PCA Monograph 21

‘Parterres Bright with Flowers’

A history of the walled gardens at Alnwick Castle as revealed through excavations and standing building survey

by Victoria Ridgeway and Jennifer Proctor

The Alnwick Garden, now a major tourist attraction, has had a chequered history spanning over 250 years. The recent transformation of the gardens by the current Duchess of Northumberland, Jane Percy, allowed for a programme of archaeological excavation and building recording, supplemented by extensive archival research. This book is the culmination of that work.
By the mid-17th century the medieval fabric of Alnwick Castle had fallen into a state of disrepair; the building was only partially habitable, having lain unoccupied for over a hundred years. A major program of renovation began in the 1760s under the direction of the first Duke of Alnwick. This work, overseen by the pre-eminent designer of the period, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, included a programme of landscaping and planting to place the castle within a ‘picturesque’ setting. The creation of a walled garden east of the castle followed soon after. With its central vinery and hot walls, which encouraged the early ripening of fruit, this kitchen garden would have helped supply the household’s table; but it served another purpose, being used to grow the trees needed for the newly landscaped parks and pleasure grounds surrounding the castle.
As a new century dawned the garden was expanded, and further hothouses and conservatories were constructed, allowing growing seasons to be extended. Pineapples were cultivated, as were melons, figs, peaches and grape vines, alongside other exotic fruit and flowers. In 1842 the gardens were opened to the public for the first time. Around 1860 Algernon, the fourth duke, began a radical programme of improvement and expansion, which almost doubled the size of the walled garden and imposed a new and more formal Italianate design.
A decline in the garden’s fortunes saw the land revert to its original use as a nursery for young trees by the 1950s, yet the layout and many of the buildings that had formed part of the fourth Duke’s design remained visible into the 21st century.
This volume includes detailed descriptions and illustrations of the layout and buildings within each successive Duke’s garden design. These are set alongside discussions of the plants and produce grown and the people who worked there, concluding with a consideration of the garden in its wider landscape setting.