Riverhill House 2816

Sevenoaks, England, Kent, Sevenoaks

Brief Description

Riverhill House has mid-19th-century gardens and pleasure grounds associated with the early-18th-century country house. The gardens are set in a wider parkland of 30 hectares (74 acres). The site features a bluebell woodland garden and sheltered terraces.

History

The new house was built in 1714 in the Queen Anne style. In 1840, John Rogers, a scientist and botanist and a patron of the plant collectors of the day, bought the Riverhill estate. He carried out extensions and alterations to the House, and in 1842 began to plant the gardens.

Visitor Facilities

The gardens are open on Sundays between Easter and June. Please see: http://www.riverhillgardens.co.uk/new-timesandprices.html

Terrain

The site is set on the well-wooded south side of the greensand ridge.

Detailed Description

The site has three distinct gardens:

1. 18th-century Wilderness 2. Victorian terraces 3. Woodland garden - early 20th century

The garden is particularly interesting due to the continuity of garden records.

There was an 18th-century wilderness with gravel walks and mostly indigenous trees, but also arbutus, cedars and philadelphus, situated to the west of the old trackway. This trackway (King Harold's road from London to Hastings to fight William the Conqueror) was a hidden sunken road, untouched since 1710, when an improved Turnpike road was made. An 18th-century rusticated stone bridge by a pair of pollarded limes was originally a civilised promenade in a secluded setting. Now in the 20th century there is little seclusion (this serves as barrier between the grounds and A225).

An engraving of 1780 shows sweeping parkland approaching the east, south and west faces of the house. The kitchen garden and orchard beyond date from the 18th century, though there is an argument over the age of the walls. There are wrought iron gates and some of the best magnolias in Kent. There are detailed records in John Rogers' notebook of planting many varieties of pears, gages, plums, nectarines, peaches, grapes and figs, grown on both sides of all walls. At this time, the house was self-supporting, with a home farm dairy, hop gardens, a brew house, kitchen garden and orchard.

The lower shrubbery was planted in the late-19th century with rhododendrons, azaleas, pieris, Cercis siliquastrum, large clumps of bamboo and pampas grass. The old orchard below this has a large wellingtonia (planted 1860) and a cedar of Lebanon. There is an arboretum of Himalayan rhododendrons, probably mostly planted around 1850. One variety is the R 'Colonel Rogers', a natural hybrid occurring this century when R niveum crossed with a R falconeri (this is near the steps). A rose walk terrace, converted in the late-19th century, has a south-facing wall providing shelter for rather tender shrubs, for example, fuchsia. Under the apple trees on the bank, polyanthus flower in the spring. Many of these trees and shrubs were destroyed or damaged in October 1987.

The wood garden of 3 acres was created by the late Colonel J M Rogers (in the 20th century) from an old pheasantry which contained Kentish oak, Austrian pines, monkey-puzzles and other species. It is a very well-sheltered site with mainly species rhododendron and Japanese acers of many varieties, rising from a sheet of bluebells.

Clearance of brambles and the creation of windbreaks before World War 1 was followed by planting of rhododendrons and azaleas. Many rhododendrons were sent as seeds from plant hunting expeditions. Now some are very tall, almost like sparse woodland, and one has to look up to see the flowers.

Of special interest are the ‘Loden' rhododendrons, raised as Lennardslee. There are few maintenance problems as it is a perfect natural habitat. There are occasional problems of drought and high winds. However, the gaps created as a result allow for replacement planting, therefore the scheme is continually updated. The lower area is only used as a rhododendron breeding nursery and is now overgrown and difficult to penetrate, but can be viewed from above. There is an early 20th-century rock garden on the south slope but it is now overgrown, too time-consuming, difficult and expensive to keep up.

There are Italianate terraces dating to the Victorian period. The lower terrace on the south side of the house has a large Stranvaesia, which is very spectacular. There is a well-established shrub border. This has a green and white colour scheme in the spring (Clematis montana climbing through the trees), and a mauve and purple scheme in the summer, using buddleias and petunias.

