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Hill Pasture and Ashgrove House


A modern landscape designed by Humphrey Waterfield in 1936. He created Hill Pasture out of a field, in what has been described as a conscious work of art. Waterfield was much influenced by the garden at Hidcote in Gloucestershire, designed by Lawrence Johnston.


Undulating site with land falling away to the east, north and south. Further to the south the land rises again to the site of Ashgrove House.

The gardens of Hill Pasture consist of one long vista, and many separate compartments. The vista runs south south east from the window of the main room, down the slope and up the other side. It is lined on each side by a yew hedge, that to the east having projecting buttresses, now lost, to enclose a series of flower beds. The only survivor is a semi-circle of box enclosing a curved stone bench not far from the house. On the south side steps lead up to a pair of semi-circular box hedges where, to the west, the former Japanese garden and moon gate would be visible. At the top of the slope, and visible from the house, was a lead statue of a boy holding a rose, now lost. At the very south east end of this axial line are two brick seat shelters, and a raised viewing platform of brick and concrete slab, now very overgrown, reached by quadrant steps. There are fine views here over the open countryside to the east.

Returning along the yew walk. an area of lawn and planted cherry trees is concealed on the west side. A pond near the top of the slope was too overgrown to be examined. The north east corner of Hill Pasture house is enclosed by a raised brick terrace planted with dwarf box hedging in geometrical patterns and reached by two sets of projecting semi-circular brick steps. To the east the ground falls to a square brick pavilion under a pyramidal tiled roof in a poor state of repair. The pavilion leads to the rectangular swimming pool with small apsidal extensions at each end, and rectangular extensions on each long edge. The pool is enclosed to the north, the east, and partly to the south by a series of high cast iron open lattice arches, partly covered by climbing roses.

On the east side of the lattice arches is a gingko tree. To the north west, between the pool and the former kitchen garden, is a large overgrown meadow, previously managed to encourage the growth of wild flowers.

South east of the swimming pool is a large weeping willow, originally with a lead tank at its base. Passing south through a bank of shrub roses, a rectangular lily pond, now dry, is reached. At the east end of the pond is a dead swamp cypress and at the west a circular iris bed, surrounded by a circular paved path and a low retaining wall of brown flint pebbles. Either side of the lily pond are cypress trees, described in a 1961 Country Life article as Chamaecyparis lawsoniana Triomphe de Boskoop.

To the south of the path between these two features is a semi-circular box hedge enclosing a stone well head. Further south is the former orchard with some surviving overgrown apple trees. To the north of the lily pond is the Temple of Love with a fretted dome of wrought iron beside a small circular pool, now dried up. To the west of the temple is a line of yews that have been severely cut and not recovered.

In the gardens of Ashgrove House is a sunken patio, paved with York stone slabs with gravel between, accessed by steps on each side at the southern end. A bench at this end looks along the patio, over an oval pool and through the moon gate into what was formerly the Japanese garden. No original planting appears to survive here. The pool is crossed by stepping stones. The moon gate is formed in a twelve foot high brick wall, capped by pineapple stone finials. To the east of the moon gate the wall returns at an obtuse angle for a short distance, the line being continued by several brick planting panels towards the south east corner of the garden. There is dwarf and full sized conifer planting here, and the southern boundary of the garden is the original leylandii hedge, now very overgrown.


Humphrey Waterfield was born at Hagley Hall, Rugeley, Staffordshire. He was educated at Eton and later studied history at Oxford and art at both the RuskinSchool and the Slade. Although Humphrey Waterfield’s passion was art, he achieved much greater recognition as an amateur designer of gardens.

Humphrey Waterfield began his search for a house in Essex in the autumn of 1935. He eventually found a site at Broxted, a field of five acres, at one time the village rubbish dump. It was a mass of twitch and nettles but in a lovely position looking west across a valley with a little spinney sheltering it on the east.

The creation of the garden began in 1936 when Humphrey commissioned the young architect Gerald Flower to design the house, but it was Erno Goldfinger, for whom Gerald worked, who took on the project.

From a number of plans of varying modernity and unsuitability for an Essex landscape one was finally chosen which Goldfinger came to consider as a little masterpiece. In his obituary on Humphrey Waterfield, Edward Fawcett wrote about the makings of Humphrey’s garden and how the first signs of the garden to be was the planting of a yew hedge, leading straight up the hillside, centre upon the view from the sliding plate glass window of the living room. It became known as ‘Chatsworth’ and is the backbone of the whole composition. ‘The first parts of the garden were those made round the house; a courtyard garden where a covered way led from the garden gate to the front door, this was filled with irises while on the walls climbing roses. At the back Humphrey added a camellia court and an enclosed garden of tree peonies. Surprise was the other principle upon which Humphrey planned.

