The Nanteos Walled Kitchen Garden.
The Georgian mansion of Nanteos is situated three miles south east of Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire, Mid Wales (OS: SN 620786). The estate was once quite substantial, with well over 30,000 acres, in the early eighteenth century. Nanteos was the seat of the Powells, an influential family who were members of Parliament and played an importantpart in the social and economic life of Cardiganshire.
Nanteos Mansion, Aberystwyth.
This paper evaluates the importance of the walled kitchen garden, using Nanteos Mansion as an example. The walled garden was an important element of the country house with economic and social implications. This study attempt to show the importance of the garden to the household and staff and as a status symbol to the Powell family.
The Powells were keen on the development of their estate and took great interest in agriculture and horticultural discoveries. Amongst their achievements was the construction of the walled garden and shrubbery. The immediate surround of the estate is landscaped and was well maintained during the eighteenth and ninetenth centuries. The household of the mansion was supplied with produce from the estate, the finer produce was grown in close proximity to the mansion, in the walled garden, located on the east side of the mansion.
OS Map of 1904
As can be seen from the above map, the surrounding Nanteos landscape is virtually unchanged and obvious alterations are minimal. The stable block was modernised, Woodlands Home Farm was established and, more importantly, for the purposes of this paper the walled garden was further developed. The kitchen garden is of the substantialsize of 2.185 acres. The earliest evidence of the garden dates from the late 1700s i. It was used and manipulated up until the 1940s. Sadly, however, it was badly neglected from the 1950s onwards, with overgrowth and dilapidation causing severe decay. Today, after much restoration in keeping with its historical origins, the mansion house of Nanteos is a grand hotel. The estate has dwindled down to 30 acres from its huge acreage in the eighteenth and nineenth centuries. The 30 acres include the lake, the woodland north of the mansion, the stables and three quarters of the walled garden.
The Powell family acquired Nanteos through the marriage in 1699 of Averina Le Brun of Nanteos to William Powell, son of Sir Thomas K.C. of Llechwedd Dyrus. Their eldest son Thomas built the mansion presently on site in 1738. The heads of the family throughout the centuries were involved in improving the management of the estate in one way or another. However, William Edward Powell (1788- 1854) who ran the estate for 45 years is the most well known for improving the estate.
Portrait of William Edward Powell (1837)
During the Stewardship of William Edward Powell, the Nanteos estate was at its best.The mansion was redeveloped and extended, a new stable block was built and other new developments were created within the estate. The garden and pleasure grounds were no exception. In the shrubbery, a rockery was made near the ornate gate entrance to the walled garden. Sadly, this has now been robbed. It once contained rocks and crystals, and was developed in conjunction with the rockery of William Edward Powell’s aunt’s Williama Corbetta Lewis at Llanerchaeron, during the 1820s, probably using the same specimens of rock (though the rockery at Lanerchaeron has been modified by the National Trust volunteers). At the Nanteos rockery there is a short colonnade (in situ) that has fallen to its side, which would probably have been a support for a statue of some sort. William Edward Powell was also responsible for the iron fencing that encloses the lawn and shrubbery, from the parkland in front of the mansion. The large trees that we see today in the shrubbery and surrounding landscape were probably planted by the direction of Powell. Ambitious plans were commissioned for the grounds at Nanteos (plans can be seen at the National Library of Wales). However, insufficient funding caused these plans never to be executed, and they stayed on the drawing board.
The once grand setting of the Nanteos walled garden, located east of the mansion, is difficult to visualise today, with its derelict buildings, weeds, brambles and long grass. For over two centuries this garden would have been a splendid sight with workers busying themselves with the chores of the day. The garden was a site of productivity and order was seen at all times. The condition of the garden would have been perfect, not a plant out of place and no weed to be seen. The wall, itself, was an important aspect of the garden.
‘The kitchen garden at all periods was surrounded by walls, fences, or hedges. These were useful in keeping out thieves - both animal and human. But an additional advantage was that they created a sheltered area with its own microclimate where vegetable and fruit could flourish’ii
The layout of the garden would have been symmetrical with vegetable plots in sections,with box edging surrounding each plot. These growing plots were called quarters. The gravel paths entwined around the vegetable quarters with fruit trees standing in a military order, along the pathways and walls.
The Nanteos walled garden was established on a natural slope which is vital for productive horticulture. A slope in the garden serves the advantage of retaining direct sun. ‘A south facing slope gives a boost to growth and ripening, it also helps to dispel frost’.iii The vinery at Nanteos is on the highest point of the slope, erected to face south to take full advantage of the sun. Lower down the slope in the same alignment as the vinery is a greenhouse with an underground boiler. There are many structures within the walled area; two green houses, a potting shed and a vinery with other utility sheds to the rear (one outbuilding could possibly be a hot house - this will be investigated). At Nanteos, the worksheds are unusually located in the central area of the walled garden. A cluster of buildings - the potting shed, greenhouse, coldframe and a near-by dipping pond are located just off centre. Most typical walled gardens locate their worksheds out of sight, either leaning on a far wall away from the main entrance oroutside of the garden, accessed by a door in the proximity.
The garden is oblong in shape; ‘the longer walls ran east west, giving plenty of southfacing wall space for fruit trees. But the other walls could be used to advantage for laterripening varieties, thus extending the season through which fresh cherries, apples, plums and pears could be eaten’.iv The walls measured an average of 2.50metres in height at Nanteos which was extremely important, as it kept the wind out and the warmth in of the garden.
‘The value and warmth of the walls could be lost if cold winds managed to get into the garden. Once inside and unable to drift away, the trapped wind could eddy around inside the walls and injure both fruit and vegetable’.v
By the 1850s the demand for very large fruit-gardens and very high walls was at its peak, as was the quest for more varieties of fruit to cover them, and for fruits which would extend the season by ripening early, ripening late, or keeping well, in order to supply the family with dessert and culinary fruit all the year round.vi
At Nanteos the four walls were sheltered and protected by woodland or high trees on all sides.
