Bestbeech St Mary is an early-20th-century garden with formal terraces, rose and water gardens. It was laid out from 1927, following plans by Gertrude Jekyll, as the setting for an Arts and Crafts-style house designed by architect Harold Turner.
In 1926 the Sussex-based architect Harold Turner was commissioned by a Julian Leacock to build a house at Best Beech Hill, on the outskirts of the village of Wadhurst.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Bestbeech St Mary is situated on the southern slope of Best Beech Hill with views south over the Sussex Weald. The site covers some 10 hectares, and lies 350 metres to the south of the B2100 Crowborough to Wadhurst road. It is 3.5 kilometres east of the village of Mark Cross and 10 kilometres south of Tunbridge Wells. The site is bounded to the west by the Tidebrook Road, to the south-west by the Riseden Road and to the north, east and south-east by surrounding pasture and woodland.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
Bestbeech St Mary is approached from the north-west, from the east side of the Tidebrook Road and along an ascending, consolidated gravel drive flanked by rhododendron banks and woods. Approximately 10 metres from the road, the drive passes through a pair of double, one metre high, brown-stained, wooden gates hung on round stone piers with stone cappings. The drive continues for a further 60 metres in a south-easterly direction, bordered by lawns. Beyond the lawns, on the east side, is a paddock studded with mature trees and enclosed by a one metre high wooden ranch and wire fence.
From this point, a subsidiary road, a fork of the main drive, runs south-east of the house, parallel to the main drive, along the west side of a hedge-lined paddock which lies on the north-east site boundary. The subsidiary road crosses the site of a former kitchen garden (now marked only by a Messenger greenhouse, restored, 2004), passes a hard tennis court (12 metres x 22 metres, and 60 metres east of the house) to arrive at a gravelled forecourt and service block on the south-east of the house. The main drive (resurfaced, 2004) continues south-east for a further 60 metres through an avenue of mature spruce trees before curving to run the final 30 metres to reach a circular gravelled forecourt (around 20 metres in diameter) on the north entrance front.
The forecourt, enclosed by 0.5m high stone walls, is entered between 0.5m stone piers topped by stone ball finials. It is laid out with a circular, grassed area with a standard magnolia forming a central feature, as shown in contemporary photographs (Turner, 1933). Immediately outside the forecourt entrance, on the west side of the drive, a tarmacadam-surfaced road leads 10 metres west and then 30 metres due south to service a two-storey extension on the west side of the original house.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
The main gardens are on the south front of the house. From a door from the Great Hall, two square stone steps lead down to a stone flag terrace that runs the full length of the house, with views south over the surrounding hills. The terrace is bordered on the south side by shrubs and low retaining walls. Two flights of stone steps flanked by curved, retaining walls, each centred on the bay at each end of the house lead down to a further terrace. This terrace is laid to grass with a central feature of a water garden (Reef Point Garden Collection Item 15), comprising a water channel (around 30 metres long) with a stone surround and a central circular pool (in good repair, 2005), planted with water lilies and irises.
Low retaining walls enclose the terrace on its south, west and east sides with mixed borders in front. From the west end of the terrace, a sloping grass path leads further west under a climber-covered, rustic arch to an apple orchard, planted on the site of Jekyll's west garden but retaining a mature yew (Reef Point Garden Collection Item 8). On the north side of the orchard, on axis with the yew tree, steps lead down to the site of Jekyll's sunken rose garden (Reef Point Garden Collection Item 10). This garden (around 15 metres x 15 metres), enclosed on the north and east sides by a two metre high yew hedge, is laid out with a brick surface in a quadripartite design, as proposed by Jekyll, but the majority of plantings are now evergreen, replacing her original scheme of roses, lavender and groundcover. The central planting bed is now replaced by a wellhead.
