Arthur Markham Nesfield Remembered

Arthur Markham Nesfield Remembered

Dr Shirley Evans

In my previous article I discussed the Nesfields’ involvement at Regent’s Park, London and drew attention to the work of Arthur Markham Nesfield (1841–74). Little has been written about this landscape designer’s contribution to the genre but from the 1860s, when he virtually took over the family landscape design business from his father, until his early untimely death his reputation steadily increased. It being said of him that, ‘he briefly enjoyed the largest reputation of any designer of his generation’, (Brent Elliott, Victorian Gardens: Batsford Limited, 1986, p144). Markham was the second son of William Andrews Nesfield (1794–1881), who had been an officer in the military, a professional watercolour painter of rural, picturesque scenery and finally, for almost forty years in the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign, a landscape designer to some of the most influential and wealthy landowners in the British Isles. Markham was born in Eton and he and his three brothers were educated at Eton College. The family later moved to 3 York Terrace in the Regent’s Park area of London, in order that his father could have better access to the growing railway system, and to his clients when they were in Town.

In 1862 in order to prepare himself to follow in his father’s footsteps, Markham travelled to the Continent, but before doing so he paid a visit to the Horticultural Society and: ‘got a great deal of information about Dutch gardens and 4–5 useful recommendations and had a friendly jaw with Dr. Lindley.’ Armed with this information he set off, firstly to Paris where he made many drawings of gardens, and noted that lime and yew were best for high hedges and hornbeam and box for low. On 14 September he recalled that he had a great day at St. Cloud where he ‘Just got in as the cascade of the great canal was coming to a close — it is nothing extraordinary after all & this seemingly applies to the place generally — its neither geometric or picturesque & looks as if its author had been divided between two opinions and died before he had made up his mind — a chaos is the result. The grand jet looks like a renovated horsepond.’ From there he went by boat to Liege, and visited several nurseries. Makon, the first nursery he visited in Belgium, had names in the Visitors Book which he recognised, Dr Lindley, Lee and Veitch. He departed with a very favourable impression of Belgian nurseries and he only wished there were more of them to visit. From there he moved on to Aix-le-Chapelle which he thought the guidebooks ‘puff up rather unnecessarily, it is not a fine town’.

He moved on to Cologne travelling past ‘several fine woods, whole plantations of birch, forests of beech & oak. Large tracts of land fresh planted with spruce and Scotch Fir.’ From Cologne he went to Dusseldorf by train, and on to Amsterdam, where he saw, ‘bays and hampers of bulbs being packed for England, narcissus being raised in a hot bed sufficient to heat an iron to an almost unbearable heat — mostly composed of bark in strips to a depth of 3 feet.’ He learnt a lesson in planting bulbs, saying, ‘the beds although entirely sandy were intersected about every 8 or 9 feet by open drains 11 inches deep, and 14 inches to 15 inches wide at the top these communicated with a circumscribing drain, a trifle deeper than the rest. The water thus accumulated is left to find its way through the porous earth the best way it can.’ He moved on from there to Haarlam where they had lots of formal plants, hollies, yew, box, yuccas, aloes, etc. Then to Leiden which he described as a town of great historical interest thence, to the Hague and home.

On 28 September 1864 he took a month return ticket to Paris via Newhaven and Dieppe where he met an American Southerner and they chummed up, occupying a room together at the Hotel de France the most central place in Paris. He went to see the foliage plants at the end of Prince Eugene Avenue, which he said was the grandest show he ever saw and spent the rest of the day in the Bois de Bologne especially at the gardens where he made many notes. Whilst he was away on this trip he received a letter from the editor of the Gardeners’ Chronicle asking him if he would find time to write for the magazine. He completed this working visit by sketching some gardens in Paris.

By 1866 Markham had his own clerk and surveyor and it is from July of that year that his Notebook of Travelling Expenses survives, an ongoing account which covers seven years from 1867 until 1873, just a few months before his untimely death. He was thrown from his horse when riding from his home in Dorset Square towards Regent’s Park and when near Hanover Gate he was thrown and killed almost instantaneously. A blow both to his father and his wife Fanny Katherine Powell (Kate), as by that time the couple had produced five children, three of whom survived into adulthood. Although Markham was only in his early 30s when he died his Notebook demonstrates the extent of his landscape design work and that, like his father, he was far from being solely a designer of pleasure grounds but could advise on all aspects of the landscape. He had no difficulty in obtaining commissions, undoubtedly helped by the fact that his father had paved the way for him through recommendations to his own wealthy and influential clients. Indeed, the 1860s were to be a productive and successful time for all three Nesfields, as Markham’s elder brother William Eden (1835–88), a successful architect, lived in the family home in York Terrace. Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine the interplay of ideas which would have taken place between the three of them, especially as both Markham and Eden enjoyed working on estates where their father was well-known and respected.