‘The walls themselves were rarely less than twelve feet high, and often seventeen. Where possible, they were faced on the inside with brick, a material retaining heat much better than stone. The coping at the wall head generally projected inwards for several inches to keep drips from the espaliered fruits below, and it is also common to find, just below the coping, the hooks for the attachment of matting or the light frames used to protect fruit buds from late frosts, and maturing fruits from early ones’.vii
The north and west wall at Nanteos have an inner red brick layer, which generates immense insulated heat. The red brick absorbs heat which is subsequently released overnight. The curved corner on the north west wall gave added strength to the construction and also maximised warmth.
Aged brick on the west wall
Bricks were expensive before the improvement in kiln technology. The bricks were manufactured near the village of Moriah on the Devil’s Bridge road, north of Nanteos. Rubble stone may also have been re-used from the stable block when the original stables were demolished in the early 1800s, but no faced stone is evident.
There are eight (possibly nine) entrances to the garden, with entrances located on all four sides of the wall, although four were blocked up a considerable time ago. The main entrance on the west wall nearest to the mansion has been enlarged for modern tractor access, so it is difficult to ascertain the original appearance. The entrance originally had yew trees (which were recently cut down) adorning the access area which suggests an ornate doorway into the garden. The yew trees, mentioned above, near the main entrance held a significant implement, that can tell us the importance of the garden. ‘The doorway into the garden was much smaller than it is now, it had a key which was kept in the tree opposite the door.’viii The key to the door was kept secretly in a hollow in a yew’s trunk, this means that the garden was kept locked, especially at night, to stop pilfering. Another deterrent against pilfering was to ‘smear the garden wall top with red ochre and grease, an indelible mixture, then observe passing trouser seats’.ix
The Garden door key
However, evidence of another quite large entrance is located 10 metres further down the wall. It is difficult to determine the reason why these two entrances were so close together, with the lower being blocked up. One suggestion that comes to mind is that it may have been in view from the front of the house since it would have been unacceptablefor the gentry to see a working area, from the grand frontage of a mansion, another entrance may been made further north of the wall, out of sight, with trees obscuring theentrance. There is speculation as to whether there was a second entrance on the north wall, near the ‘cottage’. Modern red brick work and a modern gate (post 1940s) hides any evidence of any older entrance. Looking at the layout of the gravel paths it is very probable that there was an entrance, as the gravel path runs down the walled garden from that area to a blocked entrance on the south wall. Where the gravel paths line up with thecrosspaths and run north to south, west to east, there is an entrance located at the end of most paths. In probability there would have been a further entrance, allowing access, across the back drive, to and from the orchard.
The box edging along the gravel paths was an important element to the garden. It was practical and not just decorative; beds and borders need to be contained and the box edging served that purpose. Also, the edging prevented soil washing away or falling on the path. Box edging gave the garden an appearance of uniformity, dividing the garden into sections which enhanced the gravelled paths. The edging was clipped at regular interval to a height of approximately seven inches (18 cm). The box edging has now all but disappeared, though sections of it were still in situ in the 1970s. Horses kept in the garden in the late 1980s and early 1990s destroyed what was left. Gravel was used more than any other material for making paths because water drained off it in wet weather. ‘The recommended way of making a garden path a hundred years ago was to lay a nine-inch (23cm) bed of broken granite and top it off with two inches (5cm) of coarse gravel and an inch (2.5cm) of fine gravel’.x Gravel was carted from Aberystwyth Beach at regular intervals by permission of the Town Clerk (see Appendix 1). Since the main drive from the Nanteos Lodge up to the front of the mansion was also gravelled a vast amount of gravel was transported from the beach as the drive is half a mile long. Water would rapidly drain through the gravel keeping the paths dry. Drains are located in various places along the paths. This helped in getting rid of the excess water. This shows a complex drainage system which would be connected to the dipping pond. (A survey of the drainage system has yet to be conducted).
The portion of land lying of the walled garden was also utilised:
...well-designed walled gardens were entirely surrounded by a broad, open area called “slips”. This was often planted up with an informal arrangement of currant bushes etc., The outer surfaces of the garden walls themselves were only rarely used for productive plants of any value, for pilfering was reckoned to make it pointless. They were left bare or given over to decorative climbers. The slips themselves were surrounded by dense plantations, with holly and other evergreensbeing preferred as they gave shelter from the wind throughout the year’.xi
Nails covering the south wall at Nanteos suggest that crops were grown in slips in the shrubbery area. Nails are also evident in the east wall, suggesting further slips. The north
wall is clear from nails as only small fruit bushes were grown and these, clearly, did not require support. The outer east wall area of the Nanteos walled garden was an extended part of the inner garden. Two entrances (one still in use today) led into this area from theinside of the walled garden. Photographs show the outer area once contained one large lean-to greenhouse, with three adjoining buildings to the rear which included a boiler house. Lilies and fern specimens were grown in the greenhouse. The buildings were demolished to make way for the modern bungalow which now stands on the site.
The shrubbery area south of the walled garden was a boxedged, gravelled path area. (Now it is a lawn area.) Large specimen trees still remain in the shrubbery. These include a Ginkgo, Tulip tree and Cedar of Lebanon (pheasants were bred in this area in the 1930s). The shrubbery was originally fenced off with an iron fence with a rose arched entrance. (The gate is discarded in the near-by field). A photograph, now lost, showed that this area was highly maintained with paths circling around the area. A rockery (now substantially looted), is located near to the ornate entrance of the walled garden. A glimpse of the garden from the shrubbery would entice the visitor out through the gate into the rose garden in the walled garden.
