Chelwood Vachery (also known as Chelwood Vetchery )4990

Uckfield, England, East Sussex, Wealden

Brief Description

Chelwood Vachery has a series of terraces descending to a water garden and surrounding arboretum with rhododendron walks. Further water features comprising a spring-fed gorge with waterfalls and a chain of lakes were constructed in the woodland from 1925 by the landscaper Gavin Jones.

History

Chelwood Vachery is an early-20th-century garden, laid out in 1906 by Leonard Rome Guthrie as the setting for a mansion by architect William Flockhart.

Detailed Description

Chelwood Vachery is situated in an elevated, rural position around 200 metres above sea level on the south-west edge of, and sheltered by, Ashdown Forest. The forest is an area of open heathland on the highest sandy ridgetip of the High Weald Area of Outstanding National Beauty. The approximately 42 hectare site lies some 400 metres to the west of the A22 Eastbourne to London road and comprises the mansion and ornamental gardens within the surrounding woodland. The site is 0.8 kilometres south-east of the village of Wych Cross, 2.25 kilometres north of Nutley, and around 3.5 kilometres east of Crowborough, with panoramic southerly views over the Weald and South Downs from Eastbourne to Chanctonbury Ring. The site is bounded on the north, west and east sides by the heath and woodland of Ashdown Forest, on the south-west by the Mill Brook and on the south-east by agricultural land.

Chelwood Vachery is approached from the A22, along a 400 metre tarmacadam and rolled-gravel drive. The site is entered from the north-east through 2 metre high, double-leaved, wrought iron gates, hung on red-brick piers topped by stone acorn finials. Decorative, curved brick walls flanking the gates extend as a holly hedge and ditch to form the site boundary on the south-east. Immediately inside and on the north-west side of the gates is a gate lodge with low eaves, tiled roof and garden with lawn, a mixed border, rhododendrons and conifers, bounded on the south by a low picket fence.

From the lodge, the drive divides around a triangular grassed area. The western arm continues for 50 metres to where adjoining side roads on the north side, with views over rhododendron glades on the west, lead to converted stable buildings. From this junction, the drive bears south-west for 20 metres before turning east in a downward curve and passing the West Wing (dating from the late-20th-century) to arrive at the sunken forecourt (50 metres x 30 metres). This is on the north-east front of the mansion, now (2005) used for car parking.

From a path on the south side of the triangular grassed area, a flight of curving stone steps with low stone retaining walls (now, 2005, blocked by a fallen tree) descends to the north side of the courtyard, joining it at the west end of a row of six brick garages. Steps up from the east side of the forecourt lead to a former kitchen wing, now converted to residential use, with another sunken forecourt. This is also the entrance to a first floor 20th-century extension to the mansion, the Red House, built behind and to the south-east of the kitchen wing.

The southern arm of the drive continues for 60 metres, passing a reconstructed 13th-century building on its east side before sloping downhill in a westerly direction for 20 metres to enter the kitchen forecourt. From the kitchen wing, the drive continues in an easterly curve for 40 metres to skirt the wall of a kitchen garden, with entrances to the late-20th-century Nettlefolds on the north side of the wall and the Garden House on the east. The drive then turns south for 120 metres to reach Chelwood Vachery House and Home Farmhouse.

From the south front of the mansion, double doors open onto a central court (around 10 metres x 8 metres) paved with brick and stone in a circular pattern. From here there are views across Guthrie's garden terraces to a mature Scots Pine on a lawn below and to the South Downs beyond. West of the court is a grassed terrace, approximately 12 metres long with flower borders (now, 2005, separated from the court by planting).

East of the court, a flight of eight, semi-circular stone steps leads up and through a double-leaved wrought iron gate, hung on brick piers with brick retaining walls, as illustrated in Gardens for Small Country Houses (Jekyll and Weaver, 1912), to a 40 metre tarmac-surfaced path bounded on its south side by a grass border and a low stone retaining wall. The path runs the length of the south side of the east front of the mansion and then past the gardens to the rear of the former kitchen wing and Red House. These gardens (now, 2005, lawn and shrubs) are laid out on the site of a 1930s rose garden (illustrated by Nettlefold), possibly replacing the rose garden surrounded by a pergola, proposed by Guthrie. From them, a series of five flights of steps lead down southwards for around 120 metres along a flower bordered grass walk to a shrubbery and arboretum.

At the bottom of the first flight of steps, a 60 metre grass walk leading east at an angle of 45 degrees remains to mark the site of a bowling or evergreen alley proposed by Guthrie (Nettlefold). Remnants of a yew hedge originally bordering the walk survive on the west side, the east side having been replaced (2005) by a conifer hedge, which screens the site of the former kitchen garden.

