The house was demolished in 1964. The stables were rebuilt in 1911. In 1965 the stables and adjacent buildings were converted to a dwelling. The gardens behind the stables were renovated. From 1965 to present day: restoration of house at Rowlands, the cottages on the estate, the farm, a 15th century mill and the Shell House.
The House at Jordans was built in 1796 by the grandson of William Speke also called William. The house replaced an older Tudor style house built in 1633. The site was named Jordans after a family that had previously owned the land and had built at least 2 houses of the same name before.
This Georgian Mansion was surrounded by parkland, ornamental gardens, a walled garden and a lake beside which a small grotto was built in 1828, which still stands. The interior of the Grotto is decorated by coral and shells from around the British Empire, arriving by ship into the port of Bristol.
In 1827 the house saw the birth of its most famous resident John Hanning Speke, a contemporary of Livingstone and Stanley and other Victorian Explorers. In 1858 John Hanning discovered the source of the River Nile and named it Lake Victoria, solving one of the greatest mysteries of the age. He died only 4 years later in a shooting accident amidst controversy and just before a debate with his rival Burton to be held at the Royal Geographic society in Bath.
More recent history saw the house’s final resident from the family. Colonel Walter Speke, a veteran of both the Boer and First World Wars before returning to Jordans in 1918 until his death in 1944. With no children, having never married the house was due to pass to his nephew William Speke but he had tragically been killed in 1942 during the Second World War and instead it passed to William’s eight-year old son, Peter.
- Survey by Somerset Gardens Trust between February 2002 and January 2004
Jordans was originally approached off the old A358 between Taunton and Ilminster. Jordans is now accessed by taking the first turning on the right after the A303/A358 roundabout, signposted to Ilton, and then the next turning right through a wooden field gate along the old A358, which is now blocked off at the far end (P1). The main entrance is through two stone gateposts, which were specially made for Jordans by the local firm of Minsterstone, Ilminster; these are in good condition (P2); and two rusty wrought iron gates (P3), these gates may have been made by the Estate Blacksmith, they are hung on wrought iron piers. The railings either side of the stone gateposts form a double curve with two smaller wrought iron piers which are almost hidden in the hedge at present. There is a small pedestrian gate (P4) in the main left-hand wrought iron gate. There is also a broken cattle grid (P3).
The fenced parkland lies on either side of a tarmac driveway (P5) with several specimen trees on both sides (P6). There are a group of turkey oaks on the left hand side, near the gates a large 'veteran oak' on the right hand side and a dying ash.
The driveway leads over a second cattle grid to the yard in front of the former stables now converted to private dwellings (P7). The whole building is in good condition having been rebuilt in 1911 (see plaque P8) and converted to dwellings in late 1965. On the roof above the plaque is a weather vane of a fox, now missing its brush. A row of six stable doors (P9) remains in the wing on the right-hand side, which backs on to the walled kitchen garden. The southern stable wall has a large arch (P10), which has been filled in with random hamstone and has been partly covered by shrubs. At this end of the stables there is a small raised flower bed and a piece of rough paving. These, from conversation with Christopher Booker, are the remains of a small enclosed yard behind a generator house which existed in 1945 to provide electricity for the main house (see aerial photograph 1944). There are two old mill-stones sunk into the ground at the corner.
SMALL WALLED GARDEN
Behind the converted stables/dwellings are two small walled areas, one is now a private garden with flowers and shrubs. Previously, according to Christopher Booker and the old maps and aerial photographs, this was an area containing a glasshouse and cold frames producing plants and flowers for the house. [No photographs were taken of this area as it is now privately rented.]
KENNELS AND OUTBUILDINGS ON WEST SIDE OF STABLE HOUSE
Behind the north-west corner of the stable dwelling is a building of rough hamstone with a slate roof, the exact use of this building is unknown (P12); the building is in quite good condition. Beyond this are the remains of a building/outhouse which is built of rough hamstone, it is now open to the elements but was possibly roofed at some previous time. The west wall is broken down and there is a wooden door on the south side, the interior is very overgrown. Contemporary memory recalls it being used as kennels.
South wall of outhouse 13.30 metres, west wall of outhouse 13.40 metres (measurements are approximate).
EXTERIOR OF NORTH WALL OF WALLED GARDEN AS FAR AS THE BOTHY
A rough track leads on past this building round to the back of the Walled Gardens along the wall of the outhouse built in random hamstone work and then changing to good brickwork as it follows along the side of the former small kitchen garden. The track is very overgrown and runs between shrubs and trees, which are unmanaged. It was known as the Laurel Walk in 1945. (Christopher Booker)
There are tie bars in the brickwork (P13) below the level of the coping which may have been there to secure the greenhouse behind and there is a certain amount of blackening of the brickwork, damp (?). There is the site of a possible cold frame a few feet from the wall.
North wall of small kitchen garden is approximately 25 metres long.
This garden projects about 10 metres, there is a heavy wooden door in the middle of the wall with a brick arch (P14), this door is not in use at present.
The wall behind the Kitchen Garden has a blackened area a few yards along, which would probably have been the boiler house for the greenhouse heating (P15). There is a chimney in the angle between the two garden walls. This was probably there for the heating for the "peach house" in the main garden. There are vents through the wall to the greenhouse and holes for the beams visible in the brickwork. There are a lot of tiles and timbering lying around on the ground indicating the remnants of some sort of building, potting sheds and/or boiler house. There is another cold frame site about 5 metres from the wall to the north. The old maps show greenhouses or cold frames on the north side of this wall. There is a wooden door leading into the main Kitchen Garden (P16).
Next to this doorway are the ruins of a small building with windows. This is built sturdily of brick but there is no longer a roof. There are remnants of plaster on the walls and the two small fireplaces, one above the other in the south-east corner of the building, are built of brick with well-made brick surrounds (P17). These fireplaces and the holes in the walls for timbers reinforce the impression of a two-storey cottage. The holes in the walls indicate that the main cross beams run north to south and smaller joists east to west. The windows have metal bars with wooden frames (P18). One of the casement frames stands loose outside the door. Two steps lead down into the cottage (P19) but it would seem that the ground level was probably about 18" lower than this originally. Three saplings are growing inside this ruin.
The Bothy is approximately 13 metres x 4 metres.
The main brick wall of the Kitchen Garden projects to the north (see dimensions given in description of Kitchen Garden). This is the recessed area shown in the Kitchen Garden maps and described as a possible orangery by Susan Campbell. There is a large bricked-up doorway in the east wall of this recess.
Between this "orangery" and the next building are the remains of a flue and a lot of broken brickwork, which would seem to be the remnants of a square built brick boiler used for heating the "orangery". Additional damage has occurred this summer with a large branch of a tree falling onto the left hand corner of the wall next to the second building. The wall, previously in good condition, has been damaged with the coping stones dislodged and the brickwork damaged, there is a considerable amount more debris on the ground and it is more difficult to access the second building.
