Alan Taylor explains
why Conservation Officers should care
about parks and gardens.

This year’s Annual School breaks new ground for ACO by exploring the problems and methods of Conserving Historic Parks and Gardens (see Annual School Update elsewhere in this issue and the enclosed booking form). This article is a reminder to AGO members that this topic is every bit as central to our professional concerns as the preservation of historic buildings or conservation areas.
Some readers may think it strange that I should need to write such an article, in Context of all journals. A year ago so would I, but 12 months of preparing for next year’s Annual School have revealed an astonishing ignorance or complacency about historic parks and gardens, not just among mainstream planning officers but all too often among their conservation staff as well.
There is a popular fallacy that the phrase historic park or garden refers only to rolling rural acres designed by Capability Brown or Humphry Repton (or their ilk), and which are included in the English Heritage Register. This is not so, and obscures the fact that historic parks and gardens exist everywhere—in urban, even metropolitan, areas just as much as in the most rural shires—and sometimes on a very small scale. Mark Girouard’s book The English Town has several chapters on walks, squares and parks, some dating back to the 17th century and still extant, with copious references to the garden settings, again often surviving; to almshouses, hospitals and private dwellings. The full extent of
such survivals has yet to be charted and their significance fully appreciated even by garden historians.
The 19th century provides the best instances of the interrelationship between rural and urban contexts. Many of the principal landscape designers of the age were simultaneously involved in country house work and laying out municipal parks and cemeteries, often to the same design theory. Stoke on Trent cemetery was laid out by H E Milner; nearby Hanley and Tunstall parks by Thomas Mawson (there will be optional visits to all three from the Annual School). Elsewhere in Staffordshire, Milner laid Out The Lawns at Rangemore for Lord Bass; Mawson the new parterres at Patshull Hall and Betley Court, and a whole new and little known small garden at Little Onn Manor.
On a national canvas J C Loudon, the prolific and influential early 19th century writer on gardening matters, published inter a/ia The Suburban Gardener and Villa Companion in 1838, and On the Laying Out Planting and Managing of Cemeteries in 1843; he also designed the Derby Arboretum. Joseph Paxton, besides his work at Chatsworth, was responsible for Birkenhead Park (the first municipal park) and the Crystal Palace park at Sydenham. These few instances alone suggest that there can be few parts of the country totally devoid of historic designed landscapes of some significance or interest.
There is a fallacious belief that such sites are only significant for providing a ‘set
ting’ for listed buildings, and the intrinsic interest and management of the other components—land form, trees, planting—are esoteric matters for other professional disciplines. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. As conservationists we should be concerned with the total historic context, as interested for example in securing a planned replanting programme (with the right species) in the avenue, as in a planned maintenance schedule (with the right materials) for the house.

Of course we cannot do this alone. Just as in the buildings we need to draw on the skills of historians, structural experts, timber specialists and the like, so in the grounds we must draw on the strengths of arboriculturalists, plantsmen and garden archaeologists to meet an array of challenges—philosophical, biological, and practical—on an heroic scale most Conservation Officers have never dreamed of.

This is not new or dramatic (anyone in doubt should reread page 60 of Circular 8/87), but it is true that mainstream conservation has turned its back on the great outside for too long. There is now an increasing national awareness of the interest and relevance of garden history: it will be the great conservation growth area of the 1990s. So, be in the vanguard! Come to Keele and find out what it’s all about!

Alan Taylor is Senior Conservation Officer with Staffordshire county Council, anda member of the 1992 Annual School
Organising Committee.