From the south side of the central, paved court on the top terrace, semi-circular stone steps lead down to a second terrace. This was originally grass with flower borders (Guthrie plans, Nettlefold), but now (2005) the grass is divided into separate compartments on the east side of the path by low wooden trellises and terminated by a clipped yew and conifer hedge.

On the west side of the steps, the grass terrace continues along the south side of the garden of the West Wing to a downward flight of 13 stone steps with stone retaining walls, from the top of which there are views over an informal garden on the west and south-west of the mansion. The flight of steps from the central court descend a further flight to a large, rectangular grassed area (around 70 metres x 30 metres) with a central mature Scots Pine on a knoll, the site of Guthrie's former croquet lawn.

On the south side of the croquet lawn, central steps descend to a further grass terrace backed by high stone retaining walls with bastions planted with yellow conifers. Lily pools and water channels (now, 2005, stagnant or dry) with stone surround (30 metres long) are laid out on each side of the terrace, as shown on Guthrie's plans and illustrated in Gardens for Small Country Houses. The water source, a stone lion's head above a small pool by steps a few metres east of the east channel, is now, 2005, also dry.

Below and to the south-west of the water terrace is a tarmac-surfaced tennis court with wire mesh fencing (around 20 metres x 40 metres) and surrounded by black gravel paths (late-20th-century). On the north side of the tennis court the path runs on a raised walk below a retaining wall (now, 2005, in need of repair), the walk leading eastwards to a limestone rockery. This is illustrated by Nettlefold (1930s) with immature conifers and rock plants, but is now, 2005, overgrown.

The formal terraces are surrounded to their north-west, west and south with shrubberies, rhododendron glades and the arboretum with mature conifers developed by Samuel. Amongst the planting on the west side beginning 40 metres from the mansion is a chain of rocky pools, waterfalls and streams (now, 2005, dry). On the south-west boundary of the site, around 250 metres from the mansion, a 1.5 metre wire fence with a gate allowing access to adjoining Vachery Wood. This also demarcates the land shared by the private residences of Chelwood Vachery with the woodland owned by the Ashdown Forest Trust.

Approximately 200 metres south of the mansion, within Vachery Wood, Gavin Jones' spring-fed, artificially constructed gorge begins as a small stream between sandstone rocks, as illustrated by Nettlefold (and reproduced in The London Illustrated News, 1936). The gorge follows a course of around 250 metres via waterfalls and pools, formed by imported limestone boulders, to a string of lakes on the Mill Brook which forms the site's south-west boundary. The sandstone and limestone boulders used for the gorge's construction remain intact (2005), but are obscured by woodland trees and groundcover. The four lakes together with sluices and dams are similarly intact but overgrown, with no visible evidence to indicate the position of the former boathouse, bridge and ‘Three Bears Hut' depicted in a 1930s photograph (Nettlefold).

