Mrs P, one of a dazzling array of scholars at work on Luton Hoo, has asked particularly for further details about the career of William Ireland and the work he is likely to have carried out there.
Capability Brown made notable contributions to the landscaping at Lutton Hoo and Ireland was one of his two leading foremen, more a gardener than an engineer, and a man who had run several long-term contracts for Brown with sufficient success to be appointed as one of his executors. My feeling, and I have considered this with many good friends in the county, is that after Lapidge’s practice had effectively come to an end, William Ireland was picked up again by Henry Holland. Holland then introduced him to the Whitbreads at Southill who embarked on a very large-scale planting programme – Brown’s foreman at Southill in the 1770s had been George Bowstreed, whom one would imagine to have been particularly involved with the drainage of the land there, and the infilling of the ‘dog-bone’ canal.
The evidence for Southill comes from two sources. First a William Ireland did work there. He died aged 80 on 23rd April 1824, outliving two other Irelands: Hannah and Mary who died on the 2nd December 1806, and 23rd October 1807 respectively. Ireland’s name also occurs in the estate accounts, with payments from 1802, some in conjunction with a nurseryman called Wood, (probably James Wood of Huntingdon, some of whose account books survive at the Huntingdon Record Office). His employment for a further burst of landscaping after inclosure is likely.
The second source, connecting the Southill Ireland with Brown’s Ireland, is James Main’s review of Sir Henry Steuart’s The Planter’s Guide where he writes: `In the summer of 1795 I entered as gardener into the service of the late Thomas Hibbert, Esq., of Chalfont House, Buckinghamshire. At that time, there was groundwork going on at Bulstrode, then the seat of the late Duke of Portland, as well as at Chalfont House, under the directions of Mr. Ireland, then foreman for Mr. Lapidge, one of the successors to the business of the celebrated Brown.
I know not what was done by Mr. Ireland in transplanting large trees at Bulstrode; but at Chalfont House he removed some very large ones most successfully, particularly a white poplar, at least 60 ft. high, and 14 in. in diameter. This tree was planted to break the hedge-like appearance of a row of fine old oaks, which stand on the bank of a stream, a little below the arch over which the coach-road passes from Chalfont village to the house. The branches of this tree were partly cut in, when planted, but it succeeded admirably, and is now a stately tree, 90 ft. high.
About this time, I think, Mr. Lapidge gave up business, and the works at both places were discontinued. Mr. Ireland removed to the late Samuel Whitbread, Esq., or to Woburn Abbey, in Bedfordshire, I am uncertain which; one or two of his sons, I believe, are still at Woburn.’
This account seems to me to clinch the idea that Brown’s Ireland and the Southill Ireland were one and the same man and that he came up with Holland, working initially for Holland on the pleasure ground and making good around the new house, and after 1802 working for Samuel Whitbread II on the improvement of the estate under the direction of the landscape gardener Samuel Reynolds.
This continuity of work-force, foreman, and architect suggests that the Whitbreads may have been basing their campaign on Brown’s plan for Southill, drawn up in 1764, and this might explain a number of Brownian features that were incorporated in the early 19th century design.
The ferme ornee (typified by woodland belts and walks around paddocks, and probably undertaken as much to benefit shooting as to improve the look of the estate or the value of the farming) was extended and completed, with the incorporation of Marston Hill and Flannels Rearing – in addition there is some evidence in the field for a further planting along the east side of the drive from Portland Wood to the site of the old Steward’s House.
The lake was created and made permanent the intermittent effect of the water meadow.
The broad symmetries between house and landscape are also Brownian. The view north was panoramic, framed by the Yews below Ice-house Hill on one side, and those running down to the church on the other. Just as there is gradation in the composition, from evergreen to paler deciduous trees, so there was a gradation in height, with large timber trees, especially Cedar at the house itself, falling to Yews around the church and at the foot of the Ice-house Hill. Although Queen Anne’s and the White Summer-houses (the former in Old Warden) and the mount in the Menagerie must have figured, not every section or vignette of the panorama was punctuated by a building, but they still allowed the eye to take in the principal view north without feeling confined to it.
There are also Yews at each end of the ha-ha that overlooks the Cricket Field on the south side of the house. The Aviary or Pheasantry may have been the focal building (more or less on the site of Sandstone Lodge). Symmetrical with this view to the south-east was one to the south-west that ran towards a shade or barn in Sandhills. Both these views may additionally have been framed by evergreens: Cedars survive towards Sandhills, and there were further evergreens towards Sandstone Lodge.
One might also draw attention to the poplar (P. x canescens) growing beside the basin at Southill – a very Brownian tree, perhaps moved there by Ireland.
Finally, I must perforce draw attention to the fact that Ireland clearly preferred to work under the direction of another – whether Brown, Lapidge, Holland or Reynolds. He did not regard his long association with Brown as an education sufficient to enable him to continue the master’s work.