I recently visited the beautiful gardens at Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire, and there, to my surprise, I found a strange and unexpected little connection to my local area of west London…
Hidcote is a now a National Trust property, and its famous gardens are probably some of the most unusual and inspiring green spaces in the entire country. Created by the Anglophile American Lawrence Johnston in the early decades of the 20th century, the gardens are designed in the Arts and Crafts style and take the form of interlocking outdoor ‘rooms’, planted with a pleasing combination of the familiar and the exotic.
These magical gardens surround a beautiful 17th century manor house, built from that distinctively mellow golden honey-coloured Cotswold stone which glows gently in the late summer sunshine. Add to that views over the spectacular Vale of Evesham, and you get one of the loveliest places I think I have ever visited.
And I’m not alone in that opinion. The writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West, who went on to create her own famous gardens at Sissinghurst in Kent, was quite clearly blown away by her visit to Hidcote:
“This place is a jungle of beauty. I cannot hope to describe it in words, for indeed it is an impossible thing to reproduce the shape, colour, depth and design of such a garden through the poor medium of prose”
She was right – so I won’t even try any further!
However, there was one particular garden ‘room’ at Hidcote that really caught my eye, and this is why…
Kew Bridge!? What on earth is that doing in Gloucestershire, about 100 miles from its original home in London? You can imagine my surprise on finding this sundial.
Regular readers will know that Kew Bridge is close to where I live in west London – and it was also the site of the remarkable eco-village project that I regularly covered on Another Kind Of Mind until it was evicted in May 2010.
The connection of Hidcote with the Arts and Crafts movement (which basically sought a return to traditional craftsmanship and a love of nature) makes it an apt home for a stone associated with an area in which a project like the eco-village also sought a return to the land and to traditional skills – for me, there is a pleasing symmetry in that.
The date of 1789 on the sundial stone itself shows that it does not come from this current incarnation of Kew Bridge, which is actually the third on the site – that bridge wasn’t officially opened to traffic until 1903 – but from the second bridge, which opened in 1789 as a toll bridge, and it is possible that the stone was part of a balustrade on that bridge.
But that is about all I know. How did a stone from Kew Bridge get to Hidcote in the first place, and why was it turned into a sundial? I wish I could tell you – I’d love to know myself.
If anyone does have the answer to this small mystery, please get in touch!
Hat-tip to Danny over at the Another Kind Of Mind Facebook page, who left me an interesting comment that may just have solved part of this mystery. He suggests that the sundial stone may possibly have ended up in Gloucestershire after being sold as part of a job lot of reclaimed masonry, left over when the second Kew Bridge was demolished during the building of the third.
This seems like a logical explanation to me, but I also welcome any other suggestions you may have! And I’m still curious as to how the stone landed up at Hidcote, and why it was turned into a sundial. Any ideas?