A portable summer house probably made by the carpenter during the Victorian period, was placed in and around the shrubbery and front lawn area. During the Edwardian era, it came into full use when lawn tennis became the vogue, and a tennis court was constructedon the front lawn. The summer house was a wooden construction with an iron base that could be rotated to face the sun. It had a double door entrance, three windows and a wooden seat was fixed around the interior walls. Sadly the much loved summer house was burnt as debris in 1996.
Nanteos summer house c. 1950
Pets played an important part in country living and hunting was a regular pastime and a huge part of gentry life. Some of the adored hounds were buried in the shrubbery, along with other pets such as: cats, birds and a pet otter. Many who were buried later (in the twenieth century) do not have memorial stones. Cherished horses were buried in another part of the estate. The Pets’ grave yard surrounds an old mulberry tree, and a holly tree, where there are many memorials to pets of the Nanteos household. These include (with their dates):
Traveller 1865, Grandeur 1929, Rags, Hermit, Old Curate, Roman, Vagrant, Gin, Pet of Pets, Mayfly, Prince, Bellman, Poor Jack the coon and Jenny his wife, Playmate, Penelope, Jack, Pilgrim, Nelson, Sponge, Restless, Rufus, Trim, My White Muff, Fan (stone missing), Freckles (stone missing) Mooney 1925 (wooden plaque with poem, missing), Lady (unmarked).
Traveller’s head stone of 1865 adapts part of the 'To be or not to be' speech from the Third Act of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:
A favourite retriever
That undiscovered Country from whose bourn
No traveller returns.’
According to Interviews with people who worked in the garden in the twentieth century, a well was located in this area. Further investigation is needed to find its exact location. There is evidence of small, rounded gravel stones to suggest gravel paths that once led to the well and gave the area a formal appearance. Recently fencing was found deep in the overgrown rhododendrons which suggests this section was enclosed. Research shows the fencing to be Ornamental Patent Game-Proof Hurdles (see Appendix 2). Which would have been installed into the garden boundary. Further evidence of this is found in a tiny photograph of Margaret Powell (c.1898), wife of Captain Edward Powell, leaning on a gate made of the same patent hurdles.
Margaret Powell c.1898
As the photograph of Margaret Powell shows, this area was kept as lawn in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The Ornamental game-proof hurdles could suggest a working garden in previous years. The only remains of this once working area are the discarded
game-proof hurdles in the overgrowth and an excellent specimen of a Monkey Puzzle Tree. Monkey Puzzle Trees came into during William Edward Powell’s generation. There were two specimens at Nanteos. One stands today in the outer garden area, east of the walled garden. The second grew within the walled garden near the Woodland Home Farm garden entrance. Sadly, it fell during a storm in the 1980s.
Ornate fencing tangled in the overgrowth
Many features surround the walled area and are an important element of the garden:-
NORTH: ‘Woodlands’ - Home Farm, orchard, driveway leading to the
Kennels and ‘Buildings’ - a larger Home Farm. This area was a hive of activity, because of the full working farms.
SOUTH: a garden shrubbery area enclosed with beech trees, other large tree specimens and an iron fence. It includes a pets’ grave yard, rockery (now destroyed) and is a landscaped area. The shrubbery was manicured and together with the rockery and the pets’ grave yard, this area included flower beds and specimen trees. It was used for pleasure walking by family and guests. I will discuss this area fully in a later chapter.
EAST: hot house, with lean-to outbuildings attached (now demolished), garden area and well. This garden area is the furthest from the house, was accessed from three areas: through to walled garden by means of a door, the back drive and from the shrubbery.
WEST: the mansion and the utility outbuildings, such as stables,
carpenter’s shed, saw mills (now demolished) and the court yard to the back of the mansion. The outer wall was well maintained at all times, as it was the approaching entrance of the family and guests.
On three sides of the outer wall there is strong evidence of structural manipulation. Photographic evidence shows that a greenhouse once stood on the outer side of the east wall garden. The area is now a modern dwelling development, as previously discussed.
East side: Outer wall greenhouse prior to demolition in the 1980s
On the south outer wall in the shrubbery there is evidence of an aviary or possibly an earlier greenhouse. Inside and outside of the actual walls, nails are strewn all over on most sides, this suggests usage for crops and shows that all space was used to maximise crop growth. The exterior of the north wall is where September fruits were grown. This had only a limited access to sun. The fruits, gooseberries, black current and red currants, were grown under risk from the temptation of casual picking by the passing workers, going to and fro on the north drive of the Woodlands Home Farm. The west side of the exterior wall was kept clear and orderly due to the fact that this area was frequented by the gentry and their guests. Enormous beech trees were grown along side the wall, to protect the garden from westerly winds. The gardeners made the most of all commodities available to them, ‘the beech tree leaves were collected for compost for the begonias’.xii A rhododendron bush hid the staff water closet on the outer north-west corner of the wall. The water closet on the outer south-west corner was known as the Captain’s toilet and only used by Captain Edward Powell.
The Walled Garden
The structures contained in the walled garden are very dilapidated and near to ruin. The potting shed is in a very sorry state of repair. Not one of the greenhouses is left standing. The vinery is in better condition but is worsening with the very recent collapse of the west gable end. The dipping pond is in fairly good condition. No produce is left from the once thriving garden save one pear tree and a couple of apple trees in a very sad state.
Peeling back the layers and researching into the past, it becomes clear that the garden was once a highly maintained area, immaculate in state. It can be said it was at its highest state of production during the Victorian period following the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London which was certainly a boost to gardening in Great Britain. The exhibition displayed manufactured industrial goods from all over the British Empire: ‘Over 13,000 exhibits were displayed and viewed by over 6,200,000 visitors to the exhibition.’xiii There is evidence at the National Library of Wales to suggest that James Yeates, the Head Gardener at Nanteos, did indeed visit London during the Great Exhibition in June of 1851, (the exhibition was opened on 1 May, by Queen Victoria) and Yeates claimed expenses from the estate, no doubt bringing back new innovations for the garden.