There is a second building without fireplaces, but with windows, and not quite as big as the one already described, the use of which is uncertain (see Susan Campbell's report). It is well built with 18 inch thick walls, two windows (P20) and a decorative doorway (P21) with a fanlight (P22). There is a large 5 foot arched window in the east wall with a hamstone sill, which is partly boarded up. There are two smaller windows in the north wall (P23) well built with wooden lintels inside and curved stone outside (P20). There are some large pieces of timber, probably former beams, lying around the floor area. The level of the ground is probably considerably higher than originally. Excavation might reveal further indications of its original intended use. There are the remains of a very large old terracotta pot to be seen (P24).
This building measures approximately 6.60 metres x 9 metres.
CONTINUATION OF EXTERIOR OF NORTH WALL OF WALLED GARDEN FROM SECOND BUILDING
Beyond the buildings there is another doorway, with a wooden door, in the wall into the main Kitchen Garden and further along the wall is a small curved sandstone 28" x 18" memorial to a dog "Spot" (P25). The wording on this memorial is "In memory of dear Spot faithful companion 1903-1913".
The track follows the wall and emerges at the end of the garden wall into a shrubbery with further fields beyond it. Note the large Wellingtonia standing on its own in the middle of the field on the left (P26), this is noted in the Veteran Tree Survey and is about 530 cm in girth. Originally there had been a protective fence round it, but this is now broken and the bark of the tree is badly damaged up to a height of about 6 feet. (See Veteran Tree Report.)
EXTERIOR OF EAST WALL OF WALLED GARDEN
It is difficult to get close to the east wall as the path is heavily overgrown. A rough stone buttress has been built on the south end of this wall (P27) because there is a crack near the corner in the south wall (P28), although this appears to be fairly stable, the buttress has been added as a precautionary measure to stop the east end corner of the wall collapsing outwards.
KITCHEN GARDEN WALL (EXTERIOR OF SOUTH WALL)
The south wall is continuous with the end of the stable-wall, it is well built with a double layer of brickwork in-filled with brick not rubble, dated possibly late 18th century (P29). The construction of this wall can be seen because a large gap has been roughly knocked out part way down the wall. This gap has two bars across it (P30) with a gate resting against the wall behind. The gap was made in the early 1960's to allow larger modern machinery into the Kitchen Garden. There is a smaller arched gateway with an old metal rose arch and a mesh door/gate further along the wall (P31 and 32, exterior and interior). At the far end of the wall there is a crack from top to bottom (P28). Against the wall an Ilex oak is growing near the crack, this was pruned heavily in summer 2003. There appears to be a filled in doorway in the wall behind the tree. There is an assortment of wall nails in the brickwork but nothing is trained on the wall at present. The whole of the outside wall is well covered by shrubs (P29), these are listed as follows starting from the stable end. A number of these have been planted in recent years.
Shrubs on exterior of South Wall from Stable end to Gap
Garrya elliptica, Amelanchier, Winter jasmine, Myrtle, Olearia, Fuchsia
Between the gap and the small arched doorway there is a beech tree and a winter jasmine
Shrubs on exterior of South Wall to end of wall
Symphocarpus, Weigela, Japonica, Cotoneaster, large Escallonia opposite a 20 ft? Cupressus and a small holly, Viburnum laurestinus, Guelder rose, Olearia Macrodonta, Ilex
Main Shrubbery beyond Walled Garden
Laurel, Escallonia, Buddleia, Amelanchier, Prunus serrulata (tibetica?), Quercus frainetto (Hungarian Oak), A small sapling with a larger tree behind it, Hypericum, Berberis, Cupressus with a large Cedar of Lebanon behind it, Mahonia, Cotoneaster, Cotinus, Viburnum bodnantense, Ilex, Tree Peony, Lilacs, Rhododendrons. Many of these are large and well established; a considerable amount of severe pruning has taken place during the summer of 2003.
DESCRIPTION OF FORMER KITCHEN GARDEN
The west wall of the Kitchen Garden, also the back wall of the stable, is made of brick which is in poor condition for the first half, as far as a small wooden door (P33), which probably leads into the stable behind. There are diamond patterns in this wall similar to Tudor designs (P34 and 35). There are a number of wall nails for plants. There is an arched gateway (P36) next to the former grape house, leading into another small walled garden behind the stables, now a private garden but formerly used for raising plants for the flower garden (see C Booker's notes).
A greenhouse (P37) for grapes on the north wall has a floor level lower than the ground surrounding it. The remains of a low brick wall surrounds the area in the front with heating pipes running along the inside (P38). There is also a cast iron trough on top of this wall actually fixed to the wall but its use is uncertain (P39). After consultation with Susan Campbell it was ascertained that this is part of the construction for a Paxton portable greenhouse. (See Susan Campbell's Report.) There are two large well-established grapevines on the back wall, but not well pruned. There appear to be two levels to the greenhouse, the area past the vines being slightly higher than the first. The door to the greenhouse would have been at the east end. There are vents (P40) high on the wall. There is an old pulley (P41) on the wall for blinds. There are also a lot of old timber and metal struts lying on the ground. If this greenhouse was originally designed to grow peaches rather than grapes the roots of the peach trees would have been planted in the soil outside the greenhouse (P42).
After the greenhouse there is another small arched doorway through the wall to the laurel walk with a broken wooden door (P43). The brickwork of the wall is very broken and overhung with ivy (P44) and the top half metre appears to curve over as far as the recess in the wall. The walls of the recess are hung with a large number of wires (P45) as if there had been plants trained up the wall but, because it is shaded except for the morning sun, one cannot be sure how it might have been used. (See Susan Campbell's Report for her opinion that it was most likely to have been an "orangery" with access to the boiler beside it through the large door on the left-hand side which is blocked up.) In the aerial photo and Ordnance Survey maps it looks as if there might have been cold frames in front of it. Since the record was started a large branch has fallen across the wall of this recess dislodging some of the coping and brickwork. The wall continues in an unbroken line and height to the corner (P48) where the height is reduced in two steps by about a third of a metre.
The brickwork on the east wall is in good condition. There are wall nails for training plants. The wall leans outwards at approximately 5-10 degrees at the south-east end but does not give the impression of being unstable (P49). There is another arched gateway in the north-east corner, which has been filled in with brick (P50). All the doorways through the wall are well made with neat brick arches (P51).
The entire brick wall round the Kitchen Garden area has hamstone coping, in reasonable condition on the top, except for the newly damaged area by the east corner of the orangery where a branch has fallen damaging the coping and some of the brick work. The heights of the wall vary from approximately three and a half to four and a half metres, this is marked by curved coping stones (P48) making a very attractive finish to the wall.
