler, which runs like a spine down the park's centre. The drive through the park is carried over it by a small stone bridge, possibly early C20.The river is little more than a stream but the bankside is lush and a walk is carried along it. South of Bowl Farm is a small lake, created c 1958. The park is largely permanent pasture, and has large numbers of parkland and specimen trees, including many planted in the late C20.
Some 400m south-west of Abbotswood, on the east side of the drive to Lower Swell, is the complex of limestone buildings comprising Bowl Farm: farmhouse, C17 and later stables (listed grade II), and staff cottages. The chief house, demolished in the mid C19, is believed (local residents pers comm, 1999) to have stood immediately to the east, on the west bank of the River Dikler. Facing Bowl Farm, on the west side of the drive, is a Creamery (listed grade II) built in 1917 in the style of a dovecote to a design by Lutyens. Other agricultural buildings stand to its north.
A short distance north of the medieval moat on the southern edge of the park is Lady's Well, a so-called healing spring covered with a low, pitched, ashlar cover (listed grade II).
When the park was created by Richard, Earl of Cornwall in the mid C13 the Cotswold Ridgeway (the present B4068) was diverted southward to accommodate this. The Earl may have used it as a hunting park, but later while in monastic ownership, and certainly in the mid C16, it was used as a single sheep-run.
Brick-walled kitchen gardens stand 150m west of, and upslope from, Bowl Farm, their position relating to the pre-1867 chief house rather than Abbotswood. The main walled garden is c 70m square, and slopes downhill from north-west to south-east. The walls (that to the south fell down in the mid C20 and was not rebuilt) appear to be of the C19 and C20. Lean-to glasshouses along the north wall were rebuilt in the 1990s and the garden remains (1999) in production. There are sheds along the rear of the north wall.
East of the kitchen garden, between it and the Creamery, are some old orchard trees.
Country Life, 33 (15 February 1913), pp 234-41; (22 February 1913), pp 272-8; 124 (9 October 1958), pp 768-9
Victoria History of the County of Gloucestershire VI, (1965), pp 165-9
J Simmons (ed), English County Historians (1978), pp 56-80
J Brown, Lutyens and the Edwardians (1996), pp 72-7, 138, 143
OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition surveyed 1881, published 1886
Description written: May 1999
Register Inspector: PAS
Edited: March 2003