Legends seem to have been an important part of estate life. One fabricated by Margaret Powell, was that the grape vine in the vinery was not to be removed or cut down, or Nanteos would fall. Nanteos’ fate was on the brink, when ‘Digby the Improver (a young gardener employed by Newman in the garden) cut back the vines 12 inches from the root when he should have cut just 12 inches from the top. Luckily Mrs. Powell never found out, and Nanteos still stands’.xiv
A stone construction with a tiled roof, capped with terracotta slabs. With an open frontage, it is difficult to ascertain, whether there would have been a wooden facade, but there is evidence of brick footings at north end. The building measures 10.85 metres in length, 2.63 metres in width, and 2.77 metres in height. The potting shed was ‘once the workplace of the humblest member of the garden staff, the crock boy. The crock boy’s job was to collect and deliver pots to every department in the garden when needed and keep them stored in neat rows of size order. He had to wash out pots and line the bottoms of the pots ready to be used with ‘crocks’, bits of broken flowerpots’.xv Coal was kept behind the potting shed on the west wall has been confirmed by a test pit.
A red bricked construction 15 metres in length, 2.63 metres in width, the north wall is 0.70 metres in height and the south wall is 0.42 metres in height. It contains five compartments within. The wooden glazed frame has long disappeared. The cold frame was an important element of the garden, it protected young seedlings and plants taken
from cuttings. In winter, it would protect over-wintered vegetables bringing them earlier and greatly improving the quality.
The greenhouse near to the potting shed, is quite dilapidated, with no evidence of the greenhouse frame. Measurements of the greenhouse and boiler room area are: 9.30 metres in width. The unknown location of a well within the greenhouse, made it dangerous to complete the full survey. The boiler house is located east of the greenhouse.
The largest structure in the garden, the stone wall measuring 18.90 metres in length, and the frame measuring 13.43 metres in length. It has seven steps leading up to the vinery door. Within the vinery there are 12 weights enclosed into wooden slots for opening and closing the glazed frames. A flue for the boiler is also located on the wall. A well is located in the centre of the floor which measures 0.85 metres x 1.20 metres with a terracotta pipe overflow. On the south exterior of the vinery, on the brick base there are 11 rooting arches, each measuring 0.80 metres. The rooting system of the vines would
have been planted outside and the foliage would have been trained through the arches into the vinery. To the rear of the vinery are five lean-to buildings. Rear sheds could include boiler houses and fuel bunkers, work rooms, storage places, mushroom houses, seed rooms, bothies, packing rooms and mess rooms. A northerly aspect was ideal for storerooms needing to be kept dark and cool. Four of the sheds are of stone construction, and a boiler house east of the vinery is wooden with a tin roof. The central building to the rear of the vinery has flues and an archway within the walls which suggest a hot house, in which pineapples or melons were grown.
Second greenhouse below the vinery
This greenhouse is derelict with only a red brick wall standing. This greenhouse measures 13.85 metres in length, 5.00 metres in width, the entrance is 2.10 metres in length and 2.85 metres in width with destroyed steps. There is evidence on the wall to suggest that a replacement greenhouse frame was installed. The fittings in situ are modern in comparison to other older evidence within the walled garden. Records show that a company - W. Parham, Bath fitted a new greenhouse in 1908 for £114. The boiler house is situated underground on the north side of the construction, measuring 1.09 metres in width and 5.00 metres in length. Evidence shows many developments to this greenhouse, a coal boiler is in situ, however there is a large blocked up archway within the wall alongside the boiler. This area requires further investigation.
Throughout my 30 year association with Nanteos, there has always been water in the dipping pond. The drainage system of the garden as yet to be investigated, however, it is clear that water comes from the upper pond at Nanteos (located near the north drive). The water comes down through the water closets in the north west and south west corners of the walled garden. Recently there has been considerable subsidence west of the outer walled of the garden and, on investigating, one can see the flow of water has been channelled by a manmade stone wall underground. This may suggest additional channelling into the wall garden. The drains along the gravel paths also have stone built channels. All this evidence suggests a well planned layout. However, as mentioned, this area needs further investigation.
Office / Cottage
The structure, located in the north east corner, has been dismantled and is in the process of being rebuilt. It is a stone building with two windows, tiled roof and chimney. There were two stucco rooms with one fireplace and wall cupboard in the largest room. A small hallway divided it into two rooms. There was also access to the attic. There is much speculation as to what use this structure was put. It was, I believe, either a store shed or the office/gardener’s cottage. A store shed would be used for storage of fruit and vegetable over the winter months, but it is somewhat distant from the house for accessibility. It is more likely to have been a cottage. Head gardeners lived in very close proximity to the garden, whether in a house built onto the outer wall with a window looking into the walled area, or a small cottage within the walls. The location of the cottage in the Nanteos walled garden is at the top of the garden, where most of the garden could be seen, as the cottage is on the highest point of the garden. Further evidence to suggest that it was once a dwelling, can be found in the Census of 1871, which states that James Laurie occupied the Gardener’s Cottage. He was 24 years old, from Keith, Perthshire, and worked as an Estate Agent. Laurie had one servant living with him, Mary Ann Jones from Shropshire, aged 26. It is debatable whether this building is a cottage, but there is no other dwelling in the vicinity that could possibly have been the Gardener’s Cottage.