In the south-east corner of the garden is a sycamore tree probably self-seeded. The south wall is lower than the other three walls at approximately three and a half metres. In the corner, behind the sycamore tree, there is a portion of the wall which looks as if it has been replaced possibly to fill in a gateway. Seen from the outside, this wall has a large crack (P28) running from top to bottom, there has been a considerable amount of repair work which is not very effective today possibly due to trees growing close to the base of the wall. There is another filled-in arched gateway at the other end of this same wall nearest the stable (P52). It would seem likely that the original design of the Kitchen Garden had arched entrances symmetrically at each corner. This is reinforced by the OS maps showing the layout of the garden. The assortment of different kinds of wall nails continues the length of the wall with remnants of wire attached to them. (Interior views of the Walled Garden P53 and 54 and S1-3.)
The overall measurements of the kitchen garden are only approximate due to vegetation in the way and inadequate tape measure.
Overall Measurement of Walled Kitchen Garden 95 metres x 39 metres
Paxton Greenhouse (Grape/peach house) 28 metres x 3.35 metres
Greenhouse door 1.67 metres
Gateways approximately 1.50 metres except for small stable door which is 1 metre
Recess/Orangery 7 metres wide and 4.50 metres deep
SHELL HOUSE - EXTERIOR
At the end of the Kitchen Garden wall there is a shrubbery and the path joins the grass track from the stable yard, which runs along a fence between the park and the Kitchen Garden wall; this path winds on to the Shell House (S1.4) which is set on a raised promontory, which originally projected into the lake, which is now little more than a pond and stream and is very overgrown (P55 and 60). The lake was mainly filled in and planted with withies by William Speke from 1911 onwards to allow extra land for foxes and hunting. The Shell House faces west with a view across the parkland, on the south-west side it is screened from the A358 by the trees in the lower parkland. To the north-west the view is towards the Walled Garden (P56). The Shell House is surrounded by a small area of grass which ends in an overgrown rockery that runs down towards the water (P57). Substantial clearing work has been carried out in the area. There is a small wooden bridge across the stream, in front of the rockery, leading to the main field (P58, 59 and 61). To the right of the Shell House is an old wooden gate with a wrought iron arch over it; a rambling rose is still growing up a part of the arch, it would have probably covered it at one time. In the past this gate opened onto a path through the woods, however it is no longer in use and the area is very overgrown (P62).
The Shell House is rectangular with a Gothic arched porch over the entrance, this is supported by four octagonal pillars with capitals carved with flowers and leaves (P63 and S1.5). There are three diamond shaped stained glass leaded windows above the door with a Gothic arched mullioned window either side of the door (P64 and 65). There is a similar window on the north-east side of the building (P66) and another one on the south-west. The south-west widow has been vandalised; to protect it from further damage wooden boards have been put over the window (P67). Three steps lead up to the entrance (P68 and S1.6 and 7), where there is a wrought iron gate bearing the Speke coat of arms (P69). This gate is kept padlocked to try and prevent vandals entering and further damaging the Shell House. The building is made of random worked hamstone with a thatched roof (P63 and S1.8). The hamstone has been renovated and re-pointed and the thatch redone in recent years in straw. The central ridge was redone in the spring of 2002 (S1.5). There is a circular leaded lantern on the top of the roof (P70 and S1.5), this was found in the undergrowth at the rear of the building; it was very badly damaged but it has been restored and replaced in its original position over the centre of the building. The weather vane of a winged fish is still incomplete (P71). There is a bay at the rear of the house which originally contained the pump work to feed the inside fountains. The water tanks for the fountains are above the canary rooms. There are two small apertures in the back wall, covered by metal grills, which allow access to the water tanks (P73). The remains of the old wooden pump and handle, which was originally attached to the outside of the rear wall, lie in the undergrowth in the woods just behind the Shell House (P73a). It was used to pump water to the tanks above the canary rooms. A magnificent copper beech grows behind the Shell House (P60 and P72).
Inside there are three rooms, a central circular room with walls heavily decorated with shells, local rocks and crystals (P74 and 76). The ceiling and the recesses of the windows are also thickly decorated with shells made into elaborate patterns and symmetrically arranged so that each side of the room matches the other (P77). There are three small mirrors framed in shells and part of the overall design (P78). There is a frieze of coral round the edge of the ceiling. The ceiling had been damaged and has been repaired with an attempt to match up the pattern. There is no decoration inside the circular aperture between the ceiling and the base of the leaded lantern, however attempts have been made to decorate the ceiling above the leaded lantern (P80 and 81). In the front wall above head height are three diamond shaped stained glass leaded light windows in good condition (P82, 83 and 84). (See letter and comments by Michael Archer and Report by Hazelle Jackson.) There is a marble table in the centre or the room raised on a rocky plinth. Round the back of the room there is a bench against the wall made of stone but with wicker seating, some of which removes to provide storage space and to access the junction piping for the fountains in the canary rooms. (For professional description of the inside of the Shell House see Report by Hazelle Jackson and notes written by Professor Savage.) The floor in the central room is unusual and is made up of old sheep knucklebones placed vertically and packed very closely together (P85). The date the Shell House was made, 1828, is inscribed in this floor; it is difficult to pick out immediately. Some damage has occurred just inside the entrance where vandals have tried to prise up the old bones (P86).
The "canary" rooms on either side of the central room are so called because they were designed to house canaries. The two stone mullioned windows in each room have gothic pointed arches, with stained glass leaded lights in the upper part of each window, the lower halves are open with wooden shutters decorated with shells and sand (P87-90). Each window has fine wire mesh covering the whole area and hooked into an inner wooden frame with vertical strands for the lower half and a lattice mesh for the top. Each window has a groove cut into the window sill to take a feeding tray which slides out (P91). Three of these remain and one still has a complete metal grill. The south-west window has been recently vandalised and has boards on the outside to protect it from further damage (P89).
Only the front outer corners and the window recesses of the canary rooms are decorated with shells. In the corners of each room are six nesting boxes with wooden surrounds and a perch at the base of each (P92). All of these are complete in the right-hand room but only one in the left-hand side (P93). There are hooks in the ceiling from which perches could have been hung (P94). There is a fountain site with a shallow shell-filled bowl in the middle of the canary room (P95), in the left-hand room most of the shells have been lost but in the right-hand room the bowl is in much better condition. The fountains no longer work because the piping has been lost.
Measurements of Shell House
Height to thatch 272cm; Width 668cm; Side (front to back) 315cm; Width of door 102cm; Porch height from step 272cm; Ground to ridge from step 213cm; Pillars height 138cm; Depth of porch 110cm; Front windows 106x70cm; Side windows 113x73cm.
