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Book Review by Valerie Joynt – ‘Ichnographia Rustica: Stephen Switzer and the Designed Landscape’ by William Alvis Brogden

Ichnographia Rustica: Stephen Switzer and the Designed Landscape by William Alvis Brogden

Image: google.com


Published by Routledge, March 2016

In 1973 Bill Brogden presented his doctoral thesis on a then virtually unknown garden writer of the early-eighteenth century – Stephen Switzer. Surprisingly little published research has been done in the intervening years; it has been a long wait for this work to appear. Dr. Brogden has revisited the subject with renewed vigour and depth, illustrating the book with his own line drawings of many of the sites where Switzer worked.
Stephen Switzer was born in Hampshire in 1682, in East Stratton near Winchester where his father was a carpenter (not farmer). Stratton House was then occupied by Rachael, Lady Russell the widow of Lord William Russell (who in 1683 was executed for his part in the Rye House Plot). In 1698, following the death of his father, Stephen Switzer was apprenticed to the Brompton Park Nursery (usually known as ‘London & Wise’) and his long career in horticulture began. Initially he worked with George London, Henry Wise and John Vanbrugh in the creation of important gardens at Blenheim, Heythrop, Kensington Gardens and Castle Howard but there is now more evidence that from about 1712 he was the designer or main influence on a wider range of gardens: Whetham, Wiltshire; Leeswood, Flintshire; Grimsthorpe, Lincolnshire and Marston, Somerset.
In 1715 Switzer’s first book appeared: The Nobleman, Gentleman and Gardener’s Recreation: Or An Introduction to Gardening, Planting, Agriculture, and the other Business and Pleasures of a Country Life which became the first of three volumes which in 1718 were published as Ichnographia Rustica…(the full title runs to four lines). Switzer outlined his vision for ‘a Forest or Rural Garden’ landscape which combined ‘Nature with Usefulness’. The Practical Fruit Gardener 1724 was followed by The Practical Kitchen Gardener 1727 and Switzer later wrote extensively about waterworks in An Introduction to a general System of Hydrostaticks and Hydraulicks, Philosophical and Practical… 1729.
Dr. Brogden analyses Switzer’s career, philosophy and writings in great depth. Every landscape with which Switzer was involved or associated is considered, but herein lies the difficulty in reading this book: the writing is dense, the illustrations are not always alongside the relevant section and it becomes more of a reference text than a Good Read. There are several lapses in editing: for instance Switzer’s quotation from Ozell’s translation of Boileau ‘Give me the Shades, the Forests and the Glades’ is lacking a ‘which’ in line two and a typing error in the last line renders ‘Vintagers’ as ‘Vinatgers’. The names of the gardens are listed in the contents, arranged by chapter headings but there is no indication of the strength of attribution of any particular garden to Stephen Switzer.
All the illustrations are monochrome, many taken from Colen Campbell’s Vitruvius Britannicus or are Kip and Knyff’s views. There are very few modern illustrations of the sites. Nonetheless, this is a book which at last raises the status of Stephen Switzer; it fills a yawning gap in academic research and it has been well received by garden historians.

V Joynt
March 2018

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