On the west side, the pleasure grounds have a grotto, now a foxglove dell created in 1909 by the wife of Colonel J Rogers. Large stones were imported and a huge Waterloo cedar stands adjacent, planted in 1815. This is possibly the tallest deodar cedar in Great Britain, but is rather damaged.

The exceptionally high wind of the Great Storm in October 1987 proved devastating. It laid waste the woodland and three quarters of the fine trees and shrubs were lost or mutilated. This part of the garden was closed for a whole year. Following the clearance, a replanting scheme for the eastern boundary has been devised by Alan Mitchell, and this has been grant-aided in part by the Countryside Commission.

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

Gardens and pleasure grounds developed mainly from the mid-19th century onwards and including some early plant introductions, surrounding a country house set in 18th-century parkland.

DESCRIPTION

LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING

Riverhill House is situated in a rural location just beyond the south-east edge of Sevenoaks, to the north-east of the A21. The c 30ha site is bounded to the west by Riverhill road, to the south by a minor country road, and to the east by farmland. The northern boundary is formed by the minor road which divides the park at Riverhill from Knole Park (qv). Set on the well-wooded south side of the greensand ridge (the planting of which suffered severe damage in the storm of October 1987), Riverhill House enjoys extensive views over the falling ground and countryside to the south.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES

The main drive leads off Riverhill road past a lodge located c 150m to the north-west of the House, and runs south-east to arrive at the forecourt below the north front. The line of the earlier road, 'Harold Road', which went out of use with the building of the turnpike road in 1710, can be traced as a deep cut within the western shelter belt, a little to the east of the present road. The drive is carried across the cut by an C18 rusticated stone bridge standing c 100m north-west of the House.

PRINCIPAL BUILDING

Riverhill House (listed grade II) is a large country mansion built of coursed rubble masonry with flint galletting under a hipped slate roof. It is constructed in three storeys with a projecting three-storey porch on the north, entrance front. The building is of several dates, the core being erected in c 1710 for the Children family, with mid C19 alterations for John Rogers and late C19 projecting extensions added by his successors.

GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS

The falling land beneath the south front is terraced by means of a substantial balustraded rubble-stone retaining wall. Designs for further terracing, which was felt to be needed to give a suitable foreground to the view, were drawn up in 1844 by John Nasmyth (Wright 1985). A wooden summerhouse stands at the south-east corner of the top terrace. Below the terraces lies an open lawn, bounded on its south side by a thick belt of trees. On the west side of the House the terraces give onto an area of pleasure grounds and a small rockery. Before John Rogers began the development of these gardens in the mid C19 the area between the south garden and the road to the west had been an C18 wilderness with gravel walks and mixed tree and shrub plantings.

To the east of the House, on the south side of the walled gardens, is an area of ornamental shrub planting and the rose walk, below and to the south of which is the Home Farm complex. The gardens continue eastwards, past the C18 boundary, as the 'woodgarden', an area of informal pleasure grounds and lawns developed by Colonel J M Rogers early in the C20 on the site of the old pheasantry. The area was badly damaged in the storm of October 1987 but has since been extensively replanted. South of the wood garden is an early C20 rock garden, now (2001) overgrown.

PARK

The open parkland lies mainly to the south of the House with the smaller north park being mostly covered by Park Wood. The south park falls away to the southern boundary and is scattered with a small number of parkland trees, enclosed to the south and west by thin boundary plantations. An engraving of 1780 (Baker) shows sweeping parkland approaching the east, south, and west fronts of the House, part of which was retained during the mid C19 development of the grounds by John Rogers.

KITCHEN GARDEN

The walled kitchen garden lies c 50m to the north-east of the House, set into the steep hillside. It is levelled and has been divided into rough terracing, now (2001) laid to grass. The garden dates from the C18 and is probably contemporary with the house built by the Children family in the early C18.