From the centre of the southern edge of the water garden terrace on the south garden front, symmetrical flights of stone steps lead down to a semi-circular pool (Reef Point Garden Collection Item 15) set within the terrace's retaining wall. This retaining wall forms the north side of a large paddock (around 120 metres x 80 metres) now, 2005, used for golf practice and as a children's play area. The paddock is bounded on the west side by Tidebrook Road, on the south side by trees and shrubs on a field boundary and on the east side by a mid-20th-century cloister-style covered walk around 35 metres long, which forms the west side of a walled garden. Southwards beyond the paddock, pasture land stretches to woods on the southern site boundary, which lies around 200 metres from the house.
At the eastern end of the house, an open alcove designated by Turner as a sun porch remains but with its windows into the house (now, 2005) bricked up. A two metre high, brick wall with two portholes, with grass and shrub borders beneath runs east from the south-east corner of the house. This replaces Jekyll's 15 metre bay hedge (Reef Point Garden Collection Item 9), possibly designed to screen the servants' garden (Reef Point Garden Collection Item 11) from the terrace.
A path leads through double-leaf, wrought-iron gates hung within an arch in this wall to run along the north side of a walled garden (now called the secret garden). The north side of the path is bordered by a two metre high evergreen hedge. Fifteen metres along this path a wrought-iron gate attached to an arch in the wall of this garden down two semi-circular brick steps (now, 2005, crumbling) to a mid-20th-century water garden constructed on the site of Jekyll's garden of flowering shrubs (Reef Point Garden Collection Item 9).
The walled garden (30 metres x 50 metres) is enclosed by climber-covered brick walls and is laid to lawn and shrubs. A half-hexagonal summer house (dating from the mid-20th century) has been built against the north-east corner. The central feature is a sunken water channel (oblique L-shaped), approximately 30 metres x 5 metres with hexagonal brick and stone surround (now, 2005 in need of repair). In the north-west corner of this garden, an arch in the wall leads into the cloister walk, which has two arch-shaped windows on its walled side for views into the water garden. In the south-east corner of the walled water garden a door leads to the gravelled forecourt of the service block.
Books and articles
Harold Turner, ‘Sussex Oak in Domestic Architecture', Sussex County Magazine (Sept 1933), 588-94.
Tithe Map for Wadhurst 1839. East Sussex Record Office ref TD/E132.
Gertrude Jekyll Designs for Bestbeech St Mary 1927-8. File 9, Folder 197, Items 1-15. Reef Point Gardens Collection, College of Environmental Design Documents Collection, University of California at Berkeley, California. (Microfiche copies at Godalming Museum Collection.)
OS 25" to 1mile: 2nd edition published 1897 (Sheets 18/10); Revised edition 1970s
Nomination paper for RIBA Fellowship 1931. RIBA ref BIOFILE Harold George Turner.
Xaverian Brothers. English Province Records 1848-1997 CFXE B.2 Subseries: Bestbeech St. Mary, Wadhurst 1953-1971: CFXE B.2.64
Bestbeech St. Mary, Wadhurst - Correspondence relating to purchase 1953-1954; CFXE B.2.65 Bestbeech St. Mary, Wadhurst - Development and Sale 1962-1971; CFXE B.2.66 Bestbeech St. Mary, Wadhurst - Photographs of Novices and Newly Professed 1963-1965. University of Notre Dame Archives Notre Dame, Indiana 46556.
Best Beech Place Sales Particulars, Knight Frank London W1 2003.