Front to back (central room) 318cm; Side to side (central room) 290cm; Curved wall (Main door to Canary Room door LH side) 130cm; Curved wall (Main door to Canary Room door RH side) 120cm; Seating (7 panels) 54x46m; Rectangular table (see diagram) 61x84cm; Height of doors Canary rooms 138cm; Width of doors Canary rooms 67cm; Height of Canary rooms 164cm; Width of Canary rooms 110cm; Length of Canary rooms 212cm; Fountain base (LH room) 103x63cm; Fountain base (RH room) 100x60cm.
Walk from Shell House to Gardener's Cottage
Behind the Shell House a wooden gate opens through wire fencing into a small wooded area of mixed trees but with one or two important specimens mentioned in the Veteran Tree Survey. Wild garlic covers the ground and the track is not particularly clear. However, to the west of it is a monument of a funeral urn (P96) [now very broken] on a plinth with a square moulded base with an inscription on the west side.
"This small urn is erected by a mourning wife to perpetuate the memory of
most dear in life
most beloved in death
April (?) 1839
The third figure in the date is indistinct and there is a double space below line four; the sandstone is very badly worn but it is probable the missing name is William Speke, the grandfather of John Hanning Speke, and High Sheriff of Somerset in 1819. He was born in 1771 and died in 1839 so we could assume the memorial refers to him.
Urn is 60cm high and 105cm in circumference at its widest part
Plinth is 75cm square and 100cm high
A few yards further on the path widens out to almost carriage width and winds on along the edge of the fields lined for most of the way by a plantation of fir trees (P97); and edged with some deciduous trees on the park side. Poplars were planted in 1968 to edge the woods along the field. The walk then ends in a five bar gate beside the gardener's cottage.
Gardener's Cottage - Shrubbery Farm Cottage
This is a single storey octagonal cottage of considerable charm (P98 and S1.9 and 10) with attic space and thick thatching extending about two and a half feet from the walls of the house. The thatch overhang is supported by wooden boards (P99 and S1.12) and propped from the ground by oak posts (P100 and S1.13). The original cottage is built of a random hamstone construction. There is a central angled chimney-stack with two chimneys (P101). There are two windows in the roof thatch and four stone mullioned and triangular arched windows on the ground floor, which are under the thatch gabling (P102 and S1.11). There is a lean-to construction on the back of the cottage built of brick with a slate roof (S1.14).
This was recorded in the Public Monuments record as "Shrubbery Farm Cottage" in 1976 and dated as being early 19th century. It seems more probable that the cottage was originally built for the pleasure of the family especially as it is at the end of the walk from the Shell House; however we have been unable to establish its history. This cottage is known in the family as the Gingerbread House.
The parkland of Jordans extends for approximately 100 acres round the area which would in former days have consisted of the house and stables, formal gardens, kitchen gardens and some wooded areas. The land on the Broadway side of the old road was divided and the little River Ding was diverted. The Parkland was affected by the re-routing of the A358 which was built on a higher plane than previously. This caused major problems with the two 19th century weirs; one was buried completely and there has been serious loss of water to the other.
There are four circular cement covers, of varying sizes and heights, in the grass on the west side of the stream and weir (P103, 103a and 104). The first cover is made of plain cement (approximately 150cm diameter). The second cover (approximately 125cm diameter) has a rectangular metal inspection cover set in the top of the cement. These two covers are set back from the banks of the stream above the weir. The third cover (approximately 115cm diameter) is similar to the second cover and is level with the weir. The fourth cover (approximately 150cm diameter) has a ring-bolt in the top and is situated in the field on the downstream side of the weir. This is probably the entrance to the ram pumps made and installed by Eastons, now Green and Carter, in 1843. It was not possible for us to access these pumps, but further information can be obtained from Green & Carter. The water table has been affected by altering the course of the Ding, so that the trees have suffered from drought in summer and water-logging in winter. Evidence of this is seen in the deterioration of some older trees and the fact that the younger trees planted to form a screen from the road have not flourished. Not only has it affected the parkland, but there is a serious water shortage for the 15th century mill, on Rowlands land, which was recently restored to working order.
The parkland is roughly divided into three. The upper and central areas are divided by wire and post fencing and the tarmac drive leading to the stables; the central and lower areas by the stream - crossed by a small bridge (P105) - and willow planting. The diverted river runs along the outer edge of the lower park. All the parkland is grazed regularly by cattle and sheep. This has had a detrimental effect on some trees where the animals have rubbed against the bark and eaten anything they fancied. However, there are still some fine specimen trees recorded by the Somerset Environmental Records Centre in a Veteran Tree Survey in March 1999. For details of the tree planting see the copy of the Veteran Trees Report and the additional survey carried out by James Harris.
The upper park extends from the drove by the Gardener's Cottage and the farm buildings round the copse and fir plantations, which line the walk from the Shell House, to the driveway leading to the stables. It is mostly bordered with mixed indigenous hedging, except along the south-east border where it is fenced with a row of poplars planted in 1968. The field leading off this in the east corner has a magnificent Wellingtonia (P26) standing alone in the middle; but sadly it is one of the trees which has suffered from the cattle rubbing against the lower trunk and about 6 feet of bark has been damaged. Its days are numbered. Three large oaks were felled recently in the corner of the field.
There are four large plane trees standing by the drove hedge, three of which are in excellent condition (S1.5). The one nearest the farm gate looks less healthy but has apparently been in this condition for some years (S1.16). There are two large chestnuts in the centre of this part of the park and the rest of the trees, ie English oaks and turkey oaks, are growing nearer the hedge bordering the old road. There is one particular turkey oak of note, which is approximately 24 feet in girth. It may have been pollarded to give it this girth, but could have been the result of three trunks growing together from very early days (P106 and 107 and S1.17). There is a group of five turkey oaks growing by the main gates (S1.18 gives a general view across the Parkland).
This stretches from the driveway which leads from the main gates to the stables across the area, which would have been the house and formal gardens of Jordans to the stream and the trees bordering it (P5 and 6). The Shell House stands on a raised promontory (P55) facing west across the park from behind a rough rockery and a light screen of shrubs. Round this are the remnants of the lake, which are all that is left of the elaborate lake designed in the 19th century (see maps) to compliment the Shell House by diverting the river.
Sadly trees seems to have suffered in this area and a large oak, an ash, a fir tree and a Wellingtonia are dying. The stream is bordered by small trees and saplings and there is a weir but the stream is so low that there is no depth or power to it. (On a later visit in January 2004 there was a considerable amount of water going over the weir (P104). Access to the ram pumps is still visible. These were installed by Eastons on 8th September 1843. This firm was taken over by Green & Carter in 1928 (see detailed reports from Green & Carter Ltd). In the south-east corner of the park there is a gate and a small wooden bridge over the stream which leads through a mixed woodland and willows to the lower park.
