Ahead of her upcoming LPGT winter lecture on ‘Gardens of the Great Strand Palaces’, architectural and garden historian Dr Paula Henderson writes about the discovery of a plan of Lord Burghley’s house and garden – a vital new source of information about the splendour and complexity of the gardens of the great Strand Palaces.
All are invited to attend the lecture on 14 January at 6.30pm: you can find out more and book tickets online.
One of the most exciting discoveries of my entire (and very long) career was of the plan of Lord Burghley’s London house in the Strand.
In 1999, the plan had fallen out from behind a cupboard at Burghley House near Stamford and the archivist sent photocopies to those he thought might be interested. I think I was the only one to realise what it was, and immediately made an appointment to go to Burghley and see the plan. Because the plan was inscribed on the back ‘Exeter House’, it was assumed that it dated to the 17th century (after Lord Burghley’s son had been created Earl of Exeter). When I saw the plan, though, I recognised Lord Burghley’s annotations on it – he always wrote the cardinal directions on the maps and plans in his collection (north was rarely at the top in those days). That meant that the plan had to have been executed before Burghley’s death in 1598.
It wasn’t just the date that astonished me: the plan itself is perhaps one of the most beautiful ever executed in the Tudor period. It took my breath away.
Jon Culverhouse, then and still the very enthusiastic curator at Burghley, said that he wanted the plan published. No problem! Because this was clearly one of the most important discoveries in Tudor and Stuart architecture, I invited my friend Jill Husselby to research the plan with me. She had done her PhD on Lord Burghley and Burghley House.
Because it is such a very beautiful plan we wanted it published in colour, so we wrote up our initial ideas for an article in Country Life, ‘England’s Earliest Garden Plan?,’ which was published in March 2000. At that point we dated the plan to the late 16th century, mainly because of the sophistication of the execution, the beautiful colours used and especially because of the strong axiality – very few houses until then were built on axis with the garden. Jill and I continued to research the plan, turning to documents in the Burghley archives that included letters from Lord Burghley to the Earl of Bedford in the 1560s. These showed that the plan was actually an early plan, from before Burghley rebuilt all his garden buildings. The plan could then be dated specifically between 1565 and 1567, which was absolutely astonishing.
Our full research was eventually published in a 15,000-word article in Architectural History in 2002, entitled ‘Location, location, location!: William Cecil’s House in the Strand’. Perhaps the most important result of this research was that it gave us our first real insights into the most important London houses and gardens of the period, the so-called ‘Strand Palaces’.
Since then I have worked and published on many more of the Strand Palaces, on the gardens of the Inns of Court and Inns of Chancery, and on early public gardens (Spring Garden and Paris Garden). I am now completing a book on the great variety of gardens from that period. What is perhaps most surprising of all is the fact that there are actually more gardens (or garden spaces, to be precise) surviving from the 16th and early 17th centuries than there is architecture. Who knew?
More about Dr Henderson’s 14 January lecture on ‘Gardens of the Great Strand Palaces‘
The Strand was, from the middle ages, the most prestigious place to live in London. Running from the Temple in the east to Charing Cross in the west (just as it does today), the Strand was strategically placed between two power centres: the City and Westminster.
Furthermore, from the 1530s, the magnificent bishops’ inns and their spacious gardens were acquired by leading courtiers and aristocrats, who adapted the houses and beautified the gardens as showpieces, visible to all who travelled on the Thames. Like the palaces along the Grand Canal in Venice, these great houses were seen as powerful expressions of the city’s wealth and grandeur.
While most of these houses ran along the south side of the Strand on a gentle slope to the Thames, Lord Burghley built a new house along the north side. The recently discovered plan which Dr Henderson describes above is the most important source of information about the splendour and complexity of these gardens, a short period in London’s history of true rus in urbe.
Dr Paula Henderson has a PhD in architectural history from The Courtauld Institute. She lectures widely and has published over sixty articles on English houses and their settings. Her book, The Tudor House and Garden (Yale), won the Berger Prize for the outstanding contribution to the history of British art for 2005. Most recently, she wrote the chapters on ‘Gardens’ for The Cambridge Worlds of Shakespeare (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and Hardwick Hall with Richard Wheeler (Yale and the National Trust, 2016). She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and is currently completing a book on London gardens of the 16th and 17th centuries.