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Heritage: The mystery of Gertrude Jekyll's last Wimbledon garden
Exactly a century ago in February 1914, Britain’s best known garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932), was commissioned to create a big garden for a new house in Marryat Road.
It was her third and final involvement in the Wimbledon area but unlike her other two local gardens, this one may never have been more than a phantom.
Jekyll was at the height of her career in the early 1900s. She designed more than 100 gardens together with the architect Edwin Lutyens and is known to have been commissioned no fewer than 346 times between 1868 and 1932.
Her last Wimbledon commission was for a house called Bowerbank and the original plans are still held by the Reef Point Gardens Collection at the University of California.
Copies can be seen closer to home at Godalming Museum, Surrey. Detailed illustrations appear in a book about her work published in 1992, yet no house called Bowerbank ever existed.
A century ago Marryat Road had only recently been laid out on the former 100-acre estate of Sir Henry Peek, the late MP who had led the campaign to save Wimbledon Common in the 1860s. (See Heritage story 16 November 2012).
A link remained as Jekyll’s client was Sir Arthur Carr (1855-1947), head of the Peek Frean biscuit firm founded by Sir Henry’s father. Sir Arthur lived at 10 The Downs, Wimbledon.
A document recently came to light showing that in September 1912, he bought a 1½-acre plot of land in Marryat Road and in 1913 engaged local architect Walter E Hewitt to build a house there. When work started remains unknown but Sir Arthur commissioned Jekyll the next year to design the grounds.
She provided detailed designs for both front and back gardens with complete plant listings for each bed, carefully chosen trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. The back garden followed a symmetrical pattern around a large tennis lawn.
Her cost estimate went to Hewitt on 25 February and some plants were actually sent to a “new house Bowerbank” on 3 March. That much certainly happened but World War 1 may have stopped further progress.
It was not until 1920 that Hewitt actually completed a house called Windyridge at 21 Marryat Road whose grounds matched those designed for Bowerbank. Sir Arthur Carr never lived there and Hewitt died before anyone else did.
There is no record of any direct link between Jekyll and Windyridge. The house was divided in two in 1956 and the end of the garden sold off for development of what is now Windyridge Close.
Windyridge House (Bowerbank?) in the 1920s, showing part of the tennis lawn with one of the flowerbeds
Yet what remains looks uncannily like the mysterious Bowerbank plans now in California.
Jekyll’s two other local gardens both survived for many years but ultimately suffered sad fates. In November 1906 she had been commissioned by Sir George Stegmann Gibb (1850-1925), managing director of what later became the London Underground.
He had a large three-storey house built a few yards from Caesar’s Camp on the Common. Jekyll designed an elaborate garden with winding pathways, steps, a holly border, lots of flower beds, a rock garden, and a six-bed kitchen garden.
Sir George and his family lived at what became 35 Camp Road from 1907-1919 and the property was then occupied by various residents until 1959 when it was demolished, the site used for offices and the Jekyll garden becoming a car park.
The site is now Cedar Park Gardens but there is no reminder of Gertrude Jekyll.
Jekyll’s other commission was at Greystones, 29 Mostyn Road, Merton Park, in 1913. Her client there was paint manufacturer George Hadfield, the first resident of this Arts and Crafts style house built by local architect John Sydney Brocklesby (1879-1955) who also designed the neighbouring John Innes Park.
Jekyll visited Greystones several times and Brocklesby’s own sons helped her with the planting. Her design of box and yew hedging to separate narrow lawns and beds was still intact in the 1950s.
However in 1965 the TV actor Alan Stratford-Johns – known for the police series Z Cars and Softly, Softly - moved in, installed a large outdoor swimming pool and replaced Jekyll’s garden with a big lawn.
The house’s next residents investigated the garden’s origins and largely restored it in the early 1990s. It featured on the TV show Gardeners World and was opened for specially invited tours. But the couple moved out in 1998 since when it has been closed to all outsiders.
Garden lovers now have nowhere in the Wimbledon area to see an original Gertrude Jekyll garden.
The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.
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