In the centre of the park is a young oak tree planted by Peter Speke in memory of his mother in 1991. It is planted approximately where the lawn in front of Jordans would have been (P108). Nine other trees have been planted in the south-west corner as replacements for older trees; they are surrounded by special wooden fencing to allow the trees to establish and mature and to prevent damage from cattle when they are grazing in the park.
The Lower Park
The lower park is reached by crossing a footbridge over the stream and walking through a small mixed woodland. The far side of the lower parkland is bordered by a wooden post and rail fence with a mixed hedge between this and the steep bank up to the A358 (P110 and S1.19). This road runs above the level of the parkland. There is an underpass to access the parkland on the far side of the A358 and the river runs under the main road and flows near the boundary of the lower park. The stream crosses the lower park to the weir , follows the line of the old lake past the Shell House and flows on to the Mill at Rowlands. A copper beech had been planted on a raised mound just inside the south-west boundary of the lower parkland. This tree has been affected by the change in the water table since the road was built. There are several Veteran Trees in this part of the park (S1.19) (see Veteran Tree Survey). Ten trees have been planted as part of a future regeneration scheme but one has died; these trees have the same sort of tree guards as those in the central park. There are several limes in this part of the park.
Current use and Condition
Part of the old stables has been converted into a dwelling, which is let. The park land is used for grazing as part of the Speke family farm at Jordans and Rowlands. The Walled Kitchen Garden is overgrown and no longer used. The Shell House is in basically good condition but requires further important maintenance. (See Report by Hazelle Jackson with her recommendations of organisations and people most likely to be of use.)
Somerset Parks and Gardens (Shell House), James Bond. Report on Walled Garden at Jordans 2003 (including Paxton House Appendix), Susan Campbell. Paxton Greenhouses, The Beeton Book of Garden Management. 1861 Paxton Greenhouses, Gardener's Chronicle & Agricultural Gazette. 1878 Paxton Greenhouses, Thompsons' Gardener's Assistant. History and Antiquities of Somerset - Ashill, John Collinson 1791. Report on Survey of Jordans 1960 - Lesser Secular Monuments, National Monuments Record Centre. Photocopies of photographs of Jordans House taken in 1956 including copies of a few family photographs, National Monuments Record Centre. English Heritage National Monuments & Records Grotto at Jordans, ST31NW 2/12 4.2.58. Shrubbery Farm Cottage, 2/18 15.11.76. Ram Pumps installed by Easton & Company, All records for this company are held by Green & Carter Ltd, Vulcan Works, Ashbrittle, Somerset, TA21 0LQ, Telephone 01823 672365, Ref: Charles Doble Esq.. Report on the Shell House, Hazelle Jackson. Family Tree of Speke Family at Jordans from Minster of the Isle, Revd. J Street, MA. National Buildings Record Jordans May 1956, National Monuments & Records, Aerial Photographs US/7GP/LOC390 13/8/1944. Photograph of Jordans in 1832 painted by John Buckler from the Piggott Collection at Taunton Castle. Printed in Lost Houses of Britain by Anna Sproule, Local Studies Library. Extract from Lost Houses of Britain by Anna Sproule. Article mainly about John Hanning Speke, Local Studies Library. Copy of Notes on Shell House, Professor Savage. UK Perspectives, 2 Aerial Photographs, Jordans, 0/7/2003. Notes on Jordans, Christopher Booker. Somerset Environmental Records Centre, Veteran Tree Survey.
REPORT ON THE WALLED KITCHEN GARDEN
Visited on 10 March 2003 by Susan Campbell at the request of the Somerset Gardens Trust, accompanied by Mr and Mrs Peter Speke, Mrs James Mallet-Harris and Members of the Trust's Research Team
The following report represents my opinion on the historical and horticultural significance of the Walled Kitchen Garden at Jordans.
I have divided my report into the following sections:
I Situation, History and Layout; II Walls, Paths and Doorways; III Buildings and other Structures; IV Water Supply; V Plants and Trees; VI Action, Future Use, Summing Up.
- Situation, History and Layout
I.1 Situation. The kitchen garden is formed by a walled enclosure of about one acre. It lies to the north-east of the site of a late 18th century mansion (built 1796, demolished 1964), facing what were once the mansion's lawns and gardens (now open fields). The land on which the kitchen garden stands is level, as is the site of the mansion and the pleasure grounds. This ground has a splendid view of the distant Blackdown Hills. It slopes down gently in a south-easterly direction, towards a remarkable Shell House (built 1828) and an elongated lake (formed by damming the River Isle and now silted up), before rising again to the boundary of the park, which is now marked by the busy Taunton to Axminster road (A358). A small frame yard is attached to the northern end of the west wall of the kitchen garden. This forms a private garden to a house made in the stables. These were built in the yard just to the north of the original stables in 1911. There were dog kennels beside the frame yard, the walls of which still stand. The ruins of potting sheds, boiler rooms and gardeners' dwellings lie behind the north wall, in a thicket of overgrown trees and shrubs. The head gardener's cottage lies across a field, about 300 metres north of the kitchen garden.
I. 2 History. Due to a lack of any substantial archival evidence, this report is based on what can be gleaned from the scanty Day and Master's map of 1782, the more detailed Ashill Tithe Map of 1838, the very scanty Greenwood's map of 1882, the very detailed 1:2500 OS Map of 1888, a written account of the gardens during the 1940's (C Booker), the research team's findings and some local verbal accounts. The walls of the kitchen garden would appear to be of the same date (1796) as the 18th century mansion. There is a slight chance that they, their foundations, or parts of their superstructure are even older, if the kitchen garden of the early 17th century house that preceded that of 1796 was on the same site.
Its situation is conveniently close to the house, which is where one would expect to find a kitchen garden of the late 18th century, unless it impinged on the view. Here this is not the case, as the view is to the south, and the long south wall of the kitchen garden forms a pleasing backdrop and boundary to the pleasure grounds. This wall would have been planted on the south side with ornamental shrubs and climbers, with a broad flower border below. A path beside it leads from the mansion to an enclosure which was probably a flower garden beside the lake. It adjoins the Shell House which in 1838 stood on a circular, moated island. From here the path either continues round to the head gardener's cottage, or leads via a Laurel Walk to the rear of the kitchen garden, and thence into the kitchen garden itself.
I.3 Layout The layout and slightly east-of-south orientation of the kitchen garden is typical of the last three or four centuries, although in this case the rectangular shape of the garden is somewhat wider than usual. That is to say, the walls running East-West are very much longer than the walls running North-South. It is customary for the longest walls to face south, but the proportions are usually 6:4 rather than 7:3 as at Jordans. This wideness has led to the garden being divided by its paths into two halves, rather than four quarters, and there is no evidence of any central feature such as a dipping pond or sundial. A range of south-facing lean-to hothouses once occupied the larger part of the northernmost wall, with work-sheds behind. A perimeter path ran in front of the borders beneath the walls.
