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The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

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HISTORIC DEVELOPMENT

In the mid-11th century Hestercombe belonged to Glastonbury Abbey, but by the early 14th century it had been acquired by Sir John Meriet, who obtained a licence to found a chantry in his oratory at Hestercombe, and a grant of free warren. In 1392 the property passed by marriage to John La Warre, whose descendants continued to own the estate until 1718, when Sir Francis Warre died, leaving Hestercombe to his daughter, Margaret Bampfylde. Margaret and her husband, John Bampfylde, made extensive alterations to the house and gardens in the early 18th century (Pearson Assocs 1998), and in 1731 John Bampfylde paid a Mr Brown for 'a Draught of the Gardens, Park, etc'. In 1750 Hestercombe was inherited by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde (1720-91), a gifted amateur artist and associate of Henry Hoare of Stourhead, Wiltshire and Sir Charles Kemeys Tynte of Halswell, Somerset (see descriptions of both these sites elsewhere in the Register), whom he advised on the landscape development of their estates. Bampfylde married Mary, daughter of Edward Knight, an ironmaster of Wolverley, Worcestershire, and cousin of Richard Payne Knight of Downton Castle, Herefordshire (see description of this site elsewhere in the Register).

At Hestercombe, Bampfylde developed pleasure grounds in the combe north of the house with lakes, cascades, and a series of structures. Richard Graves’ satire, Columella, published in 1779 and illustrated by Bampfylde, has been identified as being based on Bampfylde’s work at Hestercombe (White 1995). In 1788, Bampfylde provided a model of a penstock or sluice for use at Virginia Water, Surrey (see description of this site elsewhere in the Register).

On his death in 1791, Bampfylde left Hestercombe to his nephew, John Tyndale, who assumed the name Warre. John Warre himself died in 1819, leaving large debts. The property passed to his daughter, Miss Warre, who sold the reversion of the estate to Lord Ashburton around 1820 to regularise her financial position. Despite little expenditure on the estate in the early 19th century, the Tithe maps (1838/40) show four landscape structures surviving in the combe.

Miss Warre lived until 1872, and the following year the estate was sold to the 1st Viscount Portman. Lord Portman remodelled the house around 1875, and in 1876 constructed a garden terrace south of the House. Following the death of the 1st Viscount in 1888, the 2nd Viscount made over Hestercombe to his elder son, the Hon. E. W. B. Portman. Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) was commissioned to design new formal gardens, pleasure grounds, and walled gardens in 1904, with planting schemes provided by Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932); the early 20th-century gardens were described by Country Life in illustrated articles published in 1908 and 1927. Edward Portman died in 1911, but his widow continued in residence at Hestercombe until her death in 1951.

During the Second World War the estate was requisitioned by the British and American armies, and the Portman estate sold the freehold to the Crown Estate in 1944. From the early 1960s the Crown Estate carried out a programme of clear-felling in the park and pleasure grounds, causing significant damage to surviving structures. Hestercombe House became the headquarters of the Somerset Fire Service in 1952, and the house, together with the formal gardens, was sold to Somerset County Council in 1977. A major restoration of the early 20th-century formal gardens was undertaken from 1973 to 1978, while restoration of the 18th-century pleasure grounds began under the direction of Philip White in 1995. The site remains (1999) in divided ownership; the Hestercombe Gardens Trust was established in 1997 to co-ordinate management of the whole site.

Site timeline

1875 to 1876: Lord Portman remodelled the house around 1875, and in 1876 constructed a garden terrace south of the House.

1904: Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to design new formal gardens, pleasure grounds, and walled gardens.

1939 to 1945: The estate was requisitioned by the British and American armies.

1952: Hestercombe House became the headquarters of the Somerset Fire Service.

After 1960: From the early 1960s the Crown Estate carried out a programme of clear-felling in the park and pleasure grounds, causing significant damage to surviving structures.

1973 to 1978: A major restoration of the early-20th-century formal gardens was undertaken.

People associated with this site

Owner: Coplestone Warre Bampfylde (born 28/02/1720 died 23/08/1791)

Architect: Henry Hall (Known to have been active 1870 to 1879)

Designer: Gertrude Jekyll (born 29/11/1843 died 08/12/1932)

Landscape Architect: Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens (born 29/03/1869 died 01/01/1944)

Features

planting

Feature created: 1904 to 1908

Creator: Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens (born 29/03/1869 died 01/01/1944)

The Formal Garden.

terrace

Feature created: 1873 to 1878

Laid out by Viscount Portman.

drive