Leigh House, Sandy Lane, St James, Barbados
1967 to 1978
Archive of Garden Design Ref: RP/1/18
Sidney Bernstein, founder and chairman of the Granada group (which encompassed a television company, theatres and motorway services) built Leigh House on the Caribbean island of Barbados in the 1960s. The exact nature of Russell Page’s involvement with the design of this house and its garden is not known. There are only five related plans in the Russell Page archive and at least one of these originated with a firm of architects (RP/1/18/5). Although it is impossible to say with any certainty that Page’s role went beyond designing the garden, the drawings do suggest that he may have also assisted with planning the accommodation; across the drawings there is more variation in the layout of the rooms than in the planting, which is only alluded to via sketches of trees and flowerbeds. It would be natural for Page to have an opinion on the arrangement of the interior living spaces given how intimately they were connected to the garden. The rooms were spread across a collection of single-storey buildings, with living and sleeping areas separated. They all sat within the gardens and were connected via curving walkways which, although covered, opened out onto the surrounding greenery (the roofs are supported by slim, unobtrusive pillars). As a designer, Page always took a holistic approach; he thought of the architectural and natural elements as one.
Bernstein was not only a client but a friend. Page spent several Christmases with the Bernsteins at Leigh House, and he was a welcome visitor to Coppings Farm, their home in Kent (there is a plant list for flower beds at the farm in the Russell Page archive). How the friendship developed is not clear, but they may have been introduced by the politician and journalist Ronald Tree, owner of Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire from 1933 to late 1940s. Page had worked at Ditchley in 1935 in the early days of his short-lived partnership with Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe (their collaboration ended in 1939). It was Ronald Tree who had invited Bernstein to acquire a plot of land on the Sandy Lane resort on Barbados. Tree had bought the former Sandy Lane sugar plantation in the late 1950s. As well as creating a luxury hotel on the land, Tree built his own villa, Heron Bay – designed by Jellicoe – and encouraged selected friends to follow suit.
Bernstein bought his plot around 1963. He first commissioned Oliver Messel, famous for his stage sets, to design a house for him. In the event, the proposed two-storey villa wasn’t built, although Messel was responsible for nine houses on Barbados including his own home Maddox. (Lord Snowdon was his nephew and Messel also designed Princess Margaret’s home on Mustique, Les Jolies Eaux.)
The plans in the Russell Page archive suggest that designs for Leigh House as it was built were being finalised in 1967, with a guest cottage added in 1978. This new guest wing was devised by the architectural firm Robertson Ward Associates, and they may well have been responsible for the design of the entire property; they had designed the original Sandy Lane hotel – demolished and rebuilt in the late 1990s – as well as other residential properties on the Sandy Lane estate).
As well as working at Leigh House and Coppings Farm, Page suggested new landscaping for Granada owned service stations in Exeter, Forton and Heston and at Granada TV in Manchester. Sidney Bernstein (awarded a life peerage as Baron Bernstein in 1969) was also instrumental in introducing Page to gardening in Israel. It was on a visit there with Bernstein that Page met Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem, who asked Page for advice on beautifying the city. The report which Page produced in December 1973, entitled “Notes on Jerusalem”, and a “Short and Random List of Plants Suitable for the Jerusalem Climate” remain in the Russell Page archive.
van Zuylen, Gabrielle and Marina Schinz. The Gardens of Russell Page. Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2008.
Related material in the Archive of Garden Design
RP/1/1/13: Granada Group Limited, designs for Exeter, Forton and Heston service stations and Granada TV Manchester
RP/1/1/13/49: Leigh House, New Guest Wing Pathways
RP/1/1/63: designs for Coppings Farm, Kent
RP/3/1/14: List of Plants Suitable for Jerusalem
RP/3/1/13: Notes on Jerusalem
Related material elsewhere
The plans and drawings relating to the house Oliver Messel designed for Lord Bernstein at Sandy Lane are in the Theatre Collection at the University of Bristol (OHM/1/14/7).