Having someone living in the walled garden was an important element in the protection of the produce grown in the garden. Some dwellings would be built onto the exterior of the garden wall, as is the case at Llanerchaeron, so that the overseers could keep a look out for any problems transpiring. Some produce would need regular (continuous) maintenance at certain times of the year, so boilers would require constant attendance for re-fuelling. In some cases a dwelling in the garden would stand to reason, especially if unusual exotic fruits were being grown, for example, pineapples. The head gardener would be on hand if the journey man were to have any problems during the night. The gardener would be close to the outer greenhouse to keep an eye on the boiler throughout the night and not too far away from the vinery. At certain times of the year, a continuous supervision of some hothouses was vital to ensure a constant heat to the growing fruit. A gardener living in the garden would be ideally placed. On balance, therefore, the practical arguments and other local examples strongly suggest that the structure was indeed a gardener’s cottage.
Work in the garden
Keeping the garden in full production, sowing, weeding, harvesting and all the other regular garden duties, was a full time occupation for the labourers. The garden was kept very tidy at all times. With regular visits from the head of the Powell family, nothing could be neglected. Boot scrapers were located in and around the garden so that no mud was carried underfoot into certain areas of the garden. Neatness was a priority. The gravel paths that sweep around the walled garden at Nanteos were kept weedless. This, of course, involved high maintenance. The task was a continuous and repetitive
occupation, which must have been hard labour as it involved constant kneeling. This work was mostly done by women, some apparently employed on a seasonal basis, working on the land at various times of the year, as their names come and go from the Nanteos Labourers’ Journal. Other tasks included muck spreading, stone picking and oak peeling. Women were not considered proper labourers but they were accepted on a casual basis. It was seen as a considerable saving to the wage bill as they were paid less than men:
‘Although garden work is labour-intensive, wages were low, andwhen extra hands were needed at certain times of the year for job such as weeding and the picking of bush fruit, women were employed - often wives of the estate workers’.xvi
Generation of labourers also worked at Nanteos, for example, Ann Jones (mentioned below) collected wages of £1 for her grandfather who also worked at the garden at Nanteos on 30 April 1826. There are records in the National Library of Wales which clearly show that garden staff were employed as far back as the 1770s. Moreover, there is no doubt that there were earlier workers but written records have not survived. Garden staff lived locally, within close proximity of the mansion and most were probably tenants of the estate. The Nanteos Papers at the National Library of Wales, can give us a glimpse in to the working system of the garden. Below is a selection of work carried out:
1821. 31 July, Evan Morgan was paid £1:11:4, for 47 days weeding at Nanteos Garden, 1st of May - 31st of July.
1823. 29 May, John Davies gardener paid for carrying to the vault, the late Mrs. Powell.
1825. 8 August, Ann Jones paid for 44 days weeding at the Nanteos Garden, work done in Summer 1823.
1826. 11 March, Thomas Morris, John Walters and Richard Samuel
gravelled the ground at Nanteos.
1834. 22 July, wall maintenance William Rice: Mason. Garden wall
1861. Margaret Evans muck spreading and gardener.
paid £1 for the month of July.
1862. John Evans gardener paid £0:13:0 for killing 26 wasps nets at 6d each.
1874. 31 July, purchasing of young oaks from Pwllheli.
1899. Suttons and Sons, Reading paid £1:0:0. for seeds.xvii
This clearly shows a variety of work, but notice the most monotonous work was given to the women!
To a certain extent, there was a hierarchy amongst the staff at country houses and Nanteos was no exception. This may have caused many problems, an extreme example of which was the quite bizarre ‘Garden Rake Murder’ committed at Nanteos in 1782. William Griffiths, the groom, was set upon by Rice Walter, a gardener, because of Griffiths calling Walter “man”. This seems a trivial name calling matter, but Walter found it offensive, so much so that he attacked his fellow work man with catastrophic consequences. If Walter was a head gardener this could explain his harsh treatment of Griffiths. Head gardeners saw themselves as important figures on the estate, if not the most important. ‘His standing was probably on a par with the status of the highest house servant, the butler, and in some ways it went beyond that. Gardening, with its attendant emphasis on science and taming nature, was considered a gentlemanly pursuit; good head gardeners were keenly sought and an employer often regarded his head gardener as a respected equal’.xviii This may be the reason that Walter behaved in such a manner, Walter thought himself better than Griffiths the groom and was greatly offended by being called a
‘man’. This supposition is strengthened by the lenient sentence of one year in prison which Walter received. Not that unusual for manslaugher at that time. The verdict of manslaughter rather than murder indicates the lack of ‘malice afterthought’.
Rice Waler of Llanbadarn Fawr, male, gardener.
Ref: the murder of William Griffiths of Nanteos, groom, by striking him with thegarden rake at Nanteos, following an affray over the decreased’s use use of the word ‘man’ alluding to the accused.
The prisoner was described as a very sober, obient servant of quiet temper. The surgeon applied a trepan as the bone was not only fractured but split and dived and gone into the brain.
12th October 1782
Prosecutor: Edward Hughes, Aberllolwyn, Llanychaern, Esq.
Sentence: Guilty of manslaughter 1 year imprisonment. xix
The inquest into this callous incident was held on the 29th October 1782, where 25 witnesses signed an oath. John Jones, the Coroner, stated that Rice Walter was ‘not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil’. He added that the garden rake was to the value of 2 shillings. The 25 witnesses were labourers of the estate.
By the Victorian age, with the murder long forgotten, the garden was at its height of productivity and innovation. The garden workers at Nanteos during the 1862-1863 were quite substantial in number and the garden was at its finest. The garden staff of 1862-1863
were:- John Evans (head gardener), David Jenkins, Edward Pritchard, Lavey Williams,
Jane Jones, Ann Evans, Margaret Evans, Elizabeth Jones, Maurice Jones (Mason),
William Jones and John Woodbock.xx John Evans, the head gardener, kept the workers in order. This was the period preceding the inventory of 1865 - 1873 (see Appendix 3). Produce grew in abundance, the house and the workers received sufficient harvest, and what was left was sold, every sale accounted for by the head gardener, in his littlenotebook (see Appendix 4). Manure came from the adjacent Woodlands Home Farm and, of course, the stable block. It was wheelbarrowed into the garden at regular intervals. Horse and cow manure are high in phosphate, and urine was also a vital commodity for the garden as it contained nitrogen and potash.
