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Russell Page Archive: Leeds Castle

Russell Page worked at the historic Leeds Castle from the 1930s to the 1980s, creating water gardens and a swimming pool, as well as a walled flower garden on a tricky site and a vast new lake aptly called the Great Water.

  • Leeds Castle, Island Garden Plan

    RP/1/1/20/1

    1956

    49 x 75 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A design on tracing paper dated 1956, marked ‘Leeds Castle, Avant Projet, Island Garden, scale 1/500, A’. The drawing shows Page’s suggestion for a new lake, with a floating island garden and a mount made out of yew and box hedging.

  • Leeds Castle, Plan for Lake with Island and Mount

    RP/1/1/20/3

    March 1960

    56 x 90 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A design on tracing paper dated March 1960, marked ‘Leeds Castle, Sketch plan, Proposed lake with island and mount; scale 1/500’ (drawing number 5169/7, reference number 1960/79/7). A later drawing of the new lake, with a floating garden and mount.

  • View of Leeds Castle

    RP/1/1/20/19

    1962

    75 x 95 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil drawing dated 1962, marked ‘View of Leeds’, showing an aerial view of the proposed new lake.

  • Leeds Castle, Crossed Path Plan

    RP/1/1/20/23

    [c. 1960?]

    37.7 x 95.8 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated pencil drawing on tracing paper, which appears to show an unfinished design for the island garden to be situated in the proposed new lake.

  • Leeds Castle, Crossed Path Plan

    RP/1/1/20/22

    [1960s or 1970s]

    54.5 x 70.6 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated pencil drawing on tracing paper, which might be an unfinished design for a section of the island garden to be situated in the proposed new lake or for a part of the walled garden (see RP/1/1/20/9).

  • Leeds Castle, Crossed Path Planting Plan

    RP/1/1/20/24

    [1960s or 1970s]

    57.3 x 84.1 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated pencil drawing on tracing paper. Like RP/1/1/20/22, to which it relates, it might be an unfinished design for a section of the island garden to be situated in the proposed new lake or for a part of the walled garden (see RP/1/1/20/9). A numbered flower planting plan is shown.

  • Leeds Castle, Duck Pond House

    RP/1/1/20/2

    January 1960

    57 x 75 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A design on tracing paper dated 5 January 1960, marked ‘Leeds Castle, Sketch for duck pond house, scale 1/ 2" = 1 foot, this is a very rough sketch to show general disposition’ (drawing number 5196/6, reference number 76-79/79/9). Front, back and side elevations of the proposed structure are shown.

  • Leeds Castle, Cedar Pond

    RP/1/1/20/18

    January 1960

    53 x 75 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pastel drawing on paper dated 5 January 1960, marked ‘Leeds Castle Cedar Pond and Bridge’. An aerial view showing the new bridge designed for the Cedar Pond.

  • Leeds Castle, Revised Bridge Sketch

    RP/1/1/20/4

    April 1960

    45 x 69.5 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A design on tracing paper dated 12 April 1960, marked ‘Leeds Castle, Revised sketch, Bridge details, scale 1" = 1 foot’ (reference number 1976-79/79/8 with information). The drawing shows an elevation and detail of a section of a bridge (possibly that across the Cedar Pond). Dimensions are included. There are handwritten notes by Page checking if the height of handrails and size of the ‘outriggers’ are correct.

  • Leeds Castle, Entrance Road and Parking Plan

    RP/1/1/20/5

    August 1976

    76 x 107.5 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil and ink design on tracing paper dated 18 August 1976, marked ‘Leeds Castle, Preliminary sketch plan, new entrance, new road, parking, new tree planting, scale 1/500’ (reference number on dyeline copy 76/79/1).

  • Leeds Castle, Road Entrance, Preliminary Sketch Plan

    RP/1/1/20/6a

    February 1977

    71.3 x 42.3 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A dyeline design dated February 1977, marked ‘Leeds Castle, Preliminary sketch plan for Leeds Road entrance, scale 1/500’ (reference number 1979/79/10). A plan, elevation and details of the proposed new entrance way are shown. Explanatory notes and dimensions are included.

  • Leeds Castle, Plan – ‘Over All Look’

    RP/1/1/20/7

    July 1979

    55 x 88 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A dyeline design dated July 1979, marked ‘Sketch plan only, Leeds Castle an overall look, based on blow-up of ordnance survey, probably 1/1225’ (reference number 1979/79/11). The plan shows the new lake (now called the Great Water) and the area of the grounds to the east of the castle; this includes the site of the new walled garden. There is also a drawing showing a cross section of the decanting pool, situated at the southern end of the lake.

  • Leeds Castle, Sketch Plan of Lake

    RP/1/1/20/16

    [1979?]

