Studley Royal Study Day, 3 May 2012

Studley Royal Study Day, 3 May

report by John Larder

After an introduction by Val Hepworth, the Study Day got underway in the Visitor Centre auditorium with a rapid recital of the history of the estate by Mark Newman, Archaeological Consultant for Yorkshire & North East Region of the National Trust. George Aislabie first acquired the estate by marriage into the Mallory family in 1663 and was responsible for the initial works around the Deer Park before his death in 1675. John Aislabie, the third son of George, took over the estate in 1693 and started work on the Water Gardens in 1718 before becoming embroiled in the South Sea Bubble scandal. This resulted in a large fine, which was perhaps surprisingly rapidly paid off and by 1723, work had recommenced. But in 1725, as a portent of things to come, floods destroyed the Lake and Cascade. By 1730 the initial work by John Aislabie was complete but soon additional land was acquired including the site of ‘the Quebec’. John died in 1742 and was succeeded by his son William who spent from 1742 to 1748 creating the Chinese Garden, which has subsequently been almost completely obliterated. In 1768 he acquired the Abbey site from the Messenger family and in 1781he connected all his interests together, particularly Hackfall. to produce a huge linear garden landscape.

The archaeological interest in the site started from John Aislabie’s time when people were curious as to how the Monastic system of just over a hundred years previously had worked. John had antiquarian interests but it was William who started proper work on the Abbey by removing bracken and clearing rubble before carrying out limited excavations, mainly to recover artifacts. The first modern style excavation was carried out by John Richard Walbran, a local wine merchant in the 1830s and 1840s, when Earl de Grey was the owner of the site.

West front of the Abbey with some Study Group members standing above the bank of the then innocent looking Skell

Mark then covered the history of the visitor experience at Studley, starting with the well-heeled visitor with an interest in antiquarian matters. It gradually become more egalitarian with the development of Harrogate as a health spa and Studley became an easy day trip to escape the rigours of some of the treatments practiced there at the time. The arrival of the Leeds & Thirsk Railway with its station at Ripon in 1848 led to a vastly increased number of visitors from special excursion trains, which in turn declined when the move to car travel started.

Finally Mark went through his own involvement at Studley since 1988, beginning with the basics of a survey of the whole property, archaeological excavations, public consultations and most recently the work on the Quebec. The latter’s connection to the rest of the gardens and history does not appear to be very clear but it was first mentioned in 1768. In 1801 a bronze cannon was fired and in 1900 there were large scale festivities taking place. In 2011 investigations started in a very public manner with period re-enactors and full engagement with all age groups. He summed up at the end of his session with the various problems of flooding, silt deposits etc. and the various options the Trust was considering at present.

Michael Ridsdale took to the podium next. He is Head of Landscape at Studley and is another long serving member of the team, arriving in 1985. He explored the problems of the Quebec site due to the short catchment of the Skell, the poor hydrological design of the water features of the garden which leads to regularly flooding and a constant problem with silt accumulating, particularly in the Reservoir, which has subsequently been dumped indiscriminately over the estate. He illustrated the problems with a series of graphic slides showing the River Skell flowing through the Abbey Ruins (see the Annual Report 2011, and micro-news 89a for illustrations).

The final session was taken by Dr Patrick Eyres, director of the New Arcadian Press, who went through the imagery of such objects as the Neptune statue as set out by such luminaries as Joseph Addison, Batty Langley and Stephen Switzer. The statue’s popularity started by commemorating the Protestant Succession, or it could have been a code for the return of ‘the King across the Sea’, but eventually was a celebration of John Aislabie’s, no doubt lucrative, connection to the Navy and generally to British Naval Supremacy. Patrick then moved on to Castle Howard, Wentworth Castle and Norton Conyers, which all have statues in honour of the Peace of Utrecht after the Seven Years War, John Churchill the successful general or to the great increase in trade that resulted from the territorial gains of this peace, in order to put the Quebec into context.

Commemorating the defeat of the 1745 rebellion and Rockingham’s part in rallying Yorkshire troops, there is the Hoober Stand and Rockingham Wood at Wentworth Woodhouse which was laid in the shape of a military encampment. The tower at Richmond was originally connected to the last battle that a British King took part in at Dettingen, but renamed in honour of Culloden. There were also several ‘Heights of Abraham’ as well as the Cook Monument near Roseberry Topping, the monument at Stoodley Pike, the Waterloo Lake at Roundhay Park and coming up to date the Naval Battle at Peasholme Park, all celebrating naval and military success. However probably the oddest example shown was Keppel’s Column, a celebration of the acquittal of Admiral Keppel and Rockingham’s opposition to the American War.

After lunch there was a guided tour round the Garden led by Mark & Michael and a first-hand view of the problems in the Quebec area. Unfortunately the weather didn’t live up to the standard of the morning’s speakers but we all left better informed about Studley and more appreciative of the difficult decisions which will have to be dealt with in the future. It was just two weeks later that the waters were to rise again.

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