The Rose Garden at Lacock Abbey

7th May 1832
Monday
My Dear Henry
The Urn is up in my garden! Oh! how pretty! Persian lilacs in blow! Horse chesnuts coming in flower!

Long ago, if the day was dragging, we’d engage in conversation over afternoon tea, a nonsense exchange featuring National Trust places with all the wrong facts (yes I know.. we are far older, more sensible and open plan now). It ended with the words.. “of course that’s where photography was invented”. According to the rules that was never Lacock.

Last October, Sue showed me the Rose Garden. It is a 12.5m diameter circular iron trellis work punctuated by four arched entrances to north, south, east and west, and in between – four curving rose beds. To the north is an alcove seat set in a wall under a gothic arch. When sitting here you can see through the north arch of the Rose Garden and appreciate the classic stone Urn on its pedestal.. which forms its centre piece.

The Rose Garden looking east in October.

The Rose Garden looking east in October.

That was Lady Elizabeth’s alcove Sue said and this is her Rose Garden. Lady Elizabeth Fox-Strangeways was the mother of William Henry Fox Talbot (the inventor of photography). The garden was becoming tired. Sue needed to repair the trellis work and replace the soil in the rose beds.

I looked at the metal edging on concrete and she said: “This Rose Garden was only put up in 1992, the old one, so I’ve been told was taken down in the 1960s but they kept the trellis and stored it in a barn. I don’t think it’s in the right place though. We keep tripping up over bits of metal when we cut the grass.”

We agreed to meet again when the turf was up and the trellis down and that was last Tuesday.

The early 19th century was a massive time of discovery. Researchers did not limit themselves to particular subjects.. they grazed across the broad sweep of science and art. They were often clever wealthy land owners with money and time on their hands and sharp inquiring minds. NT SW has Andrew Crosse at Fyne Court (West Somerset) who engaged in electrical experiments. The locals thought he was acting as God and bringing things to life through harnessing lightning via wires draped in trees around his mansion. Mary Shelley heard him lecture in London.
William Bankes travelled in Egypt brought back the Philae obelisk to Kingston Lacy (Dorset) and helped decipher the hieroglyphs.

In 1832, W.Henry Fox Talbot married his wife Constance and took her to Lake Como in Italy. His frustration at not being able to draw the beauty of the scene led him to experiment and find a way to capture an image. The first photos anywhere. Science to enable art.

I returned to the Rose Garden last week. The metal spikes sticking out of the ground were clear. Sue, Reg and the garden volunteers cleared off the topsoil and they found that each fixing was set in lead within a chunk of dressed stone. The stones were all different shapes and sizes and were probably reused pieces of Henry’s home.. medieval Lacock Abbey.

Sue was right though, it was in the wrong place.. in 1992 it had been built 5m west of its old location. The view from the alcove should not be blocked by the Rose Garden.

There were six stones to each of the four entrances and two intermediary stones to carry the trellis between them. The outer ring was to carry swags of trailing roses. The inner stones carried the arched trellises for each of the entrances. The view to the west between the stone settings framed the spire of Lacock’s medieval St Cyriac’s church.

The view east towards the church through the 1832 east Rose Garden entrance. The site of the old urn pedestal lies in the centre of the photo in front of the 1992 urn.

The view east towards the church through the 1832 east Rose Garden entrance. The site of the old urn pedestal lies in the centre of the photo in front of the 1992 urn.

We measured to the centre and dug down. There was the plinth for Lady Elizabeth’s Urn. Her son Henry (he preferred his second name) took a picture of it for her in ..1840. Sue had relocated the scene of one of the earliest photographs anywhere.

W.H. Fox Talbot's photograph of the Rose Garden taken in June 1840. One of a group of photographs he sent to the Italian botanist Antoino Bertoloni. He wrote back to say that this was the image he liked the best.

W.H. Fox Talbot’s photograph of the Rose Garden taken in June 1840. One of a group of photographs he sent to the Italian botanist Antoino Bertoloni. He wrote back to say that this was the image he liked the best.

Reg brought the garden ladder and I photographed it again.

The Rose Garden from the garden ladder. The turf cut from the 1992 garden but the stones from the 1830s garden and central pedestal 5m left of it.

The Rose Garden from the garden ladder. The turf cut from the 1992 garden but the stones from the 1830s garden and central pedestal 5m left of it.

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