‘If the location of Norris Castle was not chosen by Humphry Repton, then we should not abjure the evidence for settings that he provided for other buildings in the late 18th century.’

Garden foreground

Oofy here: Editorial: A chap can have his hands full. Sailing on the Solent. Missed Norris m’self when I was out that way. Anyway. It’s a whopper. A scrubby patch of grass with trees and shrubs all over in front. Point is. That’s what the Prof is on about.

Forest lawn shrubberies on the north front at Norris Castle

Forest lawn shrubberies on the north front at Norris Castle

‘– at the front of the castle, between it and the Solent, was a forest lawn of the kind that Repton described at Luscombe Castle, where he was working with John Nash in 1799:

“this interesting picture only requires to be framed by an adequate foreground of highly dressed Lawn & Pleasure Garden, on which trees & shrubs may be planted, to vary the surface, while they accompany, & partially conceal the distance, making of its several parts one perfect whole: the dressed foreground gradually dying into the Lawn fed by cattle & sheep, from which the Scene will derive all the charms of life & animation. As there must be many days when the Sea will not be visible from the house, it becomes essential so to dispose the foreground, that in a cloudy day it may form a beautifully appropriate scene within itself, & in fine weather may so accompany the distant sea as to display it under the most beautiful circumstances, this will produce cheerfulness, intricacy, & all those advantages which a beautifully framed picture possesses over an unbroken Stare.”[1]

“For this reason I must particularly advise at Hooton the mode of planting which I have indeed generally adapted as the most picturesque viz. instead of surrounding each plantation by a fence of thorns which makes a hard and formal outline, the whole should be mixed thorns, holleys, bayberries, junipers, crabs and other such spinious plants as spring up spontaneously in forests, and by growing up at the same time with the trees after a few years the outside fence may be taken away, and thus the masses scattered on the Lawn will resemble the irregular thickets in a forest, rather than the formal clumps and dots in a new made Place.”[2]

The plethora of single trees recommended by Repton at Hooton is shown around Norris Castle on several engravings.

Between Norris Castle and the forest lawn there are a couple of grass terraces, separated by steep slopes (glacis) apparently always grassed and never developed for flower borders. This however is not Reptonian – by the end of the 18th century Repton was coming strongly to support the idea of formal terraces to separate the great house from the parkland:

“Indeed in the rage for destroying all that was artificial in the Ancient stile of Gardening, I have frequently regretted the abolition of those majestic terraces which marked the precise line betwixt Nature and Art, and which by separating the Garden from the Park, protected the ladies of the mansion from the beasts of the field; but now every Palace is supposed to stand in a sheep pasture and a bald and naked lawn is brought close to the house that the ladies may admire the cattle, and that the cattle may admire themselves in the plate glass windows.”[3]

“The same effect in the East front may in some measure be produced by the terrace wall, which I suppose to form the separation between the Lawn fed by cattle, and the ground near the house.

There is no part of Modern Gardening which appears to me so defective as the practice of setting a large house on a naked grass field and with much difficulty and opposition, I have at length in many places succeeded in abolishing a fashion both inelegant and inconvenient.

The slope or glacis toward the East at Hooton will admit of a wall about three feet high on which an iron fence of three feet will make an actual fence of six feet high, against the cattle, while from the house only three feet of the fence will be visible. The inside of this inclosure may be dressed with flowering shrubs, and the iron supports of the balcony may have creeping plants trained about them, producing an effect very difficult to represent in any drawing, but particularly in one on so small a scale as that to which the size of this volume confines my sketches.”[4]

Repton would have insisted on some barrier between the house and the grazed lawn, as he did at Ashridge. The lack of one at Norris, despite the existence of these terraces, is surprising and is not consistent with his work of the late 18th century. Nonetheless, as we have seen, the forest lawn running down to the sea is Reptonian, and the forest is of all others the setting most appropriate for a castle.‘ [Notes from the Professor, trans. the Type-Setter]

[1] Luscombe 1799

[2] HOOTON in Cheshire – A Seat of Sir Thomas Stanley Bart., 1802.

[3] Sheffield Place in Sussex – a seat the Rt. Honble. Lord Sheffield, 1801

[4] HOOTON in Cheshire – A Seat of Sir Thomas Stanley Bart., 1802.