Description written: March 2005

Features

Plant Environment

  • Water Garden
  • Environment
  • House (featured building)
  • Description: Chelwood Vachery, designed by William Flockhart around 1906, is a two-storey, red-brick, neo-Tudor building with gables and overhanging bay windows under a red-tiled roof. It has three and four-storey castellated bays on the east side. The main entrance on the north-west side retains a stone mullion surround.On the west side of the mansion, the two-storey West Wing (now, 2005, residential) was constructed as additional guest accommodation in the late-20th-century. On the east side of the mansion, the Red House, also built to provide additional accommodation, is constructed of brick, part tile hung under a tile roof. Standing to the north of the mansion and adjoining it at right angles on the east side, is Flockhart?s original two-storey kitchen wing with two bays under a tiled roof, now a private house.
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  • Stable Block
  • Description: Eighty metres north-west of the mansion, the early-20th-century stable buildings, constructed of brick under a tiled roof with clock tower, are set around a courtyard, now laid out as a communal garden for residents.
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  • Garden Building
  • Description: Sixty metres north-east of the mansion stands Trimmers (listed grade II), a 13th-century timber-framed building under a Horsham slab roof.
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  • Kitchen Garden
  • Description: A walled kitchen garden abuts the north-west side of the courtyard of the Red House. The garden retains its original, irregularly-sided, octagonal shape (3rd edition Ordnance Survey map). However, changes have been made to the positions of gateways and former garden buildings on the exterior of the north and east sides to accommodate two private houses and gardens within the walls. In the southern section of the garden a dipping pool survives as the central feature of Guthrie?s layout of radiating paths (Nettlefold), together with four of these paths and a summer house in the south-east corner. A five-sided fruit-room `with a surrounding pergola following the same plan?, noted by Jekyll and weaver (1912) and shown on Guthrie?s drawings, was demolished when the new houses were built. The kitchen garden is now laid out as an ornamental garden with modern shrub and flower planting.
  • Drive
  • Description: 400 metre tarmacadam and rolled-gravel drive
  • Gate
  • Description: The site is entered from the north-east through 2 metre high, double-leaved, wrought iron gates, hung on red-brick piers topped by stone acorn finials.
  • Wall
  • Description: Decorative, curved brick walls
  • Hedge
  • Description: Holly hedge
  • Garden Terrace
  • Description: Grassed terrace, approximately 12 metres long with flower borders.
  • Rose Garden
  • Description: This is the site of a 1930s rose garden (illustrated by Nettlefold), possibly replacing the rose garden surrounded by a pergola, proposed by Guthrie.
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  • Steps
  • Description: a series of five flights of steps lead down southwards for around 120 metres along a flower bordered grass walk to a shrubbery and arboretum.
  • Croquet Lawn
  • Description: Site of the former croquet lawn.
  • Water Feature
  • Description: Lily pools and water channels (now, 2005, stagnant or dry) with stone surround (30 metres long) are laid out on each side of the terrace.
  • Rockery
  • Description: Limestone rockery. This is illustrated by Nettlefold (1930s) with immature conifers and rock plants, but is now, 2005, overgrown.
  • Water Course
  • Description: The gorge follows a course of around 250 metres via waterfalls and pools, formed by imported limestone boulders, to a string of lakes on the Mill Brook which forms the site?s south-west boundary.
  • Lake
  • Description: The four lakes together with sluices and dams are intact but overgrown.
Tower
Access & Directions

Directions

The site is 0.8 kilometres south-east of the village of Wych Cross, 2.25 kilometres north of Nutley, and around 3.5 kilometres east of Crowborough.
Authorities

Civil Parish

  • Uckfield
History

Detailed History

It is likely that Vachery Wood, the site on which Chelwood Vachery (sometimes Chelwood Vetchery) was developed in 1906, arose from the Norman name ‘Vacherie' meaning a shelter in the forest for cows. It is included in the Rape of Pevensey (ruled by De Aquila from Pevensey Castle) and there are records of tithes being paid to Michelham Priory from 1229 (Balean).

In 1370 Edward III's son, John of Gaunt, was granted ‘free chase of Ashdowne' and there are unsubstantiated claims (Balean) that Vachery Wood is the site of his hunting lodge. Vachery Wood remained royal land until the late-17th-century, by which time it had become part of the Manor of Duddleswell, then owned by the Earl of Dorset. This was the ancestor of the Lords De La Warr, who sold it to Sir Stuart Samuel in the early-20th-century.

By 1906 Samuel, banker and Liberal MP for Whitechapel, had employed William Flockhart to build a new mansion and Leonard Rome Guthrie (from 1912 Flockhart's business partner) to landscape the grounds (3rd edition Ordnance Survey). Guthrie's drawings (British Architectural Library) document the development and construction of a series of terraces with sandstone retaining walls, a rose garden, lily ponds and water channels, bosquet, tennis and croquet lawns and a kitchen garden. Samuel later added a rockery (reputedly bought at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1912), and established an arboretum and an extensive collection of rhododendrons.

The property was bought in 1925 by a Mr FJ Nettlefold, also a rhododendron enthusiast, who extended the collection and employed the landscaper Gavin Jones to construct a gorge and rockery (with limestone brought from Cheddar Gorge) to connect with a string of lakes developed along the course of the Mill Brook on the south-west boundary of the site.

In 1929, Nettlefold also erected Trimmers Pond (later known as Trimmers), a 13th-century Wealden hall from Forest Row, in the grounds of Chelwood Vachery for use as a music salon. The 1930s garden was recorded in photographs by Nettlefold before a period of neglect set in during World War 2, when the mansion was used as a military hospital for British and Allied troops.

In 1955, the property passed to Nettlefold's son, who sold it to British American Tobacco Company Ltd as its management training centre. During the company's occupancy a new wing and lecture theatre were added to the mansion and estate buildings were converted for staff and guest accommodation. The estate was sold in 1994 (Sales Particulars 1993) for development as a private, residential estate. The mansion and ornamental gardens remain in divided, private ownership, with the surrounding woodland that was once part of Samuel's estate now being owned by the Ashdown Forest Trust.

Period

  • Early 20th Century
Associated People

Just one person associated to Chelwood Vachery

References

References

Contributors

  • Barbara Simms

    1

  • Sussex Gardens Trust