    38 x 63.5 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated ink and pencil design on tracing paper (reference number 1976/79/6). The plan relates to RP/1/1/20/7 and is likely to have been drawn around the same time. It shows Page’s suggestion for the new lake (now called the Great Water).

  • Leeds Castle, Walled Garden and Plantation

    RP/1/1/20/9

    November 1978

    51 x 73 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A dyeline plan dated November 1978 marked ‘Leeds Castle, Walled garden and plantation, scale 1/ 250’. It shows the layout of the area of Leeds Castle that includes the site of a proposed new walled garden.

  • Leeds Castle, Walled Garden

    RP/1/1/20/10

    [1978?]

    51 x 58 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated dyeline plan marked ‘The Walled Garden, Leeds Castle, scale 1/250’. As well as the existing layout, cross sections of parts of the site are shown.

  • Leeds Castle, Walled Garden

    RP/1/1/20/11

    [1978?]

    48 x 33 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated dyeline plan marked ‘The Walled Garden, Leeds Castle, scale 1/250’. It shows the existing layout of the site, over which rough pencil sketches have been drawn.

  • Leeds Castle, Walled Garden

    RP/1/1/20/20

    [1978 or 1979?]

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A photocopy of what appears to be a preliminary sketch and notes for the new walled garden. There is a lengthy note by Page about the difficulties of the site and its unsuitability for a flower garden.

  • Leeds Castle, Kitchen Garden

    RP/1/1/20/8

    October 1979

    54.8 x 100 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil and ink design on tracing paper dated 1 October 1979, marked ‘Leeds Castle, walled kitchen garden suggested treatment, scale 1/125 approx 8mm = 1 metre’ (reference number 76/79/2). The plan includes notes about the positioning and dimensions of pathways, and a note that the planting will be mostly shrubs.

  • Leeds Castle, Sketch Plan for Walled Garden

    RP/1/1/20/21

    October 1979

    57.3 x 84.1 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 10 October 1979, marked ‘Sketch Plan for Walled Garden, scale 8mm = 1 metre, 1/250’. A similar plan to RP/1/1/20/8 with some changes to the location of pathways.

  • Leeds Castle, [Walled Garden Sketch Plan]

    RP/1/1/20/15

    [1979]

    38 x 52 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An informal undated ink design on tracing paper, marked ‘Leeds Castle, scale 1/250, 4mm = 1 mm’ (reference number 76/79/5).

  • Leeds Castle, Survey Map of Garden Area

    RP/1/1/20/12

    [1970s?]

    67 x 61.5 cm

    A dyeline survey map of the area of Leeds Castle where the new walled garden was to be built (scale 1/1000).

  • Leeds Castle, Survey Map of Meadow and Stream

    RP/1/1/20/13

    [1970s?]

    54 x 109 cm

    An undated dyeline survey map, labelled ‘Contour Plan of Meadow & Stream by Estate Office at Leeds Castle, scale 1/500, plan no.4, showing effect of raising weir by three feet & water level to 186.5 - 187.0, G. M. Ashen[den] (ARICS)’. This shows the area of land that would be developed into the new lake (called the Great Water). The course of the existing stream has been added in blue pencil.

  • Leeds Castle, Public Access Map

    RP/1/1/20/14

    [1970s]

    83 x 81 cm

    An undated dyeline map with some areas highlighted in coloured pencil, marked ‘Leeds Castle Public Access - Plan 1, scale 1/2500, Strutt and Parker’.

Leeds Castle, Broomfield, Kent, England

1956 to 1979

Archive of Garden Design Ref: RP/1/1/20

Leeds Castle is notable among Russell Page’s projects not only for the impact of his designs, which included creating a 450m long lake, but because he worked there, on and off, throughout his entire career.

In the mid-1930s, Page was asked to carry out landscaping at the estate by Lady Baillie, who had purchased the property in 1926 (with her second husband Arthur Wilson-Firmer; she married Sir Adrian Baillie in 1931). The estate had a long history. Home to a Norman castle, which had evolved over the centuries to become a royal palace, it first passed into private hands in the mid-16th century, when Henry VIII granted it to Anthony St Leger. From this point on, the living accommodation, sited on an island surrounded by a moat, went through various iterations: the early castle buildings were initially rebuilt as a Jacobean mansion, the outer appearance of which was substantially modified in 1749, but this too was demolished in the 1820s and a ‘New Castle’ built in a pseudo-medieval style.

From the late 1920s onwards, Lady Baillie continued to make further alterations to the interior of the castle, working with architect Owen Little and interior designers Armand-Albert Rateau and Stéphane Boudin to create a suitably impressive setting for her legendary entertaining (her guests included politicians, film stars and royalty). She also set about transforming the grounds. The estate extends to more than 350 acres of parkland and woodland; cutting through it is the River Len, and a collection of connected streams and ponds. To the west of the river is a steep, bowl-shaped bank, while the land to the east rises more gently.