There was always only one way in which to see the garden and he had devised an itinerary that all must follow. It started from the cherry glade, past magnolias, to the cherries themselves, under planted with triflorum rhododendrons in soft colours, and the ground covered with hellebores and periwinkle. This is the most natural part of the whole garden, and from it we are led by the dark grandeur of the Thuya hedge, known as ‘Chatsworth’, to the grey garden, the forget-me-not valley, the lily pool, the temple, the Bacchus fountain, and finally the swimming pool, surrounded by shrub roses and clematis, supported on a cast iron trellis, where past grey willows we once again gaze over the fields. The termination of the vista from the house, along the length of ‘Chatsworth’, into the top garden and out across the countryside had long remained an unsolved problem. Finally Humphrey discovered an 18C lead figure of a young gardener, holding in his left hand a bunch of flowers. Placed in position it proved to be right, the inevitable solution, long sought and suddenly found.’

During the second world war Jack Crawshaw, an adjutant at Debden, had rented Hill Pasture, and but for a local man, Mr.Reynolds, it is possible the garden would not have survived the war years. But sometime late in 1945 Humphrey came home and concerned himself with fighting weeds and planning the future. Due to the death of his parents during the war, Humphrey was also involved in saving the family home at Clos du Peyronnet, Menton, where he also contributed to the garden layout.

Around 1957 Humphrey started to build the upstairs studio for which he had always longed, and some years later the swimming pool was built. Nancy Tennant wrote that she would never forget the magic of swimming there surrounded by the pergola with its sweet smelling tumbling roses. In 1956 Nancy Tennant bought Ashgrove, a small house with garden and paddock on the east side of the spinney, which Humphrey had acquired earlier. Humphrey started work on the paddock, up went mysterious unrelated walls, Cypressus Leylandii soon linked the walls together and in their midst he built the moongate which became such a feature of the Broxted scene. Here he could grow different and more tender plants and latterly he enjoyed this part of the garden more than any other.

Humphrey Waterfield was beginning to acquire a reputation as a landscape gardener and about 1958 the de Ramseys asked him to plan a new development in their already lovely garden, Abbots Ripton Hall, Huntingdonshire. Humphrey also advised Sir Felix and Lady Brunner on the planting of their gardens at

Greys Court
in Oxfordshire.

The contrived theme at Hill Pasture is held to be of remarkable artistry and interest. A description of the garden in an article in the Essex Countryside magazine in 1968 emphasised that the most outstanding feature was the moon gate which formed part of a specially built decorative length of wall, approached from one side by a round pond. It had been designed in the shape of a largish circular opening let low into a wall to allow a pathway through, the moon gate thus provided an inviting glimpse of the view beyond when approached from either side.

Humphrey Waterfield annually opened his gardens to the public under the National Gardens Scheme but in 1971 Humphrey Waterfield tragically died in a road accident iand Hill Pasture was bought by John Scott Marshall. In 1974 a summerhouse was erected at the head of the swimming pool; it was designed by Richard Tyler and erected in memory of Humphrey Waterfield. One of his paintings and an inscription hang inside.

The gardens were eventually divided when the cottage, Ashgrove, was sold.

Associated People
Features & Designations

Plant Environment

Plant Type


  • Moon Gate
  • Description: The moon gate formed part of a specially built decorative length of wall, approached from one side by a round pond, crossed by stepping stones; the pond mirroring the moon shaped gate above it. It had been designed in the shape of a largish circular opening let low into a wall to allow a pathway through, the moon gate thus providing an inviting glimpse of the view beyond when approached from either side. The moon gate was the last formal feature in the garden in Spring 1961.
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  • Yew Walk
  • Description: Yew avenue leading straight up the hillside, centre upon the view from the sliding plate glass window of the living room. It became known as 'Chatsworth' and is the backbone of the whole composition. Chatsworth was started in 1936 and extended in 1937. Four discrete arms or small enclosures were made in 1946-1947. Four steps were added in 1958. The swain was placed in 1969.
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  • Temple
  • Description: To the east of the house is a Temple of love and another pool with a vista over the countryside.
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  • Water Feature
  • Description: Rectangular Lily pond, now dry, with a circular iris bed at the west end. Either side of the lily pond are cypress trees. This feature was made in October/November 1951, according to Waterfield's Garden Notebook, which is in a private collection.
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  • Water Feature
  • Description: Swimming pool surrounded by pergola with sweet smelling tumbling roses. The arched surround came from Colne Park, Essex in 1955, with the pool made in 1956-1957.
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  • Modern Movement (featured building)
  • Description: A pre war Modern Movement house.
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Key Information





Plant Environment

Plant Type

Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public




  • Jill Plater

  • Jean Cornell