Rural estates, villas, designed landscapes

From the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, gentry in the North West commissioned new landscape designs for their parks; informal naturalistic landscaping influenced by Capability Brown’s approach swept away earlier formal landscapes, often diverting public roads, villages and building perimeter walls. A typical example is at Heaton Park, Manchester where a new landscape was created for the Sir Thomas Egerton by William Emes in the 1770s and completed in the early nineteenth century by John Webb; this provided a new setting for the house rebuilt by James Wyatt in classical style (Arrowsmith,2008).  At Lowther Castle, the village was moved twice, the current incomplete village was designed by Robert Adam in the 1760s. Investment in new stable blocks, ornamental park structures, lodges and kitchen gardens, often designed by the architect for the main house, as at Heaton and Tatton (Samuel Wyatt), was a feature of this period.  At Lowther, the 1690s formal garden was overlaid with new planting and walks in the early 1800s, to provide the setting for the gothic revival mansion designed by Smirke in 1806, the last in a series of mansions on the same site (Colvin et al 1980), and new gardens were designed in the early 1900s by Thomas Mawson, illustrated in contemporary publications (Holme 1911). The north-west is rich in gardens designed to provide the setting for Victorian and Edwardian villas and country houses, some designed by the country’s best-known landscape designers, such as William Nesfield who in the 1840s designed formal terraces at the site of Worsley New Hall, recently assessed in advance of a major garden project by the RHS (Salford Archaeology 2014). Cheshire is the only county to be the subject of a published gazetteer of historic gardens (Mowl and Marko 2008).

Lowther Village, Cumbria

The industrial period spans several different distinct architectural periods: Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian. The Georgian period is the most homogenous in terms of the form and style of buildings; Georgian country houses are summarised in the Buildings of England county volumes and the subject of numerous publications.  Colvin’s Biographical Dictionary of Architects is the key national source for Georgian architects and their buildings (Colvin 1995).  Cheshire and Lancashire are particularly rich in houses of this period; Robinson (Robinson 1991) and de Figueiredo and Treuherz provide accounts of the houses, their owners and their architects (de Figueiredo and Treuherz 1988).  The Wyatts are recognised as the most influential group of architects for the late Georgian country house and estate buildings in the southern part of the region (particularly in Cheshire); research on Samuel Wyatt for Robinson’s doctoral thesis contributed to the author’s book on the Wyatts (Robinson 1979) and on Georgian model farms, as well as articles for Country Life and other journals.  Historical sources for country houses in this period include the weekly magazine Country Life, founded in 1897, a significant resource for country houses and gardens; a Cumulative Index lists architectural history articles on country houses and gardens published by the magazine.

Villas, a sub-set of country houses, are particularly significant in the Lake District where early examples are associated with the late eighteenth century appreciation of the landscape and the picturesque movement.  The Lake District World Heritage Site nomination dossier recognises the role of villas and their designed landscape settings in the area’s cultural landscape, the subject of an essay by Adam Menuge published in 2013 (Menuge 2013). Detailed research on individual villas has been undertaken by Menuge and Goodall on houses such as Belle Isle, designed in the 1770s by John Plaw (Menuge 1997), Storrs Hall, remodelled for the Liverpool slaver John Bolton by Gandy in 1808, and Wray Castle, built in the 1840s for a Liverpool surgeon (Goodall and Menuge 2006).  Early nineteenth century villas designed by the Websters of Kendal are the subject of books and articles by Taylor (Taylor and Martin 2004). Buildings associated with early tourism in the Lake District are discussed by Rutherford in her 2016 essay on Claife Station (Rutherford, 2013). Boat houses built for villas are a distinctive Lake District building type, the subject of an overview by Menuge (Menuge 2010) and detailed recording at Fell Foot in advance of refurbishment by the National Trust (Buschmann A, 2016).  In the rest of the region, villas are also associated with newly wealthy entrepreneurs or professionals, in contrast to country houses built for the established gentry, and they proliferated around the edges of large towns and cities. Villas in Alderley Edge have been assessed by Matthew Hyde (Hyde 1999), including a gothic revival house designed by the Manchester architect J.S.Crowther for himself. 