‘Horse-dung brought in from the stable yard was good for cold, stiff soil because it was ‘hot’. The heat was attributable to the rich diet of artificial food a horse eats and the fact it drinks less water than a cow. Cow dung was as important as horse dung. It was regarded as “cool”, due to the cows’ more natural diet of grass and water. Pig dung was favoured for growing pineapples, but the most valuable dung of all was sheep-dung. This contains more nitrogen and phosphates than the other two’.xxi
Pigs were kept at the Buildings Home Farm, and were let loose in the ‘Building covert’ of oak wood to feed on the acorns. The sheep were an important part of the estate and legend has it that a Black Mountain Sheep should always be included in the flock. It is said that the black sheep of local farmer Humphrey Owen are kept at Nanteos today and that they are descended from the very same Powell strain of sheep.
A mangled Richards’ Patent fumigator found in the garden, shows that insecticide was being used. Most insecticides were highly poisonous and could even kill humans. The concoction of this killer effusion consisted of sulphur and tobacco powder or cyanide.
‘None are now considered safe for gardeners to work with unless they wear masks and protective clothing. However, a set of instructionswritten in 1922 on activating cyanide as a greenhouse fumigant says the job is best done on a still evening, so that the fumigation can take place overnight. The gardener (advisedly an ‘experienced and reliable person’), having previously sealed all windows, doors, ventilators, cracks and crevices, should take care to lock the door of the house and hang a card on it forbidding entry’.xxii
New innovations and garden development may have been a cause of the reduction in garden staff. By July 1907 the garden work force at Nanteos was down to 4 gardeners. There were just 16 workers in total on the Nanteos estate. This shows a decrease in labour from what we can see from the huge volumes of Nanteos labouring accounts of the Victorian era (which can be seen in the National Library of Wales). This was all symptomatic of a shrinking estate and decreasing labour force. By the 1920s the working force were labourers of all work, or handymen and their jobs would include potato picking, household chores or gardening. These handymen were local people living in Moriah and Capel Seion, two small villages in close proximity to the north of Nanteos, orfrom Penparcau, a village suburb of Aberystwyth.
1927 Potato Harvest at Nanteos
Back row Johnny Evans, Mary Davies, Dick Jenkins
Front Row Mrs Johnny Evans, Vernie Rowantree,
Dick Hughes (Moriah), Tom Jenkins and William Davies (Boy).
Mr and Mrs David (Johnny) Evans came from Moriah, Johnny was a handyman. MaryDavies was a dairy maid and lived in the apartment above the stables at Nanteos. She was the mother of Billy Powell Davies (‘Boy’ in the photograph) and Maggie Williams who also worked on the estate. Maggie was to become the last maid to work at Nanteos, finishing in 1956. Mary Davies was nicknamed ‘OIT’ (oi ti) the Welsh rendition of ‘HeyYou!’ as she used to call everybody. Tom Jenkins was a handyman and groom and Dick Jenkins was a handyman. Both lived in Penparcau. Dick Hughes lived in Moriah. He ‘died in hospital after an accident in the woods’xxiii, during tree felling in the woods. Vernie Rowantree (1895-1971) was the carpenter and chauffeur at Nanteos where love blossomed for him. The Burmans, who rented out Nanteos every summer in the 1930s, brought along their entourage of servants. One of the them was a young house maid called Lizzie. Vernie and Lizzie fell in love and were married. They lived at Nanteos, then later moved to Penparcau, Aberystwyth. The people in the above photograph had many fond memories of working at Nanteos, Nanteos was their livelihood. I was fortunate to conduct several interviews with various people that lived and (or) worked on the estate, during the 1930s. These people include Maggie Williams who worked and lived on the estate from 1923-1956 and Reg Newman who ran the garden as his business from 1936-1956, and other people interviewed had memories of being at Nanteos at one time or other. With all the evidence gathered, it was possible to construct a plan (not to scale) of the garden as they remembered it. Some, especially Reg Newman, could remember the old varieties of apple and pear trees that grew in the garden, just to name a few: Russet, Cox’s Orange Pippin apple, Bath apple, Worcester Pearain, Siberian crab apple. Conducting the interviews has given a clear idea how the garden looked in its heyday and of life on a busy country estate. Looking at the garden today, not many of the features can be seen so that the interviews that took place have been an important element in the reconstruction of the garden.
