The good progress made by our brilliant volunteer team last week has continued into this. Several beds are now cleared of weeds. They will need weeding again over the summer to get the soil reasonably clean. We should be able to plant some areas in the autumn.
It was not as sunny as our sessions last week but that did have the advantage that the contrast between light and shade was less, so the garden was easier to photograph.
We have made one interesting discovery when clearing the edge of the raised beds in the back corner next to the Pound Street wall. The bed edging in this area is different from the main part of the bed. The edge of the latter is made of overburnt brick which was often used for decoration in Edwardian middle-class gardens and must have been bought for the purpose. The newly uncovered area looked as if it had been assembled from whatever was to hand. There is some brick and flint but much of it is broken concrete. Was this a late alternation made by Lily Kirk Edwards or was it done by the Council who bought the house in 1939-40? What was on the site before the alteration? We might be able to find out by carrying out a micro-excavation in the plant bed but this will have to wait until more of the border is cleared.
Well, we couldn’t have asked for better weather for our first week back ‘on the ground’ at Honeywood. The sun shone throughout, with sessions from Tuesday to Friday. It was lovely to see everyone in person, rather than on screen during our fortnightly online sessions that we’d been having since January. Old friends met, and introductions were made in person.
The weeds had been enjoying a respite during lockdown, and were just beginning to put on a fresh spurt of growth, so it was a very good time to be able to restart. An encouraging amount of progress was made, both in the back and front gardens. We are scheduling weekly morning and afternoon sessions from now on, so progress will continue, and looking forward to the time when we will be able to invite the group to be able to all come together, rather than in smaller groups.
Work has started on clearing planting areas, with these varying from surface weeds to brambles and some scrub. We have been careful to avoid areas where birds may have set up home and built their nests.
Some of the Edwardian burr-brick planting area retaining walls have already begun to reappear, allowing for further investigation and recording.
An interesting detail emerged during the clearance of the bed in the southeast corner of the garden next to the Pound Street wall. I thought that the whole bed was edged with burr-brick (overburnt brick). However, it appears that this only applies to the eastern end next to the sheds area. The other end is edged with flint. This suggests that the bed has been extended at some point. Not very significant in itself but as we learn more it may fit into a bigger picture.
Overall a very successful few days; we couldn’t have asked for a better start.
After months of anticipation, frustration and sometimes doubting it would ever happen we actually started work on the garden today. It was a small start because the current COVID rules mean that we can only have a few people on site at any one time.
Some parts of the garden are terribly overgrown, but others were not as bad as I feared. The Council’s contractor has cut the grass fairly recently and some areas that were cleared in the winter of 2019-20 had only partly grown back. The most overgrown areas will have to wait until the autumn so as not to risk disturbing nesting birds, but this still leaves large areas that can be worked on. There are three more work sessions this week so I will post a progress report on Friday.
The northwest corner looking towards Festival Walk. The bed was largely cleared in the winter of 2019-20. I feared that I would find in in a much worst state than this.
The pond and little grotto are so overgrown that they are hardly visible.
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.