Carv­ing his way through his­tory

Tree sculp­tor John Wright tells the Ick­worth story

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE - WORDS & PHO­TOS: Suzy Sten­nett

The Na­tional Trust has stum­bled upon a novel way to make use of a small se­lec­tion of trees at Ick­worth House which have been iden­ti­fied as dy­ing – a pop-up his­tory guide fea­tur­ing the work of lo­cal wood ar­ti­san John Wil­liams.

The guide, along The Ersk­ine Walk and Lady Geral­dine’s Walk in the north gar­den, is John’s most am­bi­tious project to date as he chis­els through a to­tal of 450 sq ft of wood.

Carv­ing four dis­eased oaks, he is en­cap­su­lat­ing the com­plex his­tory of Ick­worth Park, the house and its oc­cu­pants, the Her­vey fam­ily. Each of the oaks is ded­i­cated to a spe­cific era and they all fea­ture lo­cals or work­ers from the es­tate, along­side mem­bers of the Her­vey fam­ily.

The story be­gins when the Ick­worth Es­tate con­sisted only of a church, a half-tim­bered house – the orig­i­nal Ick­worth Hall – a small ham­let, a deer-hunt­ing park, and a source of wa­ter.

Ick­worth park was orig­i­nally cre­ated by Thomas d’Ick­worth, who was granted the right to cre­ate a deer-park on land be­long­ing to the Abbey of Bury St Ed­munds in 1253. The Her­veys took over the es­tate in the mid 15th cen­tury, when Thomas Her­vey mar­ried Jane Drury, whose fam­ily then owned it.

John picks up the story with over life-size por­tray­als of Thomas Her­vey and Jane Drury carved al­most the en­tire height of the open­ing 12ft trunk. His sec­ond trunk fea­tures the 1st Earl of Bris­tol John Baron Her­vey (1665 - 1751), who in­her­ited the es­tate from his un­cle.

With a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in pol­i­tics, serv­ing as a Whig MP, Baron Her­vey dra­mat­i­cally ex­panded the Her­vey es­tates by mar­ry­ing two wealthy heiresses. He had plans to build an im­pres­sive pile to re­place the ne­glected and un­in­hab­it­able Ick­worth Hall, but Lady Bris­tol was in­cur­ably ex­trav­a­gant, and his large fam­ily too fi­nan­cially bur­den­some.

Fred­er­ick Her­vey 4th Earl of Bris­tol (1739 - 1803), com­monly known as the Earl Bishop, and his youngest son, Fred­er­ick Wil­liam 5th Earl and 1st Mar­quess of Bris­tol (1769 - 1859), are the sub­jects of John’s third trunk, two heirs who fi­nally re­alised the am­bi­tions of the Her­vey fam­ily to build the grand house that we know to­day as Ick­worth House.

The fourth trunk takes the story to the end of the Har­vey era with Fred­er­ick Wil­liam Her­vey, 4th Mar­quess of Bris­tol (1863 – 1951) and the Mar­chioness Alice Frances Theodora Wythes (1875 – 1957). The Mar­chioness will be carved larger than her hus­band in recog­ni­tion of her money and in­flu­ence that brought the es­tate back from the brink of in­sol­vency.

In 1956 the house, gar­dens, park and con­tents were handed to the trea­sury in lieu of death du­ties, then passed on to the Na­tional Trust. The Her­vey fam­ily con­tinue liv­ing in the East Wing un­der a lease. So, the last Her­vey to be por­trayed on John’s last trunk will be Fred­er­ick Wil­liam John Au­gus­tus 7th Mar­quess of Bris­tol (1954 – 1999). Known as John, Lord Bris­tol, he was a trou­bled soul, who squan­dered the re­main­der of the Her­vey for­tune on cars, he­li­copters, mis­guided busi­ness ven­tures and par­ty­ing, and was forced to sell the lease on the East Wing back to the trust.

John hopes to com­plete the project by Oc­to­ber 2019, so if you hap­pen to be there while he’s at work you may be able to see him carv­ing his way through his­tory!

John Wil­liams tree scu­pl­tures tell the Ick­worth story

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