Book Review

Humphry Repton at Herriard Park ‘Improving the Premises’

by Sally Miller with Sheila Carey-Thomas, Dee Clift & Eleanor Waterhouse

Published by Hampshire Gardens Trust 2019, 96 pages,  £12.00
Reviewed by Steven Desmond

Humphry Repton was the leading garden designer in Britain in the years either side of 1800. His recent bicentenary launched a flurry of projects seeking to broaden and deepen our understanding of this pleasant and capable man who achieved fame, but not fortune, in his own time, and who remains a big name to the modern garden historian.

This new book is the result of some first-class research by Hampshire Gardens Trust volunteers into Repton’s work at Herriard Park, the seat, then and now, of the Jervoise family, located in the richly varied country between Basingstoke and Alton. The memorably-named George Purefoy Jervoise inherited the estate in his early twenties from an uncle, and promptly embarked on a determined attempt to spend his entire fortune in one big push. He nearly succeeded.

The story of the estate is exhaustively recorded in the family papers now kept in the Hampshire Record Office. These show that when George Jervoise came into his inheritance the house looked over a spectacular formal garden designed by George London around 1700. The surviving plan, reproduced here, looks like the Chatsworth of the south.

To George Jervoise, however, it was old hat, and he called in Mr Repton to lay out a handsome new kitchen garden framed in elegant shrubbery walks. Repton obliged with a design illustrated in one of his famous Red Books, which, frustratingly, seems to be the one key document missing from this wonderful archive.

Repton’s design was fully implemented for once, but Jervoise kept the great man at arm’s length, carrying out the project using his own workforce and never allowing Repton to visit the finished garden. The whole process mirrors in miniature Humphry Repton’s career, full of glittering promise but usually running into the sand.

The research here is admirable, and throws important new light on the North Warnborough nurseryman John Armstrong, who was contracted to supply all the plants for this major undertaking. It was Armstrong, rather than Repton, who hit the jackpot on this occasion.

This book shows the extent to which garden-making was a key indicator of the arrival of a new man on the social stage, and allows us to see in remarkable detail how the project unfolded. Once again we are reminded of the great work done by the County Gardens Trusts.