A doorway in the northwestern corner leads to the frame yard which was originally walled on all sides. The southern side is now formed by the stable/cottage. The yard is about 20 metres square.
An assortment of trees and shrubs would have screened the southern, eastern and northern walls from the outside. The stables and stable yard lay outside the western wall. The plantation of mixed trees and shrubs to the north would have acted as a shelter belt to the kitchen garden.
II Walls, Paths and Doorways
II.1 Walls. The garden walls are high (between 3.5 and 3.5 metres) and built of high quality pinkish red brick, with occasional ornamental flourishes (diamonds or a chequer-board pattern reminiscent of Tudor brickwork) using a blue black brick. The north walls are highest, to accommodate the glasshouses. The east and west walls are lower, and the south wall is lower still, probably for the usual reason, to avoid casting too long a shade in winter. All the walls are capped with fine hamstone copings, wide and flat enough for 'children to run around' (Booker). Where the walls take a 'step down', the coping stones are gracefully curved. There are numerous nails and holes in the walls, as well as patent fixings with horizontal wires for wall fruit tree training.
These walls are very fine and one of the garden's best attributes. They are in a fairly good condition, considering their age and the length of time for which they have been neglected. It must be the solidity and excellence of the coping stones that is largely responsible for their preservation so far, but deterioration is now being caused by a heavy covering of ivy, by adventitious saplings in the brickwork itself, and by the action of roots and falling branches from older trees growing too close to the walls. There is a quite dangerous lean outwards on the eastern wall, but this may have been stabilised by the buttress near the southern end, which appears to have stood there for some time. Serious cracks in this area are said (by Mr Speke) 'not to have become any worse' in the 38 years since he has known the garden. The upper portion of the central section of the south-facing glasshouse wall also appears to be leaning outwards, probably due to the amount of ivy growing on top. The worst damage however, is the large opening made to admit machinery in recent times, in the centre of the southern wall. It is quite out of keeping with the seclusion that should be, and was originally, provided by the south wall, which would have had only a small doorway, or possibly an ornamental gate in that position. A large opening, if needed, would be better, and more traditionally sited in the north-eastern corner.
On the south face of the north wall (III.1) there is a line of flashing, some wooden ventilators and remnants of plaster and lime wash. The unusual recess in the centre of this wall is made of rough hamstone, possibly to provide an ornamental back wall to a plant house.
II.2 Paths. As can be seen from the OS map of 1888, a central path divides the garden into two halves, and there is a perimeter path both outside and inside. There is no sign of the original paths or their edgings on the surface of the garden, which is covered in rough grass; they may have been ploughed up; they may lie hidden beneath the turf. Booker describes the paths as of gravel, 'and lined by clipped low box hedges' which is traditional for a kitchen garden.
II.3 Doorways. To judge by the map of 1888, each path originally terminated in a doorway. A number of these doorways is bricked up (I believe four, at least). Counting the two doorways in the back wall, there may have been as many as seven, all of them arched. Only one of the original doors itself is left, but they were probably all similar, and well-made of wood, with the exception of the doorway in the centre of the southern wall (now widened [II.1] for tractors), which may have had an ornamental gate, as this would have been used by the family.
III Buildings and other Structures
III.1 Glasshouses. A range of four lean-to glasshouses is shown on the OS map of 1888. None of their superstructure exists, except for a line of cast iron heating pipes behind a low front wall with a metal wall-plate on top of it. This marks the front of the house at the western end of the range, which was 28 metres long and 3.5 metres across. It is not shown on the map of 1838 and is described by Booker as 'a large heated double-glass house, containing superb grape vines, black and white'. From its relative narrowness and the angle of its roof (seen by the marks on the end wall) I would say that it could have served as a peach house, as well as a vinery. Vines are still growing on the back wall, somewhat waywardly. A trellis and wires for training the vines or peach trees is still attached to the back wall. There is also a line of ventilators with sliding wooden shutters on the back wall. The front wall-plate and the brackets which attach it to the wall are of considerable interest, and of a design invented by Paxton. (See Appendix for details.)
Of the three houses in the centre of the wall, there is no trace. The OS map shows one central, recessed, glazed house flanked by a house on either side. All three are about 9 metres long but wider than the first house (say 4 metres?). The central house may have been a show house, with staging for special plants, or even, originally, an orangery, with its front face in line with the brick wall. Its recessed back wall of natural, undressed rough hamstone is badly repointed, but with the original lime mortar it would have had a rustic, ornamental effect. It had steps leading up to the front and door at one side in the back, giving access to the buildings behind. The roof of this central house might have been higher than the rest, to accommodate taller plants. The glasshouses on either side were more likely used for vines, peaches, nectarines, apricots or figs. All three houses appear to have led into one another.
According to Booker there was another, smaller glasshouse in the small garden or frame yard behind the stables, and the footings of its front wall can still be seen. It would have been about 14x4 metres and was used 'for house plants, such as cyclamens and azaleas'. (Booker)
III.2 Pits and Frames. From the evidence of the OS map this yard also contained frames and a pit house running north-south. There was another frame in front of the potting sheds .
III.3 Back Sheds. These lie in the overgrown thicket behind the glasshouse range and are accessible through doors in the back wall. They were built both of brick and stone and are in a very ruined state and roofless, but they are interesting, and pose many questions.
III.4 Potting Shed and Bothy. The potting shed, behind the peach house/vinery, appears to have been only one storey high and roofed with pantiles, but the bothy, a brick building behind the western-most central greenhouse had two storeys, mullioned windows and fireplaces. It appears to be late 18th century, and may be even older. The lower floor level is well below the present ground level. By the standards of the time it would have made a very comfortable bothy.
III.5 Boiler House and Stoke Hole. The remains of a very ruined boiler and a stoke hole with steps down can be seen between the side of the recessed glasshouse and another, even grander bothy. Prior to about 1820 the glasshouses would have been heated by hot air flues emanating from a furnace in a similar position. After that date hot-water boilers came into use for glasshouse heating. This one boiler would have heated all the glasshouses.
III.6. Second 'Bothy'. This tall, one-roomed building behind the easternmost glasshouse is about the same size (9x4 metres). With its carefully made entrance door, fanlight and large mullioned windows, both facing north and east, it is so elegant as to make me wonder if it was used by the family, rather than the gardeners. The head gardener had his own cottage, a thatched, octagonal cottage ornee, at some distance from the kitchen garden, though that cottage could have been built later than this building.
If it was a dwelling it appears to have no fireplace, and it is unlikely to have been heated by a flue from the furnace next door. There are no hot water pipes in it either. Alternatively, it might have been designed as a banqueting room (ie a picnic room), a little museum for housing a collection of curios, a bath house, or even an ornamental-looking fruit store, though there is no sign of there having been any storage shelves or racks fixed to the walls. It may be that its use was linked to the recessed glasshouse, going back to a time when the recess was in fact a quite different sort of building. As it lies directly on the circuit taken by the Laurel Walk, and appears to have a little path and its own lawn to the east of it, it must have been intended as a visiting place by the family. The floor might provide some clues, if it was to be cleared of rubble.