There are no plans or planting schemes relating to the properties discussed in the Notebook, its sole purpose being to act as a reminder to Markham of the expenses he had incurred when travelling back and forth to the estates of his clients, and of the work he had carried out during these visits. They also demonstrate just how time consuming, repetitive and mundane the work of a professional landscape designer could be, with repeated visits to ensure that his plans were followed out correctly by the gardeners left to get on with things in between his visits. However, from them we gain an insight into the day-to-day business activities of a successful landscape designer in the middle of the nineteenth century, relying on the railway network to ensure that he was able to travel fairly comfortably around the British Isles.

His Notebook shows that his commissions took him to estates in Shropshire, Kent, Hertfordshire, Warwickshire, Cornwall, Ireland, Norfolk, Herefordshire, Lancashire, Berkshire, Sussex, Surrey and North Wales and the following records, from the Nesfield Archives. give an idea of what being a landscape designer involved then:

Hampton-in-Arden, Warwickshire

For the Rt Hon. Frederick Peel. Both Markham and his brother Eden worked here, Eden designing new estate cottages and a lodge house and restoring the manor house and church.

25 February 1867: Left Euston Square by the 6.15 for Hampton departed late and did not arrive at Hampton till past 12.

Went round with Mr. Peel to look at proposed terminal to Y Walk and new position for kitchen garden. Staked out centre line, set M to work. Took note of rhododendron hole to be modified and advised this left as it is. Also alteration to moat by garden house, which I explained to Godfrey.

Plan wanted directly for the termination of Y Walk – outlet by churchyard and hole.

26 Left by 8.11 in morning for Birmingham.

28 February 1867: Surveyor to Hampton-in-Arden.

26 March 1867: Left by the 10 o’clock from Paddington for Warwick. After lunch examined site for new ground and alteration of building. Left March 27 by 10.5 from Avenue Road station Leamington. Arrived London 12.45, home at 1 p.m.

3 May 1867: Left Euston by the 8.45. Met Mr. Massey at Hampton. Lunched at the Ring of Bells. Mr. Massey to write to me by Tuesday next. Looked over ground by Stables. Returned by 4.23 arrived at London 8.50.

5 August 1867: Left by the 6.25 train Euston for Hampton in Arden. Met by Marsh at the station. Staked out central line and Mr. Marsh to take levels. Examined the lines and propose amendments. Looked over the pit hole with Godfrey. Went to the village road but could not stake out exit on account of planting. Returned by 6.3 arrived at 9.30.

5 October 1867: Left Euston Square by the 6.15 for Hampton arrived at 9.30. Went over ground of old cottages and the stables etc. New exit to village road, Y walk, pit hole and principal front with Mr. Peel. Afterwards with Godfrey marked sites for standard thorns and for group by approach. Also in pit hole, Walked ground and revised sketch for garden. Returned by 7.30 got home at 11.

28 July 1868: Left by 6.15 for Hampton. Found ? and his tutor staying there. Walked over ground by stakes etc. Godfrey had staked out centre line, position of wall and basin. Studied ground for new plantings also ground by line of oak trees. Ought to have returned by 7.45, left by 9.21 waited at Coventry until 5 minutes to 2. Mail to Rugby and from thence limited mail to Town. Arrived a little before 8. Paid 5s. extra on ticket.

24 December 1868: Left by the 6.15 from Euston Square. Looked over grounds and studied line of road and entrance. Walked over new line proposed by Mr. Peel. To send a plan of it. Returned by 6 o’clock train.

16 February 1869: Left by the 6.15 from Euston for Hampton with Marsh went over ground with him and studied plantings shown on plan by Mr. Peel. Lunched at Gilberts and returned by 5.56.

7 February 1870: Left by the 6.15 train from Euston Square to Hampton. Changed at Rugby and Coventry. Mr. F. Peel met me in a fly at the station. Looked over new approach and staked out planting nearer the house with single trees etc. Walked round s. front with Mr. Peel. Returned to town by the 2 p.m. To send a detailed plan for new s. garden and the ground by new approach. Weather very wet. To send Godfrey memorandum for junction with stable Road. Returned by the 5.56 from Hampton arrived at Dorset Square at ¼ to 10.