A reconstruction plan of the walled garden at Nanteos consturcted from various interviews (not to scale) © Janet Joel 2018
The garden was used as a social tool by the Powells. Like other landed gentry they delighted in showing off their immaculate walled garden and pleasure grounds, displaying their newly acquired innovations:
‘The growing popularity of gardening has been ascribed to the opportunities which it offered for social emulation: fashions in gardens changed almost as often as in clothes or architecture and provided another means of classifying the wealth taste and aspirations of friends and rivals’.xxiv
‘As with clothes, carriages, horses, houses and food, the prosperous owner was much concerned with displaying his wealth in the kitchen garden. Whatever its degree of architectural show, its size alone was always an indication of the size and status of the household it served’.xxv
Evidence of a visit to the Great Exhibition of 1851 is indicative of the importance of the garden at Nanteos. New inventions improved the look of the garden and pleasure gardens, for example a mowing machine (mentioned in the Nanteos inventory 1865-1873), would have given a neater appearance to the lawn, rather than having the lawn cut with scythes or sheep grazing. At Nanteos two entrances to the walled garden would have been used by the family and their guests. One was the ornate gate entrance in the shrubbery on the south wall, and the other was the main entrance on the west wall, nearest to the house. As they entered the garden they would have seen the Captain’s garden, an impressive rose garden and the fountain of the dipping pond trickling in the far distance. The remainder of the garden would have been accessed through a rose arbour:
‘The pleasure of walking in a kitchen garden were due as much to its necessary neatness and order as to the knowledge that the place was mainly intended to supply food’.xxvi
The gentry took great care that only the grandest part of the garden, displaying only the finest specimens, was visited. The gentry wanted to surpass their neighbours and friends, with the latest fashionable flowers and exotic fruit and vegetables for the table. The structures within the walled garden, a hot house and vinery, are fine examples of the status symbols with which the Powells contrived to show their wealth. No doubt the show on their dinner table was part of their objective in impressing their friends or neighbours.The vinery was located in the walled garden in a prominent place on top of the south facing slope and visitors entering the west entrance or the shrubbery would have their eyes attracted to the new fashionable accessory: the glistening glaze of the vinery above the fruit trees. Powell also added other decorative devices to his walled garden, such as bee hives, a statue of Cupid, ornamental flower stands and three iron seats placed in and around the garden area.
The decline of the walled garden
Walled gardens, today, are a rare phenomenon. Some have survived in private hands but most are entrusted to a society of some sort, such as The National Trust or CADW. But ‘most lie forgotten and in ruins. Of the few that are maintained in anything like their original state, most of the produce has to be given away or sold. Modern households no longer need the immense abundance that the walled garden can produce’.xxvii But not all wall gardens are in ruins today. Many have endured the passing of time, especially in the larger estates that have the original families in residence, for example, Chatsworth and Blenheim Palace. They are, of course, on a much grander scale, than the smaller estates of Wales. On a local scale, there are a number of walled gardens in excellent order, though be it after considerable reconstruction. The most well known gardens on a local level are: Llanerchaeron, Aberaeron; Pigeonsford, Llangranog; Aberglasney, Carmarthenshire. Llanerchaeron is by far the best example of a garden in a condition of its former glory. Nicky Evans, the head archaeologist of the National Trust property, has used archaeological evidence to reconstruct the garden. Being a National Trust site, funding has made this operation possible. Having visitors to the site helps the fruit and vegetable produced to be sold, bringing in small income to the project. Nanteos suffered a fate of immense neglect. From the 1890s onwards the estate began a slow but steady decline. With not enough funds to cover the running of the estate, a series of auctions and sales took place at regular intervals. Because it was not managed, the colourful flowering rhododendron that grew delicately in the periphery of the mansion house of Nanteos began to take hold, eventually swallowing up the landscaped setting. Bridle paths in the woodland area became shut off by the extensive overgrowth. Trees and shrubs shaded the north end of the house so much so that dampness penetrated the house. Husbandry became non-existent and the garden suffered the same neglect. The country was going through dramatic changes, economic, social and horticultural. ‘With the success of modern marketing, the availability of cheap fruit and vegetables imported from all over the world, and the soaring cost of labour’xxviii local production began to decline. With the coming of the railway to Aberystwyth in 1868, people began to expand their horizons and were moving away from the area to work. An inflow of new businesses, establishing themselves in Aberystwyth, and creating jobs, took people away from the country estates and moved them into the town and further afield.
The Great War of 1914-1918 was the main cause of the decline of the walled gardens throughout Britain: ‘After the First World War, political, social and economic changes affected all classes of ociety. The walled gardens became weedier little by little, the espalier trees less well pruned, and broken panes of glass in the vine house were not replaced’.xxix A high percentage of the great estates lost a vital son and heir. The Nanteos Estate itself suffered an immense blow, when William Edward George Pyrse Wynne Powell was killed on the battlefield in Buvignies, France, on 9 November 1918. He was 19 years old and the only issue of Captain Edward and Margaret Powell. This was a devastating blow not only to the family but also to the Nanteos Estate. With only a small number of servants working at the house, the grounds could not be appropriately maintained. The surrounding woodland and gardens were not receiving the work required for their upkeep. In the 1920s, after the death of their beloved only son, the Powells left the garden virtually to overgrow with only a small section maintained for essential supplies to the house. The once decorative Captain’s rose garden became a small kennelled area for Edward Powell’s breeding of Jack Russell Terriers.
Margaret Powell and the terriers
The death of Edward Powell in 1930 did not alter the conditions of the gardens and surrounding area. However, in 1936 came a glimmer of hope. A cousin of Margaret Powell, a Miss Jones-Barry of Aberporth, Cardiganshire, knew of a young man in Newcastle Emlyn in Carmarthenshire wanting to rent a garden. In October of that year, Mr. Reg Newman took over the walled garden, ‘renting the garden for a few shillings a year, but Mrs. Powell was very kind and did not bother collecting the money (many tenants took advantage of this).’xxx Newman re-built the garden to its former glory. Once the garden was up and running, Mrs. Powell had what produce she required, which was ‘not a lot as it was just for herself and the occasional bunch of flowers and peaches.’xxxi The remaining produce was the property of Reg Newman, ‘most of the crops from the garden were sold to the CO-OP in Aberystwyth, and with the help of the greenhouses he managed to have peaches, figs and pears in time for Christmas.’xxxii Newman’s market garden enterprise brought a certain amount of life back into the surrounding estate. This was much to the delight of Margaret Powell, who was anxious about the conditions of her dwindling estate.