IV Water Supply
IV.1 I have not made any researches in this department, as I understand that ram pumps in the lake provided all the necessary water for the mansion and gardens. The OS map shows two pumps in the garden area; one in the northeastern corner of the old stable yard, and one between the potting shed and the first bothy.
V Plants and Trees
V.1 The kitchen garden is bereft of any plants or trees, other than grass and self-sown tree seedlings. All the walls would have had fruit trees trained on them but, apart from the vines in the peach house/vinery, nothing survives.
The shelter belt and shrubbery behind the garden was a mixture of shrubs and trees, some of which might have been pleasantly ornamental. They are all very overgrown, but are possibly worth cutting down to a more manageable size.
VI Action, Future Use, Summing Up
VI.1 Action. My chief concern is to see these strong and elegant walls listed as they are a beautiful example of their kind. I would also urge that action is taken very soon to save them from further depredations by falling branches, ivy and saplings.
The iron plates and supports in the peach house/vinery are certainly of horticultural and historical interest, and of some rarity (see Appendix). They should be carefully recorded, then either dismantled and preserved, or restored to their original use. The soil within should be examined for metal fixings.
The remains of the brick buildings behind the kitchen garden are interesting and unusual, but until more is known about their dates and original purposes, their restoration may not be worth the expense. Excavation to floor-level might well be helpful, and not expensive.
VI.2 Future Use. Given that the kitchen garden walls are to remain, the enclosure would make a very fine garden; however it is not within the remit of this report to suggest how the garden might be made economically viable.
VI.3 Summing Up. The kitchen garden walls at Jordans are well worth listing.
The iron work of the Paxton lean-to is a piece of horticultural history. I have seen no other glasshouses containing it (see Appendix), though the wooden parts of a Paxtonian design can be seen at Heligan and Orchardleigh.
Further research might reveal that the brick buildings behind the kitchen garden are worth listing and restoring.
Susan Campbell, March 2003
The Paxton House: an Appendix to the Report on the Walled Kitchen Garden at Jordans
The westernmost glasshouse in the kitchen garden at Jordans was a 'portable' lean-to house invented by Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865). I have seen only two other Paxton houses, a lean-to at Heligan in Cornwall and an upright-fronted house at Orchardleigh in Somerset.
Advertisements for these houses first appeared in the Gardeners' Chronicle at the end of 1859. The patent was held by Paxton and the sole agent for their manufacture and sale was Samuel Hereman, 7 Pall Mall East, London.
Detailed descriptions of their construction are given in Thompson's Gardener's Assistant of 1878 and Beeton's New Book of Garden Management of 1880. Basically, the houses consisted of wooden sashes or lights, each 4' 8" wide, but of any length required, from 8' to 16'. Between each sash there was a hinged ventilator, 9" wide, running the length of the sash but divided into an upper and lower half. This enabled either the top or the lower half to be opened or, by hooking the two halves together the whole ventilator could be opened. Both span-roofed and lean-to houses were available.
The sashes and ventilators were completely portable, and joined together by iron clips. The tops of the sashes and ventilators were fixed in the case of a lean-to house, under a piece of lead capping against the wall. The lower ends rested in a continuous line of angled iron plates. These plates were fixed into iron chairs or saddles, set into a low brick wall.
The angled plates were designed to act both as supports for the sashes and gutters for the rain. The angle of the sashes depended on the purpose of the house. The stamp of 'No 5-47 degrees' on the angle plates at Jordans is puzzling, but could no doubt be explained if a catalogue for these houses ever came to light. Beeton gives an angle of 45 degrees for a lean-to vinery and 'fruit house' with 10' sashes, 40 degrees for a lean-to peach house and a span-roof orchard house with 14' sashes; 30 degrees or 35 degrees for a span-roof bedding-out house with 8' sashes; and 35 degrees for a span-roof pineapple, cucumber or melon pit with 10' for 12' sashes. The plates were laid at a slight slope so as to form a rain-water gutter, which presumably drained into a tank within the house. These plates could equally well be made of wood, according to Thompson, and this may have been the case at Heligan and Orchardleigh, where the sashes now lie on wooden bearers, and not on iron angle plates.
The wall on which the angle plates rest at Jordans is about 2' high, and made of local bricks stamped 'W Thomas & Co, Wellington'. The bricks appear to be in good condition, possibly because the front of the wall would have been below the soil level of the border in front of the house. The wall has square arched openings between each pier supporting the 'saddles', to allow the roots of the vines or peaches to run into the border. The ventilators would have been positioned above each saddle.
The iron window stay shown in Thompson, fig 310, may not be identical to those at Orchardleigh, as there I saw only simple hooks.
Susan Campbell, March 2003
Shrubbery, Kitchen Garden, Rockery, Stream, Gate Piers, Folly, Railings, Waterfall, Arch, Urn, Kennels, Bothy, Ironwork, Shell House, Gates
Jordans in the hundred of Abdick and Bulston
Reign of Edward I Jordans in the ownership of a Mr William Jordan.
In reign of Edward III William de Jordan married eldest Muttlebery daughter. Jordans owned by the Muttleberys until mid 17th century.
1633 Jordans house was rebuilt in Tudor style
1655 Jordans purchased by William Speke of Shepton Beauchamp/Dillington from Thomas Muttlebery. Document of conveyancing of manor of "Jordaynes" with all cottages and lands from Thomas Muttlebery to William Speke of Dillington is in the Somerset Records Office.
