Last week we visited part of the grounds of Stoneleigh Abbey, and now we continue our tour with a glimpse into the walled kitchen garden.
The gates to the garden are in need of some restoration and when I visited the walls, suffering from damp, were also were being repaired.
The ever practical Mrs Austen, writing to her daughter-in-law Mary, was very impressed by the kitchen garden and the vast amount of soft fruit it produced:
I do not fail to spend some time every day in the kitchen garden where the quantities of small fruits exceed anything you can form an idea of.
She was, understandably,a little distressed by the waste:
This large family with the assistance of a great many blackbirds and thrushes cannot prevent its rotting on the trees.
The kitchen gardens are now the private gardens of the owners of the many homes in the Abbey.
There are over five acres of walled gardens,
The garden contains 5 acres and a half.
all subdivided by walls to provide ample micro-climates and space for the growing of fruits; pear,apple and soft fruits would have been trained along the walls, and also grown in hot houses.
Her you can see how the land sweeps suddenly away from the walled garden and slopes down towards the Avon. This photograph was taken from the first gate to the walled kitchen garden
As was the case with many of these very grand estates, they were virtually self sufficient in food, and while the kitchen garden provided green stuffs , vegetables and fruit, there were stew ponds, for fish , venison from the deer in the park, dovecotes,etc. Mrs Austen simply marvelled at it all:
The ponds supply excellent fish, the park excellent venison; there is also great plenty of pigeons, rabbits, & all sort of poultry, a delightful dairy where is made butter, good Warwickshire cheese & cream ditto. One man servant is called the baker, he does nothing but brew & bake. The quantity of casks in the strong beer cellar is beyond imagination: Those in the small beer cellar bear no proportion, tho’ by the bye the small beer may be called ale without a misnomer.
And that ends Mrs Austen’s impressions of the Abbey grounds.
But there are other things to see, if we retrace our steps back to the gatehouse. The Conservatory, above and below, was a 19th century addition to the house, looking over the Avon, and which can now be hired for receptions or weddings.
It is surrounded with slightly municipal style gardens which are also later additions to the grounds and were not there when the Austen ladies visited.
Walking back towards the gatehouse you can clearly see the startling junction of the West Front of the house with the old Abbey buildings.
Humphrey Repton embellished them with the pointed finials and balls made from the local sandstone.
If you compare it to this engraving of the Gatehouse dating from 1817, you can clearly see that very little has changed from the time Jane Austen visited….I should imagine it appealed to her sense of history, and her liking for ancient buildings…
I think Stoneleigh had an enormous effect on her as a writer, introducing her to the grandeur and the practical intimacies of the workings of a very great estate. Far grander than Godmersham, for example.
This is the other side of the gatehouse, the one you see as you approach the Abbey….
To complete our tour we shall visit the Stables which were not built at the time of Jane Austen’s visit.
The Stables and Riding school were built between 1815 and 1819 and were designed by the Birmingham architect,Charles Samuel Smith.
They are built in a semi circular horseshoe pattern, which was influenced by the design of the kennels at Belvoir Castle,which were and are used to house the hounds of the Belvoir Hunt.
No horses are kept here now…..but at the time they were built they were at the cutting edge of stable design.
With individual loose boxes, a covered riding school and space for housing carriages.
This is an old photograph of the very grand Leigh carriage which would have done service from Stoneleigh.
I do hope you have enjoyed it.