Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places - Homes & Gardens 

Historic England

From the terraced house to country estates, from domestic gardens to public parks, our homes and gardens hold a wealth of history that help tell the story of England. Drawn from a remarkable collection of colour images at the Historic England Archive, this exhibit showcases some English gardens photographed in the early 20th century using the pioneering Autochrome Lumière process.  

Autochrome Lumière
Autochrome Lumière was the first commercially successful colour photographic process. It was patented by Auguste and Louis Lumière in 1903 and made available to the public in 1907. The Lumières are more well-known for their pioneering cinematic filmmaking. However they regarded this as a novelty and were more concerned with the family photographic plate business.   From the 1890s the brothers experimented with colour photography but it wasn’t until they developed the Autochrome process that colour photography eventually took off. Although it was relatively expensive, Autochrome Lumière plates were easy to use and remained the principal colour photography process until the 1930s.
Potato starch technology
The Lumière’s amazing invention used a screen of minute grains of potato starch dyed red-orange, green and blue-violet layered over a sensitised glass plate. When exposed, only red, green and blue light reached the plate. When it was developed a black-and-white negative was produced. When developed again, a black-and-white positive image was fixed behind the colour screen. When the plate was viewed held up to light, or with light projected through it, the combination of the positive black-and-white image and the colour screen resulted in a full colour image. 
Autochromes at the Historic England Archive
Around 200 images derived by the Autochrome Lumière process are held by the Historic England Archive. The images reproduced here are from a collection of Autochromes of English gardens that were probably taken between 1910 and 1930 by an unknown photographer or photographers. Blooming flowers, vegetables and other plants with their vibrant colours set in tranquil country house gardens offered perfect subjects for this pioneering photographic process. 
Abbotswood, Gloucestershire
The origins of the parkland upon which Abbotswood lies date back to the 13th century. From 1659 until 1844 the manor was owned by the Atkyns family. Part of the estate was later sold to Alfred Sartoris who built Abbotswood house, which in 1901 was purchased by Mark Fenwick, a keen gardener. Fenwick engaged Edwin Lutyens to remodel the house and some of the gardens, the results of which have been recorded in these Autochrome photographs. 

Abbotswood, Gloucestershire

Abbotswood's main, formal garden extends southwards from the house. Divided into two, the upper half includes the Flower Court with symmetrically arranged flower beds and a central sundial carried by three sculptural figures.

Westonbirt House, Gloucestershire
The manor of Westonbirt dates to the Middle Ages. Robert Stayner Holford succeeded to the estate in 1839. A collector of books and paintings, Holford was also interested in planting and gardening. He extended the gardens and replaced the house, one of the most expensive built during the 19th century. It remained in the family until 1927 when it was sold to the Martyrs' Memorial and Church of England Trust, who established a school there the following year. The magnificent arboretum, which had been established to the north-west of the house in 1829, passed to the Forestry Commission in 1956 in lieu of death duties. It is now known as the National Arboretum.

Westonbirt House, Gloucestershire

The main, formal gardens lie to the south of the house and comprise a series of low terraces with paths connecting to peripheral gardens, including the Sundial, Italian, and Mercury Gardens.

Work began on the gardens in circa 1840 and were essentially complete before the house was rebuilt in 1863.

Westonbirt House, Gloucestershire

This bronze statue of Mercury, the Roman god of shopkeepers, merchants, travelers, thieves and tricksters, is by Lewis Vulliamy, architect of Westonbirt House.

The statue is set in the centre of a circular pool in what is now known as the Mercury Garden. When constructed in the 1840s it was known as the Circular Garden and later the Sunken Garden.

The Hill, Greater London
This damaged Autochrome was taken within the Cruciform Pergola in the gardens of The Hill in the London Borough of Camden. Built in the early 19th century as Hill House, it was purchased in 1904 by the industrialist Sir William Hesketh Lever. Lever had the house rebuilt and enlarged, renaming it The Hill, and engaged Thomas Mawson to redesign the gardens. The new garden included terraces that were formed from spoil excavated during the building of the underground railway at Hampstead.
Hatfield House, Hertfordshire
The bishops of Ely owned a house and park at Hatfield from at least the 13th century. King Henry VIII acquired the estate during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and it was here that Queen Elizabeth was brought news of her accession in 1558. The current house was built between 1607 and 1612 for Robert Cecil, fist Earl of Salisbury, and gardens laid out to its east and west. This view shows the east parterre of the East Gardens, towards the east side of the house, where the Cecil family's private apartments overlooked the gardens. 
Compton Wynyates, Warwickshire
Compton Wynates dates mainly from around 1500 and incorporates some earlier features. Built around a central courtyard, it was once a fortified manor house protected by a moat. A surviving part of the moat now forms a garden pond. Remarkably, Compton Wynyates and its predecessor houses have been in the ownership of the Compton family since the 13th century.
Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire
Development at Dyrham dates to the 13th century. Natural springs stimulated the creation of terraces and water gardens but much of this did not survive for more than a century. This view looks towards the Church of St Peter situated on a terrace to the north side of the garden at the west side of the house. This west garden comprises lawns, a Long Walk, and a sunken area with two ponds - all of which separates the country house from the houses of Dyrham village. 
Tylney Hall, Hampshire
This Autochrome photograph captures the warm red brick of Tylney Hall as well as the variety of tones of the flowers in the Dutch Garden. A mansion had existed on the site since the 16th century. The house pictured was built in 1879 and extended in 1899-1901 (the Dutch Garden was laid out at this time) and again in 1901-04. During the First World War Tylney was used as a hospital, and in 1933 it became the headquarters of the Clan Line shipping line. Tylney Hall is now a luxury hotel. 

Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places

It's not just about Capability Brown gardens and grand stately homes. From public parks with fountains and follies to subterranean cave dwellings beneath our streets, we think everybody should know about the places in England that have witnessed some of the most important historic events.

Historic England's Irreplaceable campaign, sponsored by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical, aims to highlight the places that have changed England and the world.

Image: A pergola at Westonbirt House, Gloucestershire
Climbing vegetable plants populate a pergola in the gardens at Westonbirt House in Gloucestershire.

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