Stunning examples of Victorian garden architecture returned to their former glory

  • Target House and intriguing Eyecatcher feature restored
  • Victorian rose garden in bloom 

A unique Swiss-style Target House and historic folly in the gardens of Brodsworth Hall in Yorkshire have been restored to their former glory after a year-long conservation effort. The two Grade II listed examples of Victorian garden architecture as well as an historic rose garden have been carefully restored and are now open for the public to enjoy.

With its Swiss-style overhanging roof and Venetian window, the Target House, originally built in 1866 as the Archery House, was a place of rest and relaxation for the Thellusson family (whose ancestor Peter Thellusson had purchased the estate in 1791), to shelter in the heat of the day and enjoy refreshments during archery practice. Archery on the Target Range would have been a social occasion, with the family inviting their friends to visit for an afternoon tournament. However, its purpose changed during the Second World War when the hall was requisitioned by the Army and soldiers would use the long range nearby for target practice, hence the change in name. English Heritage has taken steps to secure the future of this notable building and vital repairs include replacing missing or rotten timber posts, replacing roof slates, repointing the stonework and re-plastering the interior where visitors will be able to step inside and find out more in the brand new exhibition.

Also conserved was the Victorian Eyecatcher, a folly built in the same year probably using stone from the demolished old Brodsworth Hall. A deliberately ruinous garden feature, it is designed to draw the eye along the long expanse of grass across from the Target House nearby. Built on an artificial mound set into the quarry face, the Eyecatcher is a façade with a central blind doorway between two blind windows. It too has received a new lease of life with repointed masonry and Brodsworth’s garden team have carefully re-instated its original surrounding planting with 1000 British native ferns, greatly adding to the important collection of rare ferns on site.

Alongside this important conversation work, Brodsworth’s rose garden has also been restored to its original Victorian design, with over 200 roses including heritage, shrub, ramblers and climbing varieties which would have been familiar to the Thellusson family in the 19th century.

Eleanor Matthews, English Heritage’s Curator at Brodsworth Hall, said: “It’s been brilliant to be able to see the Target House come to life after the careful conservation work to secure its future. Archery was one of the few sports in which Victorian women were allowed to compete and the family would have spent a lot of time there to socialise so it’s great to share these stories with visitors in the new exhibition. The Target House was in many ways a house in its own right and records of furnishings in the 1880s include a table and two armchairs, a cast iron fender and set of fire irons, a chimney glass (mirror), and a carpet. It certainly puts many modern garden sheds to shame! I’m delighted that the Target House will now be open for everyone to enjoy.”

Dan Hale, English Heritage’s Head Gardener at Brodsworth Hall, said: “We’ve put a lot of time into investigative work looking at historical records and making sure that we follow the original bedding plans for the Target Range and the rose garden. We were very lucky in that we were able to look to historic photographs which revealed the historic planting schemes, enabling us to recreate the garden with accuracy. With 1000 British native ferns planted around the Eyecatcher and roses which would have been popular during the Victorian period in bloom, walking through the range is now like looking through a little window into the past.”

Follies (structures built in gardens for aesthetic pleasure) grew in popularity in the 18th century where they were an important feature of the English garden, usually taking the form of Roman temples or ruined Gothic abbeys. As well as these, many English Heritage properties have examples of unique and interesting garden structures as well as spaces the house’s owners would have used to entertain, including:

  • The Swiss Cottage on the estate of Osborne, Queen Victoria’s home on the Isle of Wight, which was built by Prince Albert between 1853 and 1854 for the couple’s nine young children.
  • The gardens in Wrest Park in Bedfordshire play host to the Archer Pavilion built by Thomas Archer between 1709-11 which acted as a pleasure house that was both a focus and a viewing point for the gardens.
  • One of Charles Darwin’s favourite spots in the gardens at Down House in Kent was his greenhouse. Along with his hothouse, these outdoor spaces provided the perfect specialised growing environment needed to rear exotic plant specimens to use in his experimentation.
  • How many historic stately homes come with their own ruined castle? Belsay Hall in Northumberland is one of few which can boast such a unique feature. Built as a refuge at a time of Anglo-Scottish warfare, the medieval castle was the home of the Middleton family who lived on the site almost continuously since the 13th century. When the new Hall was built, the medieval castle became unoccupied and is now a picturesque feature to be explored in the gardens.
  • The impressive Temple of Concord in the grounds of Audley End in Essex is a late 18th century garden temple and eyecatcher. Designed as a ruined Corinthian temple, it was built for Sir John Griffin Griffin in 1790-1791 to celebrate King George III's first recovery from insanity.
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