REFERENCES

T Wright, Historic parks and gardens in Kent (1985)

The Field, (23 August 1986), pp 42-5

Riverhill House, garden guide, (around 1980s)

Illustrations

J Baker, engraving of Riverhill House and parkland, 1780 (private collection)

I J Rawlings, engraving of Riverhill House and its setting, 1800 (private collection)

Painting of house with Jungle Area, around 1840 (private collection)

Description rewritten: April 2001

Amended: November 2001

Edited: November 2003

Features

Plant Environment

  • Exotic Garden
  • Plant Type
  • Wilderness
  • Description: There was an 18th-century wilderness with gravel walks and mostly indigenous trees, but also arbutus, cedars and philadelphus, situated to the west of the old trackway.
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  • House (featured building)
  • Description: Previously the site of a Tudor farmstead, the new residence was built in 1714 and later `Georgianised?.
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  • Ornamental Bridge
  • Description: An 18th-century rusticated stone bridge by a pair of pollarded limes was originally a civilised promenade in a secluded setting. Now in the 20th century there is little seclusion.
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  • Kitchen Garden
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  • Orchard
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  • Shrubbery
  • Description: The lower shrubbery was planted in the late 19th century with rhododendrons, azaleas, pieris, Cercis siliquastrum, large clumps of bamboo and pampas grass.
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  • Garden Terrace
  • Description: A rose walk terrace, converted in the late 19th century, has a south-facing wall providing shelter for rather tender shrubs, for example, fuchsia.
  • Planting
  • Description: The wood garden of 3 acres was created by the late Colonel J M Rogers (in the 20th century) from an old pheasantry which contained Kentish oak, Austrian pines, monkey-puzzles and other species. It is a very well-sheltered site with mainly species rhododendron and Japanese maples of many varieties, rising from a sheet of bluebells.
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  • Planting
  • Description: There is an early 20th-century rock garden on the south slope but it is now overgrown, too time-consuming, difficult and expensive to keep up.
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  • Garden Terrace
  • Description: There are Italianate terraces dating to the Victorian period. There is a well-established shrub border. This has a green and white colour scheme in the spring (Clematis montana climbing through the trees), and a mauve and purple scheme in the summer, using buddleias and petunias.
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  • Grotto
  • Description: On the west side, the pleasure grounds have a grotto, now a foxglove dell created in 1909 by the wife of Colonel J Rogers.
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  • Specimen Tree
  • Description: This is possibly the tallest deodar cedar in Great Britain, but is rather damaged.
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Access & Directions

Access Contact Details

The gardens are open on Sundays between Easter and June. Please see: http://www.riverhillgardens.co.uk/new-timesandprices.html

Directions

The site is on the A225 on the very southern edge of Sevenoaks, adjoining Knole Park. Please see: http://www.riverhillgardens.co.uk/new-findus.html
Authorities

Civil Parish

  • Sevenoaks
History

Detailed History

Previously the site of a Tudor farmstead, the new residence was built in 1714 and later ‘Georgianised'. In 1840 John Rogers bought Riverhill from the Woodgate family and enlarged the house. There were further additions until 1900. Now due to taxation much demolition has taken place.

John Rogers was one of the first members of the Royal Horticultural Society and a patron of plant collectors. He bought Riverhill House because of its sheltered situation and lime-free hillside, which was ideal for newly-introduced shrubs and trees. A fascinating garden journal kept from 1838-1860 shows that planting started in 1842. Before this, the gardens were between the house and road.

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

Previously the site of a Tudor farmhouse owned by the Petts family, Riverhill was acquired by the Children family who, shortly after 1710, replaced the building with a new house in the Queen Anne style. In 1840, John Rogers (1807-67), a scientist and botanist and a patron of the plant collectors of the day, bought the Riverhill estate from the Woodgate family who had inherited the property from the Childrens through marriage. He carried out extensions and alterations to the House, and in 1842 began to plant the gardens. John Rogers married Harriet Thornton of Clapham and they had twelve children, the eldest of whom, John Thornton Rogers, succeeded in 1867. Alterations to the House and planting in the gardens have been continued by successive generations of the Rogers family, with further additions to the House around 1900. Examples of early introductions survive in the grounds including two original introductions by Robert Fortune and some early Hooker rhododendrons. The site remains (2001) in private ownership.

Period

  • Mid 19th Century
Associated People

Just one person associated to Riverhill House

Contact
References

References

Contributors

  • Kent Gardens Trust