Fell Foot boat houses, Windermere, Lake District
Storrs Hall, Windermere, Lake District

Woodbank, on the edge of Stockport is one of the region’s finest examples of a classical villa built by a mill owner; it was designed in 1812 in Greek revival style by Chester architect Thomas Harrison, for Peter Marsland, and is now at risk.  The architect of the house built at Quarry Bank Mill for Samuel Greg is not known, but the house, built in 1798 and extended in 1803 is a good example of a house built for a mill owner adjacent to the mill during the Georgian period (Fletcher, 2007); later in the nineteenth century, mill owners preferred to build houses more distant from the mill as Robert Hyde Greg did at Styal in the 1830s. Quarry Bank House is part of a remarkable ensemble of buildings that includes the pleasure gardens, kitchen gardens, the mill buildings, water management system, workers’ housing and the apprentices’ house. Most of these structures have been subject of detailed recording and research funded by the National Trust, including the Apprentice House (Arrowsmith P, Barter M, Fletcher M and Middleton P, 2014).

Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire

The region is particularly rich in villas and houses built for the nineteenth century nouveaux riches, who had accumulated wealth through trade and industry, those in Cheshire studied by Peter de Figueiredo (de Figueiredo 2005). These houses represent a wide range of architectural styles, reflecting shifts in taste and advances in construction and technology. Abney Hall, near Cheadle was built for James Watts, a Manchester draper, to a gothic design by A.W.N.Pugin in the 1850s, but Italianate and neo-classical styles proved more popular such as the Italianate Halton Grange, also 1850s, built for Thomas Johnson, a soap maker.

Abney Hall, Stockport, Greater Manchester (courtesy of GMAAS)

Particularly in Cumbria and Cheshire, country houses were rebuilt or refurbished during the nineteenth century to express the status of their owners and provide more convenient homes; the architect Anthony Salvin (Allibone 1977) built a reputation for remodelling existing castles such as Muncaster (1862), Rose Castle (1852) and Hutton-in-the-Forest (1860s), and also created Peckforton Castle (1844) in Cheshire for the 1st Lord Tollemache. Key national sources for Victorian country houses are by Crook (Crook 1999), Girouard, Franklin, Gray and Orbach (Girouard 1971; Gray 1985; Franklin 1981; Orbach 1987).

A published summary of recent research for Historic England and the National Trust on the technology of the country house includes the Edwardian communications and lift installations at Dunham Massey (Palmer and West 2016).  The Cumbria Industrial History Society maintains an online gazetteer of country house gasworks including the surviving retort house at Boarbank, near Grange-over-Sands, a gas works at Eden Hall and a gas-related structure at Fell Foot converted to a cottage (

The zenith of villas in the region is reflected in the fine group of Arts and Crafts houses in the Lake District by nationally significant architects such as Voysey and Baillie-Scott; these have been assessed as a group by Matthew Hyde (Hyde and Whittaker 2014) and are the subject of numerous other publications and architectural monographs (Hitchmough 1995).  Gardens form a significant part of the settings of some of the region’s villas and older houses; in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the most influential designer of formal gardens and parks was Thomas Mawson (1861-1933).  Initially a nurseryman from Windermere, Mawson ran a successful landscape architecture practice from Lancaster and London.  Many of his designs are referred to in his autobiography and contemporary published sources (Holme 1911; Mawson 1927; Kissack 2006) and now protected by designation (the register entries for parks and gardens are a reliable source).  Cumbrian houses with Mawson gardens include Rydal Hall, Brockhole and Blackwell and elsewhere his key works include Stanley Park in Blackpool, Tirley Garth in Cheshire, Thornton Manor on the Wirral and Rivington Gardens, the last two in collaboration with William Lever (Lord Leverhulme after 1911) the soap manufacturer. For a different social class, Port Sunlight, was developed by Lever from c1889 to c. 1930, as a model workers’ village; Lever commissioned national architects such as Lutyens and regional architects such as William Owen and John Douglas to design vernacular revival houses and community facilities in the Arts and Crafts tradition (Hubbard and Shippobottom 2005).

Leave a Reply