What was there before the garden? For many suburban houses the answer is simple: a field. For Honeywood the answer is really rather complicated.
The Arundel map of Carshalton, which dates from about 1620 shows a line of springs along the side of Pound Street in what is now the southern edge of the garden. Several streams flowed from these across the site of the present house. When we carried out an excavation in the southeast corner of the garden, we found some pieces of Tudor brown jugs which had probably been broken collecting water from the springs in the 16th century.
Seventeenth century documents mention a pond next to the vicarage house. This was the predecessor of the Old Rectory immediately north of Honeywood. The Vicarage House may not have stood on exactly the same site but, if the Honeywood garden was then a pond, it would be quite consistent with the archaeological evidence.
The oldest parts of Honeywood seem to have been built about 1690. It was then a smaller building and there was another house to the south. It is possible that when the houses were put up all or part of the back garden was still a pond. The site is so wet it seems an unlikely place to build a pair of cottages so the structures may have been for a keeper to protect the fish in the ponds, or perhaps for a cold bath. In the late 17th century cold bathing was a fashionable cure for almost any disease.
At some point before the mid-18th century the pond was filled, and presumably turned into two gardens, one for each house. An excavation near the rectangular pond in the northwest corner of the garden uncovered a probable bedding trench deeply buried below the present garden. Another trench between the pond and the house uncovered a former garden path which had run out from the back of the house. It was clear that the ground level had been raised on several occasions presumably to try to make the garden drier. This explains why the floor of the house is lower the garden.
By the middle of the early 19th century the garden had reached its current level and the residents began to create some of the features that we still see today.
In previous posts I have talked about the use of burr brick (overburnt vitrified brick) and slag to decorate the garden at Honeywood. The use of industrial waste for garden decoration has got a very long history. The early 17th century grotto at Skipton Castle in Yorkshire is partly decorated with what is said to volcanic rock but looks to me suspiciously like the slag from local lead smelting works. Glass waste and slag were used to decorate the grotto in Carshalton Park. This was built about 1724 but it is not clear whether the decorative materials were original or an addition.
In the 19th century there was a trend towards the use of natural rock in garden decoration. The discovery of Portland cement also allowed various imitation rocks to be made. This was accompanied by a slowly increasing interest in Alpine plants. Natural rock was expensive so its use, on any significant scale, was limited to the very well off. Alfred Smee used it at The Grange in Wallington in the 1860s and William Mallinson, who owned the house in the early 20th century, brought more onto the site. Sir Samuel Barrow also used natural stone in the rockery at The Grove by Carshalton Ponds. The yellow or brown sandstone in these gardens was quarried in the ridge of hills that runs down the centre of the Weald in Surrey, Sussex and Kent.
In the 1870s John Ruskin imported stone from the Lake District to decorate the edges of Margaret’s Pool behind Honeywood.
This stone would have been quarried, carted to a railway, loaded onto wagons, and brought to the goods yard at either Wallington or Hackbridge. It then had to be unloaded and carted to site. A large bill was inevitable.
In the 19th and early 20th century there seems to have been a parallel tradition of using cheaper decorative materials such as overburnt brick and slag which could be obtained fairly locally.
When John Pattinson Kirk died in 1913 he left £27,275 18s to his adopted daughter Lily. A very substantial sum when you consider that Honeywood was worth about £2,000 in 1939. Kirk and his family were clearly very well off but they still did not use stone to decorate the garden.
By the end of the 19th century the use of industrial materials for decoration seems to have been looked down on – at least by some. Charles Thonger’s The Book of Rock and Water Gardens (1907) offered a clear view:
So many miserable failures are everywhere apparent that we may at least know what to avoid. From the small clinker built mounds, hideously studded with shells, which may be seen in those piteous little gardens of the slums, to the vast heaps of vitrified rubbish, which in certain public parks pass for rock gardens, there is a lesson to be learned from all... Why, then, the monotony of these mounds and banks of slag and scoriae, on which only dusty Ivy and rampant Vinca seem to thrive?
It seems that, at Honeywood, the Kirks had different views.
There is a very interesting paper, The British rock garden in the twentieth century by B Elliot, to be found on the RHS website here.
The culvert and the rectangular pond have been decorated with pieces of slag – probably refuse from the iron industry although it has not been chemically analysed. The Kirks who owned the house from 1883 to 1939 has connections with Birmingham. Leah who married John Pattinson Kirk was born there as was their adopted daughter Lily who inherited the house in 1913. I have often wondered whether the slag came from there, but it didn’t really fit. Leah’s family were connected with the brass industry and it seemed a long way to take such material. I was recently looking at the Council’s draft character appraisal of the Wrythe conservation area which is currently out for consultation. It mentions, in passing, a former iron foundry in William Street on the north side of Wrythe Green. This seems a far more likely source. When the local studies collection reopens, I will check through the old street directories to find out when the ironworks operated and who ran it.
Slag decoration on the exit from the culvert under the lawn
Honeywood Garden Project Blog
Follow our progress as we renovate the gardens at Honeywood Museum.