‘I have now written all I propose (see note 1819) by way of introduction, the notes that follow are assembled from red books and memoranda written by Humphry Repton between 1799 and 1804. They sort the principal elements of the Norris landscape into those that are in his style and those that are not, and there is no better way than this speculative inquiry to bring to the forefront of our minds a portrait of Repton in the middle of his career, while he lived under the constant and critical scrutiny of the picturesque movement and its adherents.’
The Bathing House
‘To begin, as you English like to say, with the bath, or Bathing House, in the top corner of the estate, close to East Cowes. This was described in 1830 as
“a Bath House, for Hot and Cold Sea Bathing… … At the Western Extremity of the Estate, contiguous to the Beach, A Castellated Square Tower, with a Porch, leading to a Sitting Room; Bath Room, with Plunging Bath, for Hot and Cold Sea Bathing, Kitchen; Pump, drawing Sea Water; and Coal Hole; Stairs to the Water’s Edge, with landing from whence there are Beautiful views of Cowes &c.”
Cold Baths had gone out of fashion, but the Bathing House, and sea-bathing in particular, had much to commend itself to the physician of the late 18th century. Here is Repton with a very similar design only a couple of years later:
“If no other advantage were to be taken of the Mersey than the view from the house, it would have been better to have placed it nearer to the water. But such a river is not to be seen only at a distance, it ought to be viewed from its very banks, it ought to furnish part of the Comfort and the pleasures of the place. With this idea … I have supposed an ornamental building which will contain a small cottage for the keeper, a handsome prospect room over it and the convenience of hot and cold baths, which by pipes may be supplied either with fresh or salt water. The general effect of this building is shown in sketch No. VIII. I have endeavoured to make it as small as may be consistent with its uses, and belonging to the house, I have given it some appearance of symmetry. Part of the Wood and Dell adjoining to this spot should be inclosed by a light fence, to keep out the cattle, and this may form a very interesting and romantic pleasure ground near the Prospect Room which from its situation will I trust become one of the most favourite appendages to Hooton Park.”
Repton’s account of the Bathing House at Hooton is so much in sympathy with what we know of the Bathing House at Norris Castle, that it is the single best piece of evidence for his involvement, beyond the sketch in Peacock’s Repository.
It is also thoroughly Reptonian that it should have been a castellar structure, since it was built on, or close to, what was then reckoned to be the site of the Old East Cowes Castle. Here is Repton again, faced with a similar challenge at Mulgrave Castle in 1792, a few years earlier:
“an ash in the bottom … at present hides the promontory on which once stood a Castle, … which is unfortunately now disgraced by a keepers house, built with the fragments of that castle, and covered with a roof of gaudy scarlet tiles. As all the materials of this once proud Castle are lying near the spot, it would be very easy to collect the scattered stones which formed the buttresses, the battlements, and the machiolations, and to rebuild at least one tower, leaving it as a fragment of ancient Baronial importance, this is all that I should deem advisable in the restoration of Old Mulgrave Castle, for if the whole building could be recovered, it would cease to be subordinate to the present mansion, and of course destroy that unity of composition which good taste requires in Landscape Gardening.”‘
Oofy here: Editorial: Repton was too pleased with himself and thoroughly deserved the good Herefordshire, bag my croissant, smacking he got in 1794.
As for the Norris Bathing House. Have you seen it? It’s a ruin. Point is. You wouldn’t catch me there in m’ bathers. That’s for sure.
Gloss from the Type-Setter: the Editor may here have in his mind that diary entry of Jane Austen’s niece, Fanny, who took a holiday in Worthing with the family on 17th September 1805 and – war notwithstanding – ‘went with G.Mamma in the morning to buy fish on the beach and afterwards with Mamma and Miss Sharpe to Bathe where I had a most delicious dip.’ The Bathing-House would appear to have been unnecessary to one young in spirit.
The Landing House
‘The Landing House stood at the east end of the sea-wall in the corner of the estate. It was also castellated and is now survived only by a couple of sketches. Landing-houses were often discussed by Repton and were essential for any estate with a sailing interest, but for that reason they cannot be said to distinguish his work from anyone else’s.
“The distance of the lake from the house will make it necessary to have a cottage near the water to protect the boats and the fishing tackle… The front towards the water consists of a boathouse, over which is a handsome room, with a small one adjoining, that may be used either as a withdrawing-room for the ladies, or as a vestibule to the large room; the view from the large room commands the whole of the lake with ye hanging wood beyond it, and from the lesser room a pleasing scene may be introduced amongst the trees and brush wood … there is also a staircase descending to the boathouse, with a convenient space under the landing to contain masts, sails, rigging fishing tackle, and such other things as cannot be kept in the boathouse which is under water.”
“In this wood, after it has acquired some growth, I shall advise a recess or wet dock to be scooped out as the proper situation for the Boathouse with its accompaniments for Masts, yards, netts, Fishing tackle and perhaps a room or cottage for the person who has the care of them. Without meaning to describe the exact kind of building that should be adapted to this purpose which Mr. Wilkins will hereafter show more in detail, I have inserted a hint of the effect to be produced by an irregular map of buildings, blended with the masts of vessels and altogether forming that busy scene which the shores of a large Lake seem always to invite. Indeed, such is the natural association betwixt an expanse of water and the uses to which man’s ingenuity generally converts it, that without such circumstances of inhabitancy as boats and buildings furnish to the mind, a Lake is apt to look like a dreary flood and perhaps instead of being a beautiful object, it becomes the reverse in proportion to its extent but although no building at present enriches the banks of the water at Thoresby, I must acknowledge I have never seen any artificial water so cheerfully and so richly covered with vessels of various kinds and uses. Yet as these cannot remain during the whole year, the shores will desire other circumstances of enrichment from overhanging woods and apparent inhabitancy.”
“a landing must be had near the house for fisher men & vessels to bring coals, & c,”
“I have proposed a small dock to contain pleasure boats for sailing and fishing; and … there ought to be a Keeper’s Lodge near this spot,”’ [Notes from the Professor, trans. the Type-Setter]
Oofy here: Editorial: Strange fellow the Type-Setter. Looks as though he spent too long under a stone. Hair’s all falling out and his stomach hangs out over his trousers which are usually done up with string so his fly is never quite zipped. Funny meeting him. Can’t talk normally. Can’t talk at all in fact. Me, I can talk. I can talk about anything. Take Gigi, my horse. I can talk about her for hours. It’s French you know. Not the horse. The name. Anyway. Mustn’t hang about in the office all day chatting. Places to go. People to see. You know. Chaps.
 HOOTON in Cheshire – A Seat of Sir Thomas Stanley Bart., 1802
 MULGRAVE in Yorkshire A Seat of The Right honble Lord Mulgrave, 1793
 Higham Hill, 1794
 Thoresby 1796
 Plas Newydd in the isle of Anglesey North Wales A Seat of The Rt. Honble the Earl of Uxbridge, 1799.
 HOOTON in Cheshire – A Seat of Sir Thomas Stanley Bart., 1802.