The Lost 18th-century Landscape at Marble Hill

Emily Parker, Landscape Advisor, English Heritage

Marble Hill is situated on the banks of the River 1hames in Twickenham, at the very centre of a string of fashionable 18th-century residences. Ihe owner, Henrietta Howard, mistress of George :II, but also a fascinating and influential figure in her own right, created Marble Hill House in the 1720s as a retreat from court life and as a place to entertain her elite circle of friends. Ihe house is an archetypal example of a 'Palladian' villa. It was built between 1724 and 1729 with involvement from Lord Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke, and Roger Morris. Ihe garden at Marble Hill was being designed and laid out at the same time as the house, with guidance from Alexander Pope and Charles Bridgeman. In fact there was a meeting on site between Henrietta, Bridgeman and Pope in late summer of 1724 to discuss ideas for the garden layout. A public campaign saved the estate from development into a housing estate and instead it was purchased in 1902 to create a public park.

In 1991 a series of undated plans were deposited in the Norfolk Record Office, which show the estate during Henrietta's ownership. One of these plans was drawn by Pope in 1724 and includes a Kitchen Garden, Menagerie, Coach House and Stables located to the west of the house, as well as a large Melon Ground to the east. Also shown are two semi-circular areas labelled as a 'parterre of flowers' surrounded by what seems to be a semi- circular arbour. Ihe plan also includes a wilderness of fruit trees, flowering shrubs, tightly winding walks and various different heights of hedges in 'yew' and 'elm'. A second undated plan, in the Norfolk Record Office probably dates to the mid-1750s, as it includes tracts of land that were only amalgamated into Henrietta's estate in January 1752. In order to progress Henrietta's claim in a complex property dispute, Henrietta assigned part of her estate at Marble Hill over to her brother, the Earl of Buckinghamshire, in July 1752. It has been suggested, therefore, that the plan in the Norfolk Record Office is a survey of the estate in 1752 before the land was transferred to the Earl of Buckinghamshire, perhaps to help with the upcoming legal dispute. As a detailed survey of the estate drawn to settle a legal dispute rather than as a proposal or projected idea, it shows exactly how the garden was laid out in around 1752. Ihe plan includes a key, which labels many of the garden features including a Green House, Grotto, Ice House and Ice House Seat, Flower Garden and Ninepin Alley. Some of the smaller features, which are easily overlooked, include individual seats and benches shown in precise detail.

Pope's involvement at Marble Hill is well documented, through his plan and the accounts. Jonathan Swift's poem about Marble Hill, written in 1727, also focuses on Pope as having the greatest influence on the design calling him the 'master' and 'contriver'. Evidence of Pope's work is also found in the garden accounts for the period where tasks are completed 'by the order of Mr Pope'. Much of Pope's inspiration for garden design was taken from the classical texts he was translating, and this, along with his painting principles, undoubtedly influenced the layout at Marble Hill. Although there is minimal surviving written evidence for Bridgeman's involvement, his influence should not be forgotten. Henrietta obviously felt she knew enough about his work to be confident to recommend him to her friend, the Duchess of Queensbury at Amesbury, and make the arrangements for his commission there. Probably the best indications of Bridgeman's influence are the changes between Pope's initial plan and the work that was actually carried out on site. It seems likely that Bridgeman took Pope's more theoretical ideas and turned them into a workable design and in doing so added his own experience and concepts. The Ninepin Alley, terraces and ha-ha are all notable changes from Pope's design that could perhaps be attributed to Bridgeman. The relationship and involvement of Pope and Bridgeman at Marble Hill places the garden at the epicentre of fashionable garden design in the 1720s.

In the summer of 2017, English Heritage were awarded a £4million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore the gardens of the Grade II* registered landscape at Marble Hill to their 18th-century design, as well as improve facilities for visitors today and provide new interpretation. The plans include opening up the currently inaccessible woodland areas near the house by reinstating the paths shown on the c.1752 survey, planting hundreds of trees to restore the avenues and groves on the lower terrace, and restoring the Ninepin Alley so visitors can enjoy bowling in the same way Henrietta did three hundred years ago.

Further information on Henrietta Howard's garden at Marble Hill from English Heritage

Engraving of Marble Hill House in 1749, showing the terraces, groves and avenues in the garden from across the River Thames. Until the 1750s survey came to light, this was the only known view of the grounds of Marble Hill House showing what it looked like in Henrietta Howard's day.
Source: Historic England Archive.

Detail from the survey of Marble Hill made in about 1752
© Norfolk Record Office MC184/10/1 (rights reserved)

Detail from the survey showing the key
Detail from the survey showing the key, which labels many of its features including the Flower Gaerden, Grotto and Ninepin Alley
© Norfolk Record Office MC184/10/1 (rights reserved)