Ralph Hancock F.R.H.S. Landscape Artist
- Written by Robin Hull
When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Ralph once again enlisted, serving as an officer in the Pioneer Corps. His wife Muriel drove ambulances during the Blitz and his two sons, Bramley and Denys, joined up and went overseas. Denys was killed in Libya in 1941. Sheila was sent to neutral America to live with friends made during Ralph’s time in New Jersey.
Ralph was eventually discharged from the army after becoming unwell again due to diabetes. The war had effectively put an end to gardening and Ralph turned his design expertise to building air-raid shelters. Despite his innovative designs he was not successful and through lack of work, he became bankrupt.
When the war finished, Ralph took his son Bramley as his business partner. Together they formed a successful partnership as Hancock and Son. Bramley was later to become one of the first importers of aluminium greenhouses into the UK.
When the Chelsea Flower Show returned in 1947, Hancock was there with his spectacular designs. Pathé news footage of the 1949 show features Hancock showing the Queen his formal garden. Press photographs capture him sharing a light-hearted moment with both the King and Queen and with Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth, the present Queen.
Ralph continued to be a popular choice for clients who wanted gardens designed and built by the same firm. Sir David Evan Bevans (a director of Barclays Bank) commissioned Ralph and Bramley to build gardens at his home, Twyn-yr-Hydd, near Margam, Wales. The formal walled gardens, with a sunken pool and wrought-iron grilles look as fresh today as they did when Ralph and Bramley completed their work in 1948.
One of Ralph’s final commissions was to design a rose temple on land known as Knightsbridge Green, donated by the bloodstock auctioneers, Tattersalls. The design was to be part of the Festival of Britain celebrations.
After Ralph’s premature death of heart failure linked to diabetes, in 1950, his widow regularly placed flowers on a small plaque to Ralph’s memory at the temple. When the temple was removed for road improvements she no longer felt that there was a fitting tribute to her late husband.
In 2008, a proposal to install a blue plaque to commemorate the life and work of Ralph Hancock at Derry Street, Kensington, was made to English Heritage.
Despite meeting all the qualifying criteria and having the support of the Kensington Roof Gardens current owner, Sir Richard Branson, the proposal was rejected. In their accompanying letter, English Heritage said that they rarely recognised landscape architects, although they hoped to recognise Capability Brown with a blue plaque in the near future.
The campaign to have Ralph Hancock recognised as one of the leading landscape architects of pre- and post-war Britain continues.
Robin Hull is the webmaster of www.ralphhancock.com and is related, through his brother’s marriage, to Ralph Hancock’s granddaughter, Belinda.