Description written: September 2005
- Arts And Crafts
- House (featured building)
- Description: Bestbeech St Mary, a two-storey, red-brick building with attic, low eaves and tile-hung elevations under a tiled roof with tall chimneys, was constructed from 1926 to 1928 to designs by the Haywards Heath architect, Harold George Turner. The country house was Arts and Crafts in style, with features typical of the late-15th-century including a Tudor-inspired porch, a Great Hall (located in the central section of the house, two storeys in height and extending from the north to south front), `solar, chapel, solid oak block stairs, moulded posts, flying wind braces, adzed beams and timber roofs' (Turner, 1933).It was designed as rectangular in plan with three bays on the south garden side (Reef Point Garden Collection Item 3), but a two-storey extension (added in the late-20th-century) to the west end of the house extends it along the west side of the forecourt to form an L-shape (Ordnance Survey 1970). The extension doubles the floor space of the house and includes accommodation, a garage on the north front and a conservatory on the south front (on the site of Turner's loggia and Jekyll's formal garden).The north front features a two-storey porch with black-and-white timbering above, an oak door with ironwork and a mill stone as a door step, all designed to evoke a 15th-century architectural style, as required by Julian Leacock (Turner, 1933). The leaded windows are set within oak frames and stone dressings. Eighty metres south-east of the house, a late-20th-century, L-shaped, single-storey, wooden building with tiled roof is used as a service block.
- Earliest Date:
- Latest Date:
- Description: Gravel drive
- Description: The drive passes through a pair of double, one metre high, brown-stained, wooden gates hung on round stone piers with stone cappings.
- Kitchen Garden
- Description: Site of the former kitchen garden.
- Tree Avenue
- Description: Avenue of mature spruce trees.
- Description: There is a stone flag terrace that runs the full length of the house.
- Description: Two flights of stone steps flanked by curved, retaining walls.
- Water Course
- Description: There is a water channel (around 30 metres long) with a stone surround.
- Description: Central circular pool.
- Description: Apple orchard, planted on the site of Jekyll?s west garden.
- Specimen Tree
- Description: Mature yew in the orchard.
- Rose Garden
- Description: This was the site of Jekyll's rose garden, but the majority of plantings are now evergreen.
- Water Feature
- Description: There is a mid-20th-century water garden constructed on the site of Jekyll?s garden of flowering shrubs.
- Earliest Date:
- Latest Date:
- Garden Wall
- Description: The walled garden (30 metres x 50 metres) is enclosed by climber-covered brick walls and is laid to lawn and shrubs.
- Description: In the walled garden there is a half-hexagonal summer house (dating from the mid-20th century) has been built against the north-east corner.
- Earliest Date:
- Latest Date:
- Water Course
- Description: There is a sunken water channel (oblique L-shaped), approximately 30 metres x 5 metres with hexagonal brick and stone surround (now, 2005 in need of repair).
- Description: Cloister walk.
In 1926 the Sussex-based architect Harold Turner was commissioned by a Julian Leacock to build a house at Best Beech Hill, on the outskirts of the village of Wadhurst. The house was to be built on pasture land previously held by the Marquess of Campden, a major local landowner (Tithe Map, 1839). The house, to be designed ‘at a strictly moderate cost to fit in with the Sussex countryside', was completed by 1928 at a cost of £20,000 (RIBA).
A series of plans by the garden writer and plantswoman Gertrude Jekyll confirms that she was commissioned to advise on the layout of the grounds, which included a water garden, rose garden, rhododendron and azalea garden, flower borders, a nut walk and a servants' garden adjoining the kitchen (Reef Point Garden Collection 1927, 1928). A contemporary article (Turner, 1933) confirms that at least some of these garden plans were implemented before the property was sold to a Laurence Holman, who retained the house until just before World War 2, when ownership passed to the Baines family.
From 1953 Bestbeech St Mary was occupied by the Xaverian Brotherhood, a Belgian monastic congregation dedicated to the Catholic education of boys (University of Notre Dame Archives). The house was converted internally for institutional use and the grounds were probably also altered at this time to include a new walled, sunken, water garden (on the site of Jekyll's flowering shrub garden) and cloister walk south-east of the house. These are shown on Ordnance Survey maps from 1970 and in contemporary photographs (University of Notre Dame Archives).
After the Xaverians left in 1971, the property continued to be used as a private, residential, Catholic school until 1992, when it was brought back into single private ownership by the current owners. Since then the house, renamed Best Beech Place, has been extended on the west side and a single-storey service block erected on the south-east site boundary.
- Early 20th Century (1901-1932)
- Associated People