Hid­den her­itage

Kent Life - - Garden Life - WORDS: Leigh Clapp PHO­TOS: Leigh Clapp

Stroll through acres of daf­fodils at Cob­ham Hall, in a park de­signed by Humphry Rep­ton

Avisit to the gar­dens at Cob­ham Hall, once home to the Earls of Darn­ley and now an in­de­pen­dent girls’ school, will lit­er­ally have you walk­ing in the foot­steps of Charles Dick­ens.

A great friend of the 6th Earl, the au­thor would of­ten pass through the park on his way from his home at Gad’s Hill to en­joy the ale at the Leather Bot­tle Inn in Cob­ham vil­lage.

A sense of time­less­ness per­vades the land­scape, laid out by Humphry Rep­ton, who was fea­tured in Feb­ru­ary Kent Life and con­sid­ered the suc­ces­sor to Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown, with rolling Grade II-listed park­land ex­tend­ing over 150 acres around the im­pos­ing house.

The es­tate is steeped in his­tory, dat­ing right back to Ro­man times, and Cob­ham Hall has wel­comed an ar­ray of im­por­tant vis­i­tors over the cen­turies. These in­clude Queen El­iz­a­beth I as well as Charles I spend­ing a night of his honey­moon here with his bride Hen­ri­etta Maria.

From 1790 to 1813 Rep­ton was em­ployed by the 4th Earl to restyle the grounds to a nat­u­ral­is­tic land­scape, as was fash­ion­able at the time. He drew up ‘be­fore’ and ‘af­ter’ views in one of his char­ac­ter­is­tic Red Books to show­case his de­sign pro­pos­als and over a grad­ual process, vis­it­ing the Earl many times, the grounds evolved.

Some ideas, such as stuc­coed walls to the Hall and a sweep­ing drive to the west front were turned down. Rep­ton had all but one of the lime av­enues re­moved, El­iz­a­bethan fish­ponds were given a more pic­turesque shape, an ex­ist­ing pine­tum was turned into plea­sure grounds and some gi­ant se­quoias were planted.

He planned two bas­tions as view­points, one made from a balustrade of Bath stone at the end of a wide gravel walk which looked out over herds of deer and cat­tle graz­ing amongst an­cient trees. The cat­tle have long gone but you may still see foot­prints of the sur­viv­ing small deer herd.

In Victorian times Cob­ham

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