Janie Burford: treading in Charles Hamilton's footsteps
- Written by Sarah Jackson
It was a summer afternoon in the late 1970s when Janie Burford clambered over a fence into Painshill Park to explore the mysterious wilderness beyond.
Janie was at the time studying for a postgraduate diploma in landscape architecture at Thames Polytechnic, where she had attended a series of lectures on Painshill, one of the foremost ‘classical' landscapes of the 18th century.
Created by Charles Hamilton between 1738 and 1773, Painshill had been relatively well maintained by successive owners through the 19th and early 20th centuries, but had fallen prey to neglect since the end of the Second World War.
In 1948 the estate had been divided up and sold off in lots to pay taxes. The main part of the ornamental landscape around the lake was developed for commercial forestry, disappearing beneath a blanket of conifers.
Janie's opportunity to explore the park arose through a friend, whose mother was resident in part of Painshill House. Together, the pair began to push their way through thick, tangled undergrowth, and trees so crowded they cut out the light.
‘It was a dark, dense jungle. Despite knowing a little of the history, I simply couldn't believe anything would have survived, or that we would find any evidence of Hamilton's masterpiece.' Janie recalls.
Stumbling around the site, the pair came across the ghostly remains of garden buildings such as the Gothic Temple and the Grotto. Deep in the woodland and scrub of what Janie later realised had been the large open space of the Amphitheatre, they found the broken base of a large, empty statue plinth, choked with tree growth. This, they later discovered was where the John Cheere sculpture, the Rape of the Sabines, had once stood.
‘It was one of those life-changing moments. It was an incredible experience, and it became embedded in my mind,' says Janie wonderingly.