10 October 1870: Left by the 6.15 from Euston Square for Hampton. Met Sir F Peel walking near the new approach. After breakfast went round by proposed garden stable ground etc. and was asked to study the addition to park and planting beyond the groups on Pool Hill. Went to station road and suggested slight improvement in planting. Sir F. Peel wished me to study a little piece by the road as seen from the station road. Went to new tower where ? to Y Walk require shifting. Sir F. Peel left at 12. Worked at new planting behind Pool Hill plantation but had to walk many times backwards and forwards to the terrace and to the new road where it is also seen. Also staked out line of fence for enclosure and arable lane. This could not come to a continuation of hedge as suggested by Sir F. Peel as it would have been seen from the house but worked in pretty well square with the road.

Found it was impossible to get all done that Sir F. Peel requested so stayed the night. Breakfasted at ½ past, out at 8. Studied adjustment to Y walk. Staked out single trees on Pool Hill studying both the terrace and new road points of sight. Studied ground below proposed ? a good deal. Valley appears as a line with row of elm trees through opening a little nearer house by plantation. Returned by 2.7 and arrived at Dover Square at ½ past 5.

25 March 1872: Left by the 7.20 train for Hampton arrived about ¼ to 4. Went around new approach whch is nearly finished with Sir F. Peel. It looks very well but at present is rather overdone by a great many gates. Staked out a continuation of a walk from the Y walk. Sir F. Peel had begun fencing at the stable road as well as the planting in connection with it. Staked out some planting to old cottage, kitchen garden also behind present planting at end of straight part of road adjoining cottage. To send a sketch of my suggestion for garden on the south front. Returned by the 7.5 train. Reached Dorset Square at about ¼ to 11.

27 November 1873: Left by the 8.15 train from Euston for Hampton-in-Arden. Arrived about 2.0 saw works in progress there. The new level has been cut down. Old terrace wall removed and everything ready in the rough for removing old garden. Sir F. Peel wants a bastion thrown out to the left of the wall. The day was fine and held up. Staked out some planting by the Solihull Road.

Glanusk Park, North Wales

For Sir Joseph Bailey

13 September 1871: Left Capel Curig for Betws at ¼ past 11. Took coach from Betws to Corwen via Ruabon to Shrewsbury where I arrived at ¼ to 7. Stopped at The George. Next morning left by the ll.48 train for Abergavenny via Hereford where I lunched at the refreshment room. Arrived at Glanusk 9 miles from station at ¼ to 6. Walked round grounds with Sir J. Bailey.

15th Went round grounds etc. and studied the place, made some proposals and a sketch showing what should be levelled etc. Next morning left by the ll.15 train from Abergavenny for London. Arrived in Town at 6.

Ground Plan of the Flower Garden etc. at Glanusk  from Gardeners’ Chronicle, 4 March 1876, p301

Ground Plan of the Flower Garden etc. at Glanusk from Gardeners’ Chronicle, 4 March 1876, p301

31 October 1871: Left by the 10 o’clock from Paddington for Abergavenny. Sir J. Bailey’s trap met me and Sir J. Bailey drove me over.

1st Went round grounds with Mr. Fowke, agent, and James, woodman and Sir J.B. staked out etc. Made sketch in afternoon.

2nd Returned by 8 o’clock from Abergavenny leaving Glanusk at ¼ to 7. Reached Dorset Square at 3.3.

22 January 1872: Left by the 2.20 from Paddington and arrived at Abergavenny at 8.31. The night was very wet. Drove over to Glanusk. Next morning very wet, did nothing till the afternoon. Sir J. Bailey took levels and we studied end of slopes also how to finish drains.

24th Studied new levels of garden and proposed new terrace at end of garden. Sir J.B. to send money. Left by the 3.25 got in 10.40.

17 April 1873: Left by the 15 minutes past 2 train for Abergavenny oil valve of the engine broke down near Evesham but we contrived to crawl on after some delay to Worcester. Arrived at 8.29 at Abergavenny and drove over to Glanusk.

Sketch for the Inner Basin fountain at Glanusk Park

Sketch for the Inner Basin fountain at Glanusk Park

18th Looked round works after breakfast. The grass terrace looked very well. The centre steps have been badly bedded and left in single stones. The joints, which are very rough and unequal shook very much and are not always level. The coping for the fountain looks well but there are a good many marks in the stone. Had a wooden buttress erected at the angle of the ? very fine, also a wooden model of a pier which looked big and some other wooden buttresses. The earthworks for the mount is progressing. Marked a few trees and looked at some specimen plants in a nursery. Forsyth is to make the other ? for the centre steps in stone and is to give an estimate for path stone coping for the centre walk. Elevation wanted for completed bastion at end of the green terrace. Walked over proposed line for back road to take the place of present approach to front of garden from the bridge over the river and suggested a scheme.

