Downing college was built between 1807 and 1812. The garden consists of: The Masters' Garden, The Fellow's Garden, The Great Court and Kenny Court. The gardens were much improved and altered during the 1960s and 1970s although not all of Dame Sylvia Crowe's suggestions were implemented.
The original east and west range of the college buildings enclosed a large grassed court crossed by paths. To the south a low wall enclosed the space, with views across the cricket ground towards the Catholic Church. To the west was the Fellows' Garden and to the east the Master's Garden, both dominated by cedars and evergreen oaks. To the north was a vista through a double avenue towards Downing Street.
Dame Sylvia Crowe's appraisal suggested the following: The Fellows' Garden was to be improved by allowing the lawns to flow under the trees, and a break in the holly hedge and the inclusion of a ha-ha that would give a diagonal view to the Catholic Church; dense tree panting around the periphery; Trees should be planted in the great court to complement the scale of the space and to provide a sense of enclosure. Simplicity was her key word, but it was thought that Kenny Court could be improved with soft landscaping because of its intimate scale. In addition she suggested that the bicycle and car park areas should be organised and screened with pleached limes or high hedges.
In 1974 the elms in the boundary plantings died and a cedar, beeches and poplars succumbed in the following gales, but the rear of the properties along Lensfield Road are still screened from view. The Master's Garden has a Holm oak and Turkey oaks with a rose garden to the north. The Fellows' Garden did not carry out the idea of the ha-ha. Pines have been established along the Tennis Court Road boundary, but will need more years to screen the buildings that dominate along the west side of that road.
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Sir George Downing, before his death in 1749, had arranged for a college to be established with his money. Following delays resulting from litigation, building work commenced in 1807 to designs by Wilkins in the neo-Grecian style.
In 1929 Sir Herbert Baker designed the northern range which enclosed the Great Court cutting off the view of the avenue, which was slowly being crowded by the Botanical Laboratory and the Geological Museum for the University. Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis designed a new Senior Combination Room near the Hall, which led to a new appraisal of the grounds by Dame Sylvia Crowe in November 1968.
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