Saturday, November 11, 2006

Decorative landscapes at Norbury Park

The Irish painter George Barret (1732-84) was a regular visitor to the house of William Lock of Norbury. As the Redgraves put it in their survey A Century of British Painters, this house 'situated on the summit of a hill in the midst of a park, commands a noble view both up and down the valley. On the slopes of the hill are giant trees, oak and ash and beeches, together with a grove of ancient yews, existing before the Conquest, which may have sheltred the dark rites of the pagan Druids. Around the base of the hill flows the curious river Mole, while distant hills close in the prospect. Such a country must ever be a paradise to the landscape painter.' The Redgraves note that Barret decorated one of Lock's rooms 'from the skirting to the ceiling with a series of scenes' and that this room (in 1866) 'is still in existence and, after some cleaning and repairing, seems to have stood well, and to retain much of its first brilliancy.'

There is a study for a scene in the room in the Courtauld: Decorative landscape - study for a room at Norbury Park. But are the actual landscape decorations mentioned by the Redgraves still there? I'd be interested to know. The house is privately owned and not open to the public...

Source: Wikimedia Commons, Vox Humana 8

The house and park at Norbury have an interesting history. An old guidebook called Picturesque England by L. Valentine that has been made into an e-book has the following to say:
Edward the Confessor found the remains of a Roman stronghold at Norbury. He converted it into a district lordship held direct from the Crown. At the Conquest it was given to Richard of Tunbridge, and from him was inherited by Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. He - the earl - may have taken hither the lovely little princess Joanna, when, after their marriage, she loved to visit his noble castles before settling down in their rural home of Clerkenwell. For many generations the Husee family were tenants of the Earls of Gloucester, and at length they purchased Norbury. A daughter received it as her portion when she married Wymeldon in the reign of Henry VI. Heirs male failing, Norbury passed to the Stidolphs, an old Kentish family. In time the Stidolphs also died out, and Norbury was sold to a man by the name of Chapman, who bought it to make money out of it, and cut down every saleable tree. Beautiful Norbury would have been destroyed had not Mr. Lock bought it of him in 1774.
He was a man of great taste, and restored and improved the place, building a fine house on the crest of the hill. The windows commanded an exquisite view, and the decorations of his saloon were so fine that they became the talk of the time.
He entertained here Dr. Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Burke and Gibbon, and all the most distinguished characters in England.
When the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror drove the noblesse of France into emigration the fame of Mr. Lock's house and hospitality, which had long before reached Paris, brought some remarkable exiles to Surrey. At Juniper Hill Madame de Stael established her menage with Talleyrand, the Comte de Narbonne, the Duc de Montmorency, Monsieur Sicard and General D'Arblay; they were all entertained at Norbury. Fanny Burney, the novelist, used to stay at the house, and there fell in love with General D'Arblay. They were both very poor, hut Miss Burney had a pension of a hundred a year from Queen Charlotte, in whose hard service she had spent the best of her life, and she made money by her pen, though not to any great amount. However, they married, and Mr. Lock gave them "a piece of ground in his beautiful park," she writes, "upon which we shall build a little neat and plain habitation." Her novel "Camilla" furnished the funds for building the house, which was finished in 1797, and called after the book, Camilla Cottage. It is now Camilla Lacey. Her diary contains amusing and graphic accounts of their residence here, of General D'Arblay cutting down asparagus with his sword, etc., etc.
At Norbury, in 1819, Mr. Lock's son died, and the property was sold to a Mr. Robinson, then to Mr. Fuller Maitland, who exchanged it with Mr. Speding. At length it was bought, in 1848, by Mr. Grissell, grandson of the builder of the new Houses of Parliament, who has greatly improved the grounds. There is a grove of yews here that are a perfect show, and Sir Joseph Paxton has been seen to embrace and kiss the bark of a magnificent beech here: he declared that the yews and beeches of Norbury were the finest in England.

1 comment:

snarlerson said...

When Ian Nairne wrote his Buildings of England: Surrey, which was published in 1962, he said "The magnificent thing about Norbury is its situation - a belvedere site high above the Dorking gap, with a south view directly down the valley (of the Mole) and an oblique NE view as far as the centre of London. If only modern planners would allow, and modern architects justify, building on just a few such site".

The house was designed by Thomas Sandby in 1774. Was he any relation of Paul Sandby , the painter? What justified the house to Nairne, was the Painted Room of 1783 which took in the ground floor bay window, with Augustan sunlit landscapes framed by trees and trelliswork by George Barrett. Nairne continues “ It would be difficult to find a better example of the late 18C Englishman’s delight in nature, in landscape rather than bricks and mortar. It is, if you like, an identification with Rousseau’s ideas about natural life equivalent to the rapture of the South German stucco workers in their representation of a happy Catholic Elysium. Everything in the room is directed towards trees and sky and light, just as everything in a Rococo church is directed towards expressing God’s love for his creation’.

At Easter 1958 I spent a week at Juniper Hall. After a train journey from Shrewsbury and from London, I reached it by a country bus. To me it was real countryside but it was not many years later when I returned to Surrey and saw the changes wrought by modern life especially the noise of traffic from the once very attractive Michelham by-pass. Although still pretty, the area had lost its magic. But then I have to confess that I never consciously saw Norbury Park.