Gamlingay Park 1387

St Neots, South Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire, England

Brief Description

The 18.5 hectare park contains the extensive earthwork remains of an early formal garden laid out in 1712 for Sir George Downing. The site was abandoned in 1776.

History

Sir George Downing III built a new house known as Gamlingay Park in 1712, and surrounded it with an ornamental garden. The house had been abandoned and demolished in 1776. Downing College, Cambridge acquired the property 1800. The college sold the site in 1945.

Terrain

The site, which slopes gently to the north, covers a rectangular area.

Detailed Description

The gardens were laid to the north of the house and sloped down to a trapezoid lake and included three long terraces linked by ramps. Beyond the lake was the formal layout which remains in earthwork form only which would have offered unobstructed views from the house to the woodland beyond. Close to the house was a maze like arrangement of serpentine paths that crossed the garden.

The only surviving part of the 18th century buildings are the 'Full Moon' gates. A plan of the estate survives in Downing College, Cambridge. Dated 1801 the map shows in great detail a labyrinth to the west of the wood enclosed by brick walls with paths 10 feet (3 metres) and the location and details of statuary including a Roman Gladiator, two pyramids, a figure of Diana, Fame on a pedestal, and urn, Mercury, and an obelisk. The statuary was located to provide an eye catching distraction during horse rides in the woods.

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):

www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list

Earthwork remains of early formal gardens, laid out in 1712 for Sir George Downing III.

DESCRIPTION

LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING

The remains of the gardens of Gamlingay Park lie c 1km to the west of the village of Gamlingay which is situated c 18km west of Cambridge, close to the Cambridgeshire/Bedfordshire border. The site, which slopes gently to the north, covers a rectangular area measuring c 460m x 405m, bounded to the south by a minor road and to the west, north and east by farmland.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES

The land is entered via a wooden field gate off the road which forms the southern boundary.

GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS

The earthwork remains of the gardens show that the house was laid out around three sides of a courtyard, a central circular depression being the site of a sunken garden. To the north of the house site the gardens fall away in three terraces to the site of the lake, the upper terrace, c 150m long and 8m wide, showing the remains of a path extending westwards. The wide second terrace is reached by ramps, 7m wide, at either end of the first terrace and is rectangular in shape apart from a semicircular indentation which follows the contour of the lake edge. A projection to the north-east is probably the site of a summerhouse (Taylor 1983). The third terrace also follows the lake edge and is between 7m and 15m wide, also reached by ramps. The lake, now drained, is trapezoidal in shape, its short side facing the house to the south and curved to match the contour of the garden terraces. Its east side is formed by an earth dam, while the north and east boundaries of the lake are indicated by small scarps c 1m high. An oval mound stands to the north of centre of the lake.

Two series of rectangular ponds once lay to the west and east of the lake, those to the west now represented by part of a single pond, while to the east four of the series survive. The remains of footings of a path leading west from the upper terrace can be traced, together with wall footings and earthworks relating to walled garden enclosures on the west side of the house.

The 1801 plan of the estate shows that beyond the earthworks gardens were laid out as formal woodland areas with a main vista on an axis through the garden terraces and lake leading out into the woods. These are shown to have included crossing and radiating paths, a rondpoint and pattes d'oie and were linked to the upper terrace by paths, possibly with fountain basins at the intersections. None of these features survive. Near to Drove Road, c 500m north of the main garden area is the so-called 'Full Moon Gate' (listed grade II), the sole upstanding feature of the C18 buildings.

KITCHEN GARDEN

To the east of the house site is a small rectangular pond and the remains of a brick culvert on the site of the former kitchen garden (Taylor 1983).

REFERENCES

Victoria History of the County of Cambridgeshire II, (1948), pp 68-79

Roy Comm Hist Monuments of Engl Inventories: Cambridgeshire 1, (1968), pp 110-112, pls 3, 28

J Kenworthy-Browne et al, Burke's and Savills Guide to Country Houses III, (1981), p 15

C Taylor, Archaeology of gardens (1983), pp 110-112

T Way, A study of the impact of imparkment on the social landscape of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire from about 1080 to 1760, British Archaeological Reports British Series 258 (1997), pp 268-269

C Taylor, Parks and gardens of Britain (1998), pp 74-75

Maps

Plan of the estate of Sir George Downing of Gamlingay in the county of Cambridge, 1801 (Downing College Map Collection)

OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1887

2nd edition published 1903

Description written: February 2000

Amended: December 2000

Edited: January 2001

Features

Style

  • Formal
  • House (featured building)
  • Description: The house at Gamlingay Park was built in 1712 by Sir George Downey and abandoned in 1776. Downey inherited 7,000 acres (2832 hectares) and built the house at a cost of #9,000.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
Lake, Garden Terrace, Gateway, Garden Wall, Hedge, Statue, Path
Authorities

Civil Parish

  • Gamlingay
History

Detailed History

The park comprises extensive earthwork remains of an early formal garden which was laid out when a house was built for Sir George Downing in 1712, but abandoned in 1776. Downing was married, when aged 15, to his cousin who was two years younger. Upon his return from a ‘Grand Tour’ he refused to live with or acknowledge his wife. Her petition to the House of Lords for a divorce failed, and they lived apart. He became MP for Dunwich and in 1711 inherited 2,800 hectares at Gamlingay. The new house cost 9,000 pounds and was three storeys high, around three sides of a courtyard with a large ciruclar drive to the south.

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):

www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list

HISTORIC DEVELOPMENT

The house and gardens at Gamlingay had a very short life. The estate of Shackledon was acquired by the first Sir George Downing in about 1677 from Sir Roger Burgoyne, whose family lived in the old grange, around which they had made an inclosed park by 1601 (Victoria County History). Between 1712 and 1713 his grandson, Sir George Downing III, built a new house known as Gamlingay Park, and surrounded it with an ornamental garden. Following his death, Sir George's estate was divided amongst four cousins and their issue. If they had no issue their share was to be used for the foundation of a new college in Cambridge. Prolonged litigation followed the death of the last surviving legatee, Sir Jacob Garrad Downing, in 1764, and Downing College, Cambridge did not finally acquire the property until 1800. The house had been abandoned and demolished in 1776. Thereafter the land was covered with grass, the remnants of the gardens surviving only as earthworks. The college sold the site in 1945 and it remains (2000) in single private ownership.

Associated People

Just one person associated to Gamlingay Park

Contact
References

References

Contributors

  • Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust