Old Down Country Park and Manor has formal and informal gardens on a 19th century site. There are views over the Severn estuary to the Welsh hills. Other features include a walled Victorian garden, specimen trees, topiary, a shrubbery, rockery and walks, a water-course, lake and fine recent planting.The house was built in 1856 for Thomas Ward Johnson and in 1881 the property was sold to William Harford and altered by Sir George Oatley. In 1932 the house was rebuilt in the same manner after a fire. The ornamental gateway and gates were restored.Currently (2013) the Manor house is available for private weddings and events.
Prior to the house being built in 1856 the site was woodland. The gardens dating from the time of the house were augmented by a new garden in 1920. The house burnt down in 1952 but was rebuilt in the same manner, and the gardens have since been restored. The house, gardens and grounds are now used for weddings and as a country park.
Visitor FacilitiesThe country park is open from 10am through the year. Closing times vary seasonally. Access to the gardens is subject to the Country Park admission fee.
At the front of the house is a two-acre kitchen garden, which is beautifully maintained. Beyond this is the ‘new garden', created in the 1920s, a woodland area with orchards, flowering cherry, broom, rhododendron and a pond.
Coming round the side of the house, there is an informal garden with a very mature cedar, weeping beeches and a maple. In the 1920s a covered veranda was added to the house with a mature vine.
At the back of the house is the most impressive garden area, with views over the Severn. The area immediately next to the house is a lawned formal garden. The ornate piers and the wrought iron gates and screens have been re-cast from the original. There are statues and bowls of fruit on top of the piers.
Below this is an informal area, which slopes down the hill. There is a large area of shrubbery, and beneath this an extensive area of rockery and walks. There is also a water course.
A picnic area has been discovered. The woodland below, and the lake in the park were probably created in the 1860s, possibly by Brunel (although this may be just conjecture).
This garden is an example of a late Victorian and early 20th century garden, well-preserved and restored by its current owners.
- English Landscape Garden
- Description: The conservatory has recently been refurbished. It covers 2,000 square feet, with a patterned tile floor and wooden barley sugar pillars.
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- Specimen Tree
- Description: Mature cedar.
- Description: On the hill beyond the house this extensive area was designed by Mrs. Turner. There are walks, a water course and shrubs. There is also a picnic area overlooking the Severn and the lake.
- Description: The lake is a large area surrounded by trees on the lower edge and sides. It has a concrete base, and may have been designed by Brunel.
- House (featured building)
- Description: The house was built in 1856 for Thomas Ward Johnson and was known as Fern Park. It was a country house with Dutch gables. In 1881 the property was sold to William Harford of the Bristol banking family resident at Blaise Castle. The name was changed to Old Down House between around 1880 and around 1905 (the 1st and 2nd editions of the Ordnance Survey map). In 1904 Colonel Charles Turner bought the property and in the early-1920s the house was re-modelled to designs by the architect Sir George Oatley. In 1952 a fire destroyed all but three of its twenty four rooms. The house lay empty and in ruins for 18 years until, after Colonel Turner's death, it was purchased by Robert Bernays. He rebuilt the house (with some alterations) in 1971. In 2007 the property was bought by Arron and Katya Banks who have carried out a major renovation of the house. An extension to the house in the form of an orangery was built prior to it opening as a wedding venue in 2011.
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- Description: At the back of the house is the most impressive garden area, with views over the Severn. The area immediately next to the house is a lawned formal garden.
- Kitchen Garden
- Description: The kitchen garden is a two-acre site with extensive greenhouses. It was used in the 1980s as a semi-organic market garden for 'pick your own' fruit and vegtables.There is a round pond in the centre, and a dolphin used to spout water. The garden has apples, pears, greengages and damsons, and a very old wisteria. At the end is a cell door from the Old Bailey, with a statue of a gryphon above, originally from the Houses of Parliament.
- Description: Coming round the side of the house, there is an informal garden with a very mature cedar, weeping beeches and a maple. In the 1920s a covered veranda was added to the house with a mature vine.
- Description: There is a round pond in the centre of the kitchen garden.
- Description: On the far side of the formal lawn to the north of the house is a 20 metre long, ornamental gateway feature. This comprises a central pair of wrought iron gates with limestone gate piers each topped with a statue of putto, and to both sides five similar piers topped with bowls of fruit, with wrought iron screens between the piers. This feature is Italian baroque and was imported in the early-20th century.
- Access & Directions
Access Contact DetailsThe country park is open from 10am through the year. Closing times vary seasonally. Access to the gardens is subject to the Country Park admission fee.
Detailed HistoryPrior to the house being built in 1856 the site was woodland. The formal and informal gardens date from the time of the house, although the cedar tree appears to be older.
Colonel Turner and his wife made the later parts of the garden, including the rockery and water course, when they lived there in the early-20th century. They also created a new garden in 1920. As part of the early-1920s re-modelling, a 20 metre long, imported Italian baroque gateway feature was erected on the far side of the formal lawn to the north of the house.
In 1952 the house was almost completely burnt down. After lying empty and in ruins it was rebuilt in 1971 following its purchase by Robert Bernays. Under his ownership the property became a country park open to the public. This closed in 2004. Following a major renovation of the house for use as a wedding venue (including the addition of an orangery overlooking the rose garden) new owners Arron and Katya Banks have re-opened the Old Down Country Park. Visitors can enjoy the gardens and grounds including a Victorian walled kitchen garden, woodland walks and a fishing lake. There is also an animal collection using outdoor grazing, a café and a farm shop.
- Victorian (1837-1901)