1680 William Speke of Jordans died. Jordans inherited by eldest son, William Speke
1691 William Speke born (became the Rev William Speke, Vicar of Ilminster)
1703 Stables at Jordans blown down in severe gales
1729 Rev William Speke of Jordans became Vicar of Ilminster
1715 2nd Rev William Speke of Jordans born. Succeeded his father as Vicar of Ilminster in 1773. Dies 1791
1791/2 William Speke inherits Jordans. Married Mary Dickinson. 1819-1821 High Sheriff of Somerset. Dies 1839
1796 Jordans rebuilt. Façade in Portland stone. Poor workmen "rendered the work tragic" quotation from Thomas Gerard of Trent (historian and traveller)
1798 William Speke (of Jordans) born, died 1887. Married in 1824 Georgina Elizabeth Hanning of Dillington. Father of John Hanning Speke. Inherits Jordans in 1839
1827 John Hanning Speke born. Died 1864
1828 Shell House built
1887 William Speke, elder brother of John Hanning Speke, inherits Jordans
1908 William Speke dies and inheritance of Jordans passes to nephew Walter Hanning Speke who is the eldest son of the Rev Benjamin Speke
1911 Stable block rebuilt
In the intervening years until the death of Walter Hanning Speke a large part of the lake is filled in and withies planted to encourage foxes
1944 Walter Hanning Speke dies and, having no children, the inheritance passes to great nephew Peter Hanning Speke, nine years old and living in Canada with his mother. Peter's father and his uncles had been killed in the war
1945-1950 Jordans used as a Preparatory School run by a Mr and Mrs Piers
1950-1955 Jordans used by another School run by a Mr and Mrs Piers
1955-1957 Jordans abandoned and neglected but still contains furniture and fittings
1956 National Buildings Record taken
1959 Peter Hanning Speke learns of his inheritance and his mother returns in 1960
1964 Jordans House demolished
1964/5 Peter Hanning Speke returns to UK to live on the Jordans Estate, eventually at Rowlands
1965 Stables and adjacent buildings converted to dwelling for Mrs Speke senior. Gardens behind stables renovated
1965 to present day. Restoration of house at Rowlands, the cottages on the estate, the farm, a 15th century mill and the Shell House
Jordans in the Nineteenth Century
The Jordans estate takes its name from the tributary of the River Isle which flows through the grounds. The estate was inherited in 1791-2 by William Speke (1771-1839). He must have been a fashionable and status conscious young man because in 1795-6 the existing house was replaced with a new one with a façade in Portland stone. (Young Mr Speke clearly had problems with builders even then contemporary accounts record that poor workmanship "rendered the (building of the new house) tragic".)
William Speke started married life with Mary Dickenson in 1797. Seven children followed in quick succession before Mrs Speke died in 1805. In 1824 the eldest son, William Jr married Georgina Elizabeth Hanning, from a local family at nearby Dillington. Their sons William and John Hanning Speke were born at Jordans in 1825 and 1827.
In 1828 a shell lined "cottage ornee", known as the grotto, was built in the pleasure grounds facing the family house at Jordans. Sadly all history of its construction has been lost although it is shown on the OS maps of 1883 and 1905 as a grotto.
The position of the grotto relative to the house is clearly marked on early OS maps which show that it would have been viewed from the house, framed by the trees on its mound, overlooking the lake, to form a classic rural scene.
As the wife of the eldest son, it is to be assumed that Georgina Hanning Speke was acting as the lady of the house for her father-in-law at this time. Was the grotto perhaps her contribution to the grounds? The grotto was built one year after John Hanning Speke's birth. Maybe it was built to celebrate the safe arrival of "the heir and the spare". All we know about this period is the date of construction, 1828, which is picked out in relief on the grotto's knucklebone floor.
It is clear from the design of the grotto, and the surviving evidence of the pleasure grounds, that it must have formed part of a fashionable and carefully contrived garden in keeping with the prevailing mood and fashion for the Picturesque.
What makes Jordans' grotto so special, and such a unique survival, is the fact that it combines in a single cottage ornee a summerhouse, a grotto and an aviary. Each side of the central circular room is a small square side room which is decorated with tree designs in shells and perches for canaries and other singing birds. There are also hooks on the ceiling, presumably for perches. On the floors of these alcoves fountains played. There is no other comparable surviving grotto in the British Isles.
The birds were fed from outside via little lead trays or via scraps pushed through the wire mesh windows. In the summer, parties strolled down from the house to feed the birds and take tea, seated on the rustic basket work seats which line the interior. As they talked and listened to the canaries singing, they could admire the distant view of the house and the jewel-like colours of the stained glass as the sun poured through the windows and bounced off the internal mirror. All this was accompanied by the playing of the fountains in the side chambers.
In the autumn the magnificent copper beech behind the grotto on its grassy mound, turned a deep red and glowed in the rays of the setting sun. This may have been planted at around the same time as the grotto to give pleasure to future generations. A truly magical creation.
Background - Grottoes in the Eighteenth Century
Tucked away in a remote corner of Somerset is one of the most unusual and best preserved small picturesque buildings of the early nineteenth century in the United Kingdom. The shell house-grotto at Jordans near Ilminster has survived almost intact since 1828, when it was built in the grounds of Jordans, the family home of John Hanning Speke, the Victorian explorer who discovered the source of the River Nile in Africa.
Artificial grottoes and shell houses first became very popular in the UK in the eighteenth century when the Grand Tour took off in a big way. Wealthy landowners returned home keen to recreate on their own estates some of the splendours of Renaissance Italy seen on their travels. All over the UK venerable Elizabethan and Jacobean mansions were torn down and replaced by neo-classical villas, modelled on the principles of classical Greek and Roman architecture. At the same time Capability Brown and his disciples transformed ancient deer parks into English landscape gardens: vistas of rolling grassland, serpentine lakes and artfully placed clumps of trees.
To enhance a view, add interest to a tour of the grounds and, of course, to demonstrate the owner's wealth and taste, a series of whimsical garden buildings were laid out around the estate, many inspired by the classical ruins seen in Renaissance Italy. No fashionable landscape garden was complete without a set of such follies which invariably included a grotto, frequently lined with thousands of expensively imported shells and often the highlight of the tour.
Some early grottoes were built underground and examples have survived at Scott's Grotto at Ware in Hertfordshire and Goldney Grotto in Bristol. Other grottoes, as at Goodwood in Sussex and Hampton Court house in Middlesex, were created as freestanding rockwork pavilions. Italian sea caves, grottoes and temples to naiads served as inspiration for the decoration of homegrown grottoes. For a time in the middle of the eighteenth century fashionable British society became entirely obsessed with shells which were bid for at auction, purchased from specialist dealers and imported from overseas, particularly in the West Indies in vast numbers and a great, sometimes ruinous, expense.
As the eighteenth century rolled on so English popular taste tired of endless vistas of grass and turned to the picturesque appeal of more rugged rocky landscapes. Under the influence of men such as William Gilpin (1724-1804), wild scenery previously feared and shunned as "rude and horrid" was sought out and admired for its picturesque qualities. Designers such as Humphrey Repton (1752-1818) were in demand to lay out decorative and attractive pleasure grounds near to the house for more intimate enjoyment.
By the end of the eighteenth century, popular interest in the picturesque potential of landscape dominated fashionable society's collective imagination. Landowners with suitable terrain did not hesitate at large scale "improvements" to achieve the desired and admired effect. An outstanding example of the picturesque landscape park of this period still exists at Hawkstone park in Shropshire.
Grottoes too changed in character during the eighteenth century and became more natural in appearance, increasingly built, like the one at Painshill, Surrey, to resemble natural limestone caves. Shells as decoration gave way to walls constructed from prized rocks and mineral specimens.
Recorders Mrs Marigold de Winton, Mrs Wendy Eliot and Mrs Susan Story for Somerset Gardens Trust February 2002 to January 2004