National Trust to ‘re-think’ the future of Rievaulx

View of the Tuscan Temple at Rievaulx Terrace

Rievaulx Terrace is a Grade I listed park and garden laid out around 1758 with views of the Rye valley and the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire. The site has been in the care of the National Trust since 1963. They have now decided to close the site for a year while they ‘re-think’ the future of this ‘superlative example of large-scale landscape gardening’. While they will continue to carry out essential maintenance, we are concerned at what future use the National Trust might envisage for this nationally important landscape.

National Trust closing Rievaulx for a year

The layout of Rievaulx Terrace, with its emphasis on unfolding views rather than formal axes, was a departure which has been described as ‘a landmark in the development of English Landscape style’ (Oxford Companion to Gardens). In the Buildings of England Pevsner described it as ‘a superlative example of large-scale landscape gardening’. It has been listed at Grade I on Historic England’s Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England. This means that it is of ‘exceptional interest’, and among the top 9% of historic landscapes in the country.

The National Trust did not re-open Rievaulx to visitors after the first lockdown and plan to keep it closed during 2021, as part of its Reset. There is a dedicated team of professional gardeners and volunteers looking after Rievaulx. The National Trust have said they will continue to carry out essential conservation and maintenance work like grass cutting. However, the Gardens Trust is deeply concerned at what a ‘business rethink’ or ‘sustainable future plan’ for this important historic landscape might involve.

Picturesque landscape gardens

The development of the Picturesque landscape garden in England is widely seen as having international cultural significance.  These landscapes may originally have been designed for aristocratic owners but they were created by the skill and hard work of humble gardeners and labourers. Ownership by the National Trust has opened up their beautiful views, ancient trees and the wide variety of wildlife they support for everyone to enjoy. The enthusiastic response to recent celebrations of landscape gardeners ‘Capability’ Brown and Humphry Repton shows how much people value these historic landscapes.

In an article about the Picturesque on the National Trust website, Jessica Fay of the University of Bristol says ‘the picturesque movement imposed an artificial system of taste that left little room for natural or untutored preferences’ and that it ‘perpetuated attempts to frame, control and orchestrate nature’. We would be concerned if a laudable focus on the natural world, and the urgent imperatives of climate change, were to be seen as necessarily in opposition to the conservation of our valuable heritage of designed landscapes.

National overview

The Gardens Trust has also been alerted by County Gardens Trusts about a number of changes and closures at other National Trust gardens around the country. We are investigating these to get an overview of the potential impact of the National Trust Reset and the Covid lockdowns on the garden and landscape heritage in their care.

G & S Jellicoe et al, The Oxford Companion to Gardens (1986)
N Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire The North Riding (1966)

Photo: Tuscan Temple at Rievaulx Terrace by Wehha – own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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