19th Looked at a wooden buttress made for wall by carriage road. Left by the 11.18 train reached London at 10 minutes to 7.

Apart from his private clients Markham also worked on a number of public commissions. One of which was for the landscaping of a new cemetery in Ramsgate where he was instrumental in suggesting the best one out of three sites and supervising the staking and laying out of the ground.

He also acted as Adjudicator at Sefton Park in Liverpool in a competition where Edouard André, who had designed parks in Paris, was collaborating with a local architect Lewis Hornblower. His first visit to Sefton was on 20 April 1867 when he went around the gardens in a Hansom Cab and then saw the drawings before meeting the Chairman and Committee in the evening, when his health was drunk. The following year in September he dined with Hornblower together with a Belgian pupil and the Committee and considered André’s planting list.

Although not referred to in his Notebook Markham’s most public commission, which helped to launch his career, was undoubtedly at Regent’s Park. Here he not only worked with his father but with his elder brother, who designed a lodge house in the English Revival style at the south end of the gardens.

Planting plan for the Avenue Gardens, 1867

Planting plan for the Avenue Gardens, 1867

In addition to preparing the planting plans in successive years for the Avenue Gardens, two years after the completion of the Avenue Gardens Markham also designed the Coliseum Garden to compliment them. The first intimation that these gardens were to be laid out was in a letter in August 1865 from the Office of Works to the contractor Joseph Meston, asking for an estimate for alterations to the walks in the shrubbery east of the avenue and for erecting mounds and planting on them in accordance with Markham’s plan dated November 1865, in which he quoted £678 for the work. The tenders from Meton and the nurseryman James Veitch, who supplied the plants, were accepted in June 1867 and work started immediately. Here Markham introduced over 150 types of plant, both evergreen and deciduous, together with a water garden. His use of exotic shrubs, trees and native specimens, viewed from circular walks, was one way of defining the term ‘picturesque’. It was, however, a different interpretation from the one his father and his contemporaries at the Watercolour Society would have understood by the term, as they travelled the countryside, painting and sketching the rural landscapes of the British Isles.

Planting plan for the Colliseum Garden, Regent’s Park

Planting plan for the Colliseum Garden, Regent’s Park

Whilst Markham was travelling on the Continent he became aware of the work of Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps,1824–75, who introduced exotic specimens into his designs. Barillet was the architect and landscaper who designed the Bois de Vincennes in the Champ Elysses, the Park Monceau and provided plans for the Bois de Boulogne and the Paris Exhibition of 1867. The caption on Markham’s Sketch Plan for the Coliseum Shrubbery reads:

No.1 Concentrated display of all new foliage plants as they are brought out by Mr. Barillet:

No.2 Evergreen and Deciduous plantings as Arbutus, Rhododendron, Laurestinus, Ilex, Mahonia, Colutea and Aucuca yellow and green, etc. Snowdrop Tree, Sophora, Cotoneasta, Thorn, Acacia, Laburnum, Apple, Pear and Plum Trees etc. etc.

No.3 Water Garden — sides walled with osier work and stones on its north side near termination of Mound to be filled with waterlilies, Bull Rush, Egyptian Rush etc. and all common weeds, with ferns, forget-me-not and wood ivy and periwinkle, etc. margining the banks. [N.B. All water plants to be grown in it].

No.4 Large Mound to give an undulation of the surface to relieve the monotony.

N.B. This Shrubbery and Mound will act like a kitchen garden wall in stopping the draughts thro the Avenue Gardens.

The question remains where would Markham’s undoubted talents have taken him if he had not died in 1874? He was still a young man and if he had been anything like his father he could have gone on in his chosen profession for another 40 years. In 1883 William Robinson’s The English Flower Garden was published and if Markham had lived he would have been in the middle of the great debate on the formal versus the naturalistic and the Arts and Crafts Movement, of which Eden was an exponent. Unfortunately Eden too was dead by 1888 and what could have been an interesting collaboration between the two men, which could have taken them into the early years of the twentieth century was not to be.

There was already a hint during Markham’s lifetime that as far as the ‘pleasure garden’ was concerned, he was moving away from his father’s rigid adherence to the strictly formal parterre in the flower garden, as the plan and planting for the Coliseum Garden demonstrates. Unfortunately now we can only speculate on where his career might have taken him.

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Painswick Roccoco Gardens, the Red House, Photo © Joab Smith