Page last updated at 17:01 GMT, Friday, 26 February 2010
A visit to Gilpin's gardens at Pell Wall Hall
The lake at Pell Wall Hall
The lake at Pell Wall Hall was designed by William Gilpin

Pell Wall Hall near Market Drayton has been sold and a full renovation programme has already begun.

The hall was once the centre of a 2,000-acre estate with formal gardens designed by William Gilpin.

Although the hall fell into disrepair, the gardens have remained almost as they were in the 1820s, when the house was built.

They are now owned and cared for by landscape gardener John Udall, who bought them about 20 years ago.

William Gilpin

The pleasure grounds at Pell Wall Hall were created by the landscape gardener, William Sawrey Gilpin. He was the son of the renowned animal painter, Sawrey Gilpin.

William Gilpin also became an artist and in 1806 he was a drawing master at Sandhurst Military College. When he left there in 1820 at the age of 60 he started a new career in garden design.

Among his other commissions were Scotney Castle in Kent and Hawarden Castle in North Wales.

It is perhaps fortunate that the gardens were sold separately from the hall, which has remained derelict since a fire in 1986. The house was the last domestic commission of acclaimed architect Sir John Soane .

Summer House

The Grade II listed summer house at Pell Wall
The summer house in Pell Wall gardens is grade II listed

The gardens cover about 12 acres of undulating ground. Walking up from the boundary with the grounds of Pell Wall Hall the summer house comes into view. It was built in 1866 and is Grade II listed.

Further along the path is a grotto that was built by the Brothers of Christian Instruction and the boys of St Joseph's College which was based at Pell Wall Hall until 1962.

There used to be a statue of Our Lady on the top and another, thought to be of St Bernadette, beside the altar. Mr Udall thinks they were removed when the school was closed.

The lake

Mr Udall believes Gilpin used multiple levels a lot in his designs: "I think it was not so much formality. It was more of a natural and pleasing to the eye garden.

"I do believe, obviously in those days there was less choice of plants. We come back to the basics of rhododendrons, azaleas and laurels."

A sweet chestnut in the gardens at Pell Wall
This sweet chestnut is thought to be older than Pell Wall Hall

On the way to the lake there is a huge sweet chestnut. It is about 80' tall (24.38m) and Mr Udall believes it has been there longer than the hall.

The lake itself lies in a hollow which Mr Udall compares to an amphitheatre. It has an island and two decked areas on the bank .

When Mr Udall bought the gardens he was told the lake was a man-made pleasure pool, but he believes it was the source of the hoggin (sand, gravel and clay) used to surface the paths in the gardens.

He thinks stone was excavated from the site and it was then filled with water.

The ice house at Pell Wall Hall
The top of the underground ice house at Pell Wall

The path goes down towards the Italian Garden past the underground ice house. Accessed by a small hatch, it is about 19 feet long (5.79m), eight feet deep (2.44m) and 14 feet wide (4.27m).

Mr Udall said he had no idea how the owners of the house accumulated enough ice to fill it: "They always said it was for gin and tonics rather than preserving food. They must have had a good time then."

Italian Garden

John Udall in the replanted yew walk at Pell Wall Hall
Landscape gardener, John Udall replanted the yew walk

John Udall believes the ravine which joins the lake-end of the grounds to the Italian Garden is man made: "On the left hand side we found evidence of some steps cut in the rock... and we think they must have carried the rocks out up the steps."

It must have been quite as task as the ravine is around 40 feet (12.19m) and the rocks would have to have been carried some way up the hillside.

The Italian Garden was created after 1900 and work was abandoned when World War I broke out. John Udall and his son Angus are now restoring it.

After seeing an old post card showing an avenue of trees leading down to the bottom of the garden, Mr Udall planted two rows of yews which are now growing well.

River Tern

The view of Pell Wall Hall from the Italian Garden
Pell Wall Hall is clearly visible from the Italian Garden

He believes the garden was originally just a grazing meadow: "I could never understand why there would be a cattle drinking trough by a yew tree... yews are very poisonous and cattle would not have been happy there.

"We have since found out that what is now the Italian garden was a field which was connected to the others on either side of the gardens at Pell Wall."

The final remnants of the Pell Wall estate's former glory are old iron hurdles which run to the edge of the River Tern at the bottom of the garden.

They marked the edge of the old carriage drive which went over a bridge and then along the river bank to Walkmill.

John Udall is very proud of the gardens and fully intends to continue to preserve and restore William Gilpin's original vision.

Bright future for Pell Wall Hall
22 Feb 10 |  History
Memories of Pell Wall Hall school
25 Feb 10 |  History


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