Tea with Ted Fawcett

Ted Fawcett is one of the doyens of Garden History and a founder member of the LPGT. With his 90th birthday approaching, MARY WORRALL of London Landscapes visited Ted to talk to him about his life and work.

Ted Fawcett at Osterley House
Ted Fawcett at Osterley House

Ted Fawcett In Brief

Uppingham School
Royal Navy, Shell, Lucas, National Trust, Architectural Association
For service to the National Trust
Home & Interests:
Married to Jane Fawcett, former Secretary of the Victorian Society, dowser and poet
Favourite flowers:
Roses and Lilies

Chiswick House Gardens
Chiswick House Gardens - Ted Fawcett's favourite public park

Mary Worrall Writes for LL

Welcome to Mary Worrall, our new Contributing Editor. Mary will be writing regularly for London Landscapes.

Mary is based in West London. Her first degree was in Environmental Biology at Aberystwyth and she is working for a doctorate on issues related to personal, professional and management development in the public parks and green spaces sector, from the perspectives of people who work in the field.

Mary has an impressive list of professional achievements. She has chaired the London Parks and Green Spaces Forum and is UK commissioner for the International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration. She has worked for BTCV, English Heritage, The Woodland Trust and Hillingdon Council. She is a Green Flag and Green Heritage judge and has a passion for community involvement, the importance of green spaces and learning and development.

Shortly before Ted Fawcett OBE and his wife, Jane, were due to celebrate their 90th Birthdays with tea at Chiswick House Gardens, Ted told London Landscapes how he came to be involved in the study and promotion of garden history and conservation.

How did you first become involved?

I started at the National Trust in 1969 as its first Director of Public Relations and at that time the Head Gardener at the Trust was Graham Stuart Thomas. He was the great rose expert and a founder member of the Garden History Society.

The study of garden history is a comparatively recent development. The GHS was founded in 1965; before then garden history was not generally recognised. I was one of the early members of the GHS and became a member of the National Trust's gardens panel from 1970. I had a strong interest in learning about the history and development of gardens.

Getting to know garden history was fascinating. Three fundamental books started it off:

Graham Stuart Thomas thought I was perhaps more efficient than many of the people who had joined the GHS and that I might be useful in its administration. I was made its chairman in 1973, knowing few people but enough about administration to ensure that we had notes and agendas. We pushed ourselves along with Graham's help.

How did you become a Trustee of the London Parks and Gardens Trust?

As a Londoner, I was particularly keen to look after London's parks and gardens and I was a founder member of the London Parks and Gardens Trust. Many of the Trustees had been students on the Architectural Association course I ran; so from the start I was working with people whom I knew and who knew me.

The first chairman of the LPGT was Pamela Paterson, a splendid lady. We always had wine at her meetings and that made them rather jolly. She was a person of considerable drive and ability and she set the whole thing whizzing along.

LPGT has documented all the London parks, a marvellous achievement. We have now got to persuade the London borough councils that these parks are not just public open spaces. They can be beautiful parks if they are well maintained. There can be gardens within the park, you need to look after your water, not leave it dried up and full of plastic bags, there need to be places for children to play and there needs to be control over dogs. People should be able to come there to sit, to walk and to recuperate. There is a need for proper management. I think that is the real challenge facing LPGT.

What led to you establishing the Conservation of Historic Parks and Gardens course at the Architectural Association?

Alvin Boyarsky was running a course on the conservation of historic buildings, which Jane, my wife, had attended and then had been co-opted to help run. Mrs Boyarsky said to him, "Why don't you have a course on gardens". He said "If you say so" and asked Jane if she knew anyone who knew about gardens. She said she had a husband who was in it. He was brave to ask me because I had never taught anybody anything in my life.

We had around 120 applications for 20 places, so we could pick and choose and so we had very highly qualified students. Quite a few of them were doctors and all of them probably knew more about the subject than I did. I was determined to have the very best lecturers. I knew a number of people in the field and we got together a team which astounded even those very sophisticated students. I think that everybody who came on that course, which I ran for 16 years, enjoyed it. That was due firstly to having good lecturers and also to the amount of discussion we had.

What do you see as being the most challenging issues for the conservation of historic parks and gardens today?

English Heritage is being starved of money, and people are now on their hands and knees for grants. That's the real problem that most people are facing, the lack of money for maintenance, upkeep and improvement. It is serious because good maintenance can be expensive. At one time the National Trust thought it impossible to use volunteers in gardens; but now they could not run the gardens without them. It is open to all municipal authorities to use volunteers but I think they are frightened of having to organise them.

People like getting together and volunteer groups are friendly. If they are well run, they are successful. I think this must be one of the main tasks in front of London Parks and Gardens, to start imaginative maintenance using volunteers. Another good thing would be to encourage councils to take an interest in the history of their own gardens and parks, making the information available to the public.

However, in one way, the recession has not been a major problem for parks and gardens because more people are holidaying at home and visiting gardens. Unlike historic houses, a garden is different every time you go, always providing you with something new and interesting. That is why the National Trust is now finding that their gardens are their most important possessions.

Are there any tips you would like to share with people who are thinking of getting more involved in garden history and conservation?

Join a conservation society the London Parks and Gardens Trust or the Garden History Society and work with them. You need to educate yourself of course, you must read into your subject and you must visit gardens. Visit them with an analytical eye, try and see what they looked like and find the traces of the earlier gardens.

Do you have a favourite public park or garden that people can visit this winter?

It has to be Chiswick House Gardens. I have been associated with Chiswick for thirty years and I was the first chairman of its Friends group. It is one of the great historic gardens. We are incredibly lucky to have it in West London. It is under visited, largely because of the lack of public transport.

Just before the cut in grants, we got a good grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and we have spent around £12 million on the restoration of the gardens, they look beautiful. It is an immense satisfaction to be able to walk around and for all of it to look right. The fundamental things to get right were the trees and the paths. The paths were nearly all asphalt - no decent country house has asphalt paths. We now can see the garden as it was at the time of Lord Burlington and it is a huge satisfaction.

Fiona Crumley, the Head Gardener, runs the volunteering opportunities at Chiswick and the people who volunteer love it. In her hands lies the future. It is invariably the maintenance of parks and gardens which is crucial.