All gardens have a past, and Hopwood has a spectacular past with some creepy links to our own family. It appears one of the Hopwoods shot one of our ancestors with a loaded longbow as he left the church one day and that Hopwood forfeited his lands to the King. Creepy, we know. That's Halloween spook for you! Maybe there is an energy to the universe that entangles us all in the same story, different stage and the story of the hall is sad one. A stately home, fashionable to the point where Lord Byron came to stay in it and spurned the advances of the Lady of the house for accountancy advice from her husband, then after the Great War it went the way most big homes went and slowly sank through successive owners including the church, then the council and now it has gone from this...
Only a century separates these two photos and the rhododendrons (more than likely rhododendron ponticum was a fashion statement here) are still there, an echo of the famous Italian gardens that wrapped around the site. Even the trees in the background are still there and the pine tree in the foreground can just be seen as a shrub to the left of the photo. It now dominates the area. Gardens move on, some gardens are lost forever and Hopwood is in danger of being forgotten as a great garden. In the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century these gardens were important, with links to Kew, and further afield as the plant hunt started in the Victorian age. The majestic grand lawn that wrapped around the front of the hall with climbing hydrangea clinging to its brickwork is in need of some tender loving care. In 1910 the Italian Garden came to Hopwood and was famous up to 1925.
This most fashionable of fashions, the Italian garden included an ornamental fountain, a grotto, kitchen garden (which we're bringing back to life with the students), an icehouse and a forgotten ha-ha. The garden once housed a formal parterre, long gone, long forgotten. The the sunken garden, seen in the sketch below was dominated by ornamental fountain and four ornamental beds echoing the knot gardens of the Tudor age - for the hall was a Tudor Hall in its time, it had a moat and parts of the hall still echo those Tudor fashions as do the ornate carvings inside the hall.
The sunken Italian Garden to the front of the hall has sunk without trace, now a warren of ash and willow saplings, the ornate edge stonework cracked or forced below the root line. There are plenty of hidden secrets beneath the long grass and sadly the hall is beyond our reach as gardeners, plans for its restoration have stalled and we wait for them to start up again and possibly there is a chance we can restore the gardens to their formal Italian beauty.
There was a famous ha-ha at Hopwood, for those of you who have never come across a ha-ha it is simply a way of stealing the view and your legs if you don't watch where you are going. You will literally come to the end of the world and fall off it or catch yourself with a ha-ha beneath you. A ha-ha is a dramatic drop from one level to another, without warning and is practical way to keep the view but keep the cows off the ornate lawn and gardens. We think we found it, a crude bridge has been placed across it and over the years debris has filled it in. We have no maps of Hopwood gardens, we'd love to find some, so if you find any, do let us know. We're pursuing this gardening archaeological trip and it is fun to find the signs here and there, dotted across the garden, using old photos to find the original tree specimens and shrubs. There are paths at Hopwood that lead nowhere and more areas for us to map and see what once was there. There is a derelict mill by the river and something hidden in the woods on the other side of the river, we may go wading across to see or use the abandoned bridge.
As we leave the ha-ha behind, a mere dent in the couch grass and moss, we come across mature tree specimens in what must once have been an imposing arboretum.
We'd love to get keen gardeners down to help us map what is left and piece together a famous garden that has been lost in time.