Attention was focused mostly on the roughly 15-acre plot radiating out from the moated castle. Page assisted with much of this, although there are no documents in the Russell Page archive that relate to his pre-1950s work at Leeds Castle. It was one of his first professional roles and may well have come about thanks to Stéphane Boudin, with whom Page had worked at Ditchley Park in 1935. Page is credited with designing the new oval-shaped drive leading up to the main entrance to the house, as well as new plantings around the castle. He also oversaw the addition of a swimming pool, deploying a device he would often use of disguising it behind yew hedges.

At some point, Page also worked on the creation of a naturalized spring garden along the banks of the stream and ponds which ran off the River Len to the north-west of the castle (Francois Goffinet was responsible for redesigning this planting in the late 1980s). The only drawings to show designs for these waterways are those for a bridge over the Cedar Pond (RP/1/1/20/18 and RP/1/1/20/4), which was constructed in the 1960s (Page’s notes on RP/1/1/20/4 suggest that it was to replace an earlier rotten bridge, although no footbridge appears to have been previously marked on ordnance survey maps). Around the same time, Page helped to create a canal, surrounded by a wilderness of grass and felled trees, to home Lady Baillie’s much-loved waterfowl. A surviving reference to this work exists in the design for a duck pond house (RP/1/1/20/2).

The earliest of the drawings for Leeds Castle in the archive relate to a proposed new lake in which there would be a rectangular island garden (see RP/1/1/20/1, RP/1/1/20/3 and RP/1/1/20/19). The shape of the lake, and its position in relation to driveways, suggests that these are early designs for what would become the Great Water, the lake which was created by flooding the valley of the river Len to the south of the castle. This area of land had been flooded before, when used as a water defence during the medieval period, but maps suggest that the current Great Water was not formed until the re-landscaping of the property in the 1970s, twenty years after Page’s initial drawings. The earlier suggestions for a mount and garden were not included in the final realisation of the new lake, however.

The later 1970s was a busy time at Leeds Castle. Lady Baillie had died in 1974, leaving the estate to the Leeds Castle Foundation so as to ensure it would be preserved permanently. In 1976, following necessary alterations (such as adding new parking areas) the castle opened to the public. As part of these modifications, Page not only oversaw the construction of the Great Water but transformed a walled kitchen garden, overlooking the new lake, into a more formal flower garden. It was not an easy undertaking. As his notes on an early plan (RP/1/1/20/20) make clear:

There is an 8 foot drop East West and a gentler slope N. S. A shapeless site with slopes falling two ways. In no way should it ever be seen as a whole. Any design you could see all at once would mean a lot of stone retaining walls & steps & would never make sense on this piece of ground with the shape it has. Only solution – break it up into very large beds – use diagonals for paths (gentler slopes). Plant in Sissinghurst jungle fashion. Lots of old fashioned & floribunda roses – lilacs [syringas] iris paeonies – other low maintenance perennials & small flowering or foliage low shrubs of labyrinth of plants which you wander [amongst?]. At best it would be the contemporary [ideal?] cottage garden.

It’s no flower garden for Leeds Castle – which should not have a flower garden anyway.

THIS SITE IS FOR THE BIRDS.

The work went ahead, however, and the new garden was finished in 1980. Called the Culpeper Garden, after the seventeenth-century owners of Leeds Castle, Page followed his proposed solution and broke down the irregular plot into a series of geometric, box-edged beds filled with a selection of English cottage garden plants, divided by brick paths. According to Gabrielle van Zuylen, “Page’s method of planting the Culpepper garden was practical and fast” (115). As she goes on to explain:

He drew up his plant list alphabetically and sent instructions to Leeds to have the flats of plants laid out in twenty-six alphabetical rows. He arrived at the castle armed with a long stick, and, assisted by seven gardeners, simply pointed to the easily found plants, and into the soil they went. The garden was made in one day, and not one plant was subsequently repositioned. (115)

The Culpeper Garden can still be seen as Page intended.

Literature

“Leeds Castle.” Historic England, https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000184. Accessed 8 July 2020.

van Zuylen, Gabrielle and Marina Schinz. The Gardens of Russell Page. Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2008.

Related material in the Archive of Garden Design

RP/3/1/3: Leeds Castle, Handwritten text.

Related material elsewhere

There are several aerial photographs, taken between 1923 and 1948, available to view on the Britain from Above website (including: EPW009215; EAW017623; EPW038119; EPW009216; EPW018638; EAW004771; EAW004768; EAW004772; and EAW004769), https://britainfromabove.org.uk/en. Accessed 8 July 2020.