During the Second World War, the Land Army Girls came to stay and work at Nanteos. With the shortage of food in the area the front parkland of the mansion came into use. The front fields were ploughed where onion, cabbage and potatoes were grown. The produce was used by the house and tenants and also sold in Aberystwyth, at the tower clock, in Great Dark Gate Street. The girls came from Rhydlewis and Bow Street, Cardiganshire. They played an important part in the Second World War, as most men were called up for war. Labour-intensive work still needed to be carried out and Nanteos was no exception. This valuable and economic aspect of the estate, which Reg Newman had re-established and which saved the walled garden from inevitable dilapidation, came to an abrupt end after the death of Margaret Powell in 1951. Reg Newman left Nanteos in 1956 when the new owners, Major and Mrs Mirylees, began keeping pigs in the walled garden. The incompatibility of pigs and vegetables obviously disheartened Newman and his gardening could not continue. The pigs’ destruction and pillaging ruined any surviving foliage left in the garden. The garden was never to see a well maintained area within its walls again,
Land Army Girls with Margaret Powell in the centre
during the Second World War
Throughout the centuries the Nanteos garden has seen many developments, from constructions of a vinery and greenhouses, all the new inventions of the Victorian period, to the breeding of dogs in the Edwardian period! Sadly, from the mid twenieth century it has all been a downhill process. The walled garden was so full of life for over two centuries: an energy of people and plants, creating a hive of activity. In the 1865 inventory there were 2,000 flower pots, all washed and cleaned. Today there is a clutter of broken flower pots thrown into a corner of the vinery, used as target practice by boys with stones, all covered in moss with not a whole one to be had.
Not quite the 2,000 Flower pots!
Surveying the walled garden has been a sad undertaking, the ghostly skeletons of the greenhouse which were once full of colour all seem black and white in their emptiness. A few old apple trees still stand in place beside the wall, not looking very active. The potting shed is just a shell and the greenhouses are all derelict, without a whole pane of glass in sight. The walled garden at Nanteos is in a bad state of repair at the end of the twenieth century. Part of the south wall collapsed in 1996 and in October 2000, part of the east wall collapsed during a gale (see Appendix 5). Many approaches were made to various organisations which might be able to fund repairs to the wall but none showed interest. It began to appear that the garden was doomed. But in 2012 came a glimmer of hope with walls being repaired and new cap stone laid. Massive plans are ongoing with renovating the mansion into a five star hotel and outbuildings being repaired and renovating, is that there is a prospect of a very bright future for the house and the garden.
Janet Joel Aberystwyth
Appendix 1: NLW, Nanteos MS L3616
From Daphne Ledward, Victorian Garden Catalogue (London: Studio
Appendix 3: NLW, Nanteos Inventory 1865 - 1873
Appendix 4: NLW, Nanteos MS A19 Gardener’s Account Book (John
Appendix 5: The Cambrin News, 2 November 2000
First and foremost, I would like to thank the owner Mr and Mrs Shane Lipscombe, the management and staff of Nanteos Mansion Hotel, for allowing my regular visits and inquisitions, without which I would have been unable to conduct vital research. I would also like to thank: Tony Bliss, Sir Charles Burman, Jennifer Davies, Matthew Edwards, Lauren J Evans, Liz and Giles Evans, Nicky Evans, Gary Hesp, Tim Gwyn-Jones Linda Hood and George Muir, Howell and Doreen Joel, Wendy Joel, Chris Morgan, Jenny (Duggins) Morgan, Fred Stedman-Jones, Judith Russil and Muriel Williams.
The late Maggie Williams, the late Captain Hext-Lewes, the late Reg Newman, Thanks are also due to National Library of Wales, Ceredigion Archives (Public Records office), Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, Aberystwyth. And finally my family and ancestors, who were closely connected with Nanteos throughout the centuries.
i National Library of Wales, Nanteos papers A3Work done at Nanteos: Jenkin Joel,
Labourer. Taking down garden wall, in 1786 Wages: March £1.16.51 July £10.10.8
October £7.4.5 November £4.18.41
ii C. Anne Wilson, The Country House Kitchen Garden 1600 - 1950 (Stroud 1998), p.5.
iii Susan Cambell, Walled Kitchen Gardens (London,1996), p.28.
iv Wilson, Country Kitchen Garden, p.5.
v Jennifer Davies, The Victorian Kitchen Garden (London1987), p.36.
vi Campbell, Walled Kitchen Garden, p.66
vii David C. Stuart, The Kitchen Garden (Channel Islands, 1987), p. 30.
viii Maggie Williams interview 1st June 1990
ix Davies, Victorian Kitchen Garden, p. 105.
x Davies, Victorian Kitchen Garden, p.37.
xi Stuart, The Kitchen Garden, p.31.
xii Mr. Reg Newman Interview 1991
xiv Mr. Reg Newman Interview 1991
xv Davies, Victorian Kitchen Garden, p.41.
xvi Wilson, Country House Kitchen Garden, p.6.
xvii National Library of Wales, Nanteos Papers, Box No.23.
xviii Davies, Victorian Kitchen Garden, p.27.
xix National Library of Wales, Great Session Records File 4/902/3 Document 18
xx National Library of Wales, Nanteos A27.
xxi Davies, Victorian Kitchen Garden, p.49.
xxii Campbell, Walled Kitchen Garden p.212.
xxiii Ceredigion Archives, Florrie Hamer Scrap book (undated).
xxiv Joyce Ellis, ‘Georgian Town Gardens’, History Today (2000), 38-45.
xxv Stuart, Kitchen Garden, p. 27.
xxvi Campbell, Walled Kitchen Garden, p.89.
xxvii Stuart, Kitchen Garden, p. 33.
xxviiiCampbell, Walled Kitchen Garden, p.3.
xxix Stuart, Kitchen Garden, p.33).
xxx Mr. Reg Newman interview 1991
xxxi Mr. Reg Newman interview 1991
xxxii Mr. Reg Newman interview 1991
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