Chastleton Garden, like the Jacobean Chastleton House to which it belongs, has its own unique history, shaped by periods of growth and decline, conservation, and restoration. Chastleton Garden, besides being a lovely historic garden, is also uniquely credited with being the location where the rules for the sport of croquet were written and then published in 1866.
Chastleton House and Garden properties today are managed by Britain’s National Trust. The estate in Oxfordshire, near Moreton-in-Marsh, was acquired in 1991 under a policy of property conservation, rather than restoration, enabling visitors to experience the house and grounds in much the same way they would have appeared historically. Prior to 1991, the house had remained under the ownership of the same family line for 400 years. The Chastleton Garden’s layout remains much as it likely appeared when originally constructed by then owner Walter Jones in 1612.
The stone garden walls surrounding the garden date from the early 17th century, and the design is said to be based on Gervase Markham’s recommendations in his book The English Husbandman (1613), where he advised having “a fore court to the front of the house, with the base (or bass) court on one side, which included the stables and other farm buildings. The other two sides of the house should be composed of gardens, divided into an orchard, a kitchen garden and a best (or pleasure) garden, planted with more ornamental plants.” Chastleton’s design follows this pattern.
Today, the lawns adjacent to the house are often set up to host local and regional croquet events. The lawns are laid out for croquet in the same manner as set up by Chastleton’s Walter Whitmore Jones in the 1860s. Whitmore Jones, one of the founders in 1868 of the All England Croquet Club, articulated field rules for the game as played in Britain while at Chastleton House, and he published his rules of the game in a series of three articles in the magazine, The Field, in 1866, and later in book form in 1868. His coding of game rules is still considered definitive, and Chastleton House for this reason is considered to be the “birthplace of croquet as a competitive sport.” The sport itself had been around for centuries earlier in various forms and in other countries, such as France and Switzerland, but modern croquet rules dates from Whitmore Jones’ time. The images taken on my visit show the layout for double croquet courts, featuring croquet equipment by Jaques of London.
In my walk around the grounds, I was fascinated by the extensive topiary – once carefully manicured to represent animals and objects in the real world. Now, with memory of the original shapes long lost, the shrubs are carefully manicured into various interesting shapes and forms, leaving the viewer to guess at what the original shapes may have been.
Enclosed within stone walls in 1847, the original kitchen garden was formed from an existing garden and part of an adjacent field. Standing guard over the kitchen garden today are a handsome pair of scarecrows in human and dog form. The kitchen garden still retains its original pattern, and it features six plots, four to one side and two opposite, divided by a broad path.
Chastleton House was built in a village setting, and it is situated next to the village church, St. Mary’s in Chastleton. On the day of my visit, preparations were underway for a wedding ceremony and reception on the grounds nearby. I had the pleasure of seeing guests arriving in their wedding finery, heading to the small stone church for an intimate morning service. Just beyond, on the road leading to Chastleton House, some young girls were riding their horses alongside one the many stone fences on the property. With the activities going on that day, I appreciated this glimpse into country life in 21st century England.
There are a number of interesting articles online describing the history of Chastleton House Royalists during the Cromwell period, and the 19th century history of croquet as it relates to the family and the property. Simply search Chastleton House and Garden and continue according to your particular interests.
Text and Images: Copyright Nadine Kampen / cookiebuxton.com
Photo Location: Chastleton House and Garden, Oxfordshire, England (July 2016)
Map: Courtesy of Google Maps
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