Evolution, not revolution, at Iford Manor Gardens

30 Mar 2021

Iford Manor in Wiltshire has won the prestigious 2020 Historic Houses / Sotheby’s Restoration Award.
  • The prize recognises the success of owner William Cartwright Hignett’s efforts to repair and consolidate the Grade II* cloisters built by influential architect and landscape designer Harold Peto in the Grade I listed garden of his home near Bath.
  • The building, one of Peto’s most important works, was in danger of collapse as its clay foundations dried out in the drought of 2018, causing subsidence.

Head Gardener Troy Scott Smith (formerly Head Gardener at Sissinghurst and Bodnant) has been refreshing the planting throughout the historic garden with his team.
  • Cypresses selected by William Cartwright-Hignett on a visit to Italy, have been reintroduced to the garden. Formerly a key part of Peto’s Italianate design they have been a feature in the garden since Georgian times.  
  • A new “Sakura Walk” has been created as part of the Japan-UK Sakura Cherries Project. The Japanese Government have kindly gifted 33 cherry trees to Iford for visitors to enjoy, as part of this nationwide initiative.
New monthly out-of-hours ‘evening champagne’ tours with owner William Cartwright-Hignett and ‘behind the scenes’ tours with famed Head Gardener Troy Scott Smith are now available to book on the Iford Manor website.

New café and restaurant opening at Iford, serving brunch, lunch and afternoon tea. The café should be operational from 1st May with the restaurant opening as soon as Phase 3 of the Roadmap is completed. Beautifully designed, with plenty of space and outdoor seating to provide the perfect complement to a visit to Iford Manor Gardens.

Worth the wait
After remaining closed to visitors throughout 2020, the team at Iford have all been hard at work behind the scenes to ensure that the reopening on 1st April 2021 was worth the wait.  Advance booking is recommended to guarantee entry as tickets are limited to ensure the garden can be properly enjoyed.
Iford Manor was the overall winner of the prestigious 2020 Historic Houses Restoration Award, supported by Sotheby’s, for the restoration of Harold Peto’s cloisters in the romantic, architectural gardens. 
Popular with visitors, the gardens were recently features on the big screen in The Secret Garden movie (2020).
Owner William Cartwright-Hignett and Head Gardener Troy Scott Smith (formerly Head Gardener at Sissinghurst) oversee planting and continual restoration today and all revenue from opening is reinvested to ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy the garden.
New audioguides for visitors, or out-of-hours tours from owner William Cartwright-Hignett or Head Gardener Troy Scott Smith are now available in 2021 to allow visitors deeper insights into the wealth of history, architecture, design and horticulture at Iford.
‘A haunt of ancient peace’ – Iford Manor’s cloisters
The cloisters at Iford Manor were constructed in 1914 by Harold Peto, who lived at Iford from 1899 to his death in 1933. Placing above the entranceway an inscription from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem The Palace of Art, Peto called the building his “Haunt of Ancient Peace” and in it he assembled a collection of his favourite fine statues, marbles and ornaments collected on his travels over the decades. 
Although not his largest project, the intimate building, constructed in the style of a thirteenth-century Romanesque cloister, is arguably Harold Peto’s most important architectural creation.  It demonstrates his respect for antecedent styles and the importance he placed on creating tranquil yet powerful spaces through the integration of historic fragments.
However, Peto erected his creation on natural hard pounded clay – fullers earth – rather than sunk foundations. In the exceptionally dry summer of 2018, cracks appeared and rapidly worsened. By August the building was considered unsafe and the delicate marble columns were at risk of shattering. Despite immediate shoring up with structural scaffolding, movement continued and by the end of the drought some columns were significantly out of truth and 2cm had opened in the arches. 
After detailed investigations confirmed that the lack of foundations, combined with the effects of drought, was causing subsidence, the conservation officer gave the go ahead for local contractors to start work in August 2019. New strip foundations supporting steel pins and wood formers to hold up the arches in the north and east walls allowed the wholesale removal of the columns while the dwarf walls on which they stood were taken down. Each stone was numbered and its location recorded ready for exact reinstatement.
Permanent new foundations were dug a metre and a half deep – the constrained space meant most excavation could only be done by hand – and the dismantled walls meticulously reconstructed using a lime mortar mixed to match the original. In some cases, the levelling-up of the supporting walls meant the columns awaiting reinstatement were too long for the gap between base and arch; to preserve the continuity of Peto’s original design, they were carefully shortened to fit. 
Re-laid limestone flagstones were complemented by a new haired-lime render, replacing much of previous render done in 1989, coloured with a pink limewash to restore the original scheme. Wherever possible, original fabric was reused; modern replacements were obtained from local, vernacular sources.
William Cartwright Hignett said, ‘Our aim was to ensure that the building’s spirit remained intact while we assured its structural future. We’ve saved the building from collapse, but it still feels like that ‘haunt of ancient peace’ that Peto intended. Now it’s safe to use it can be appreciated on visits to the garden, as a very special venue for events, and as a private chapel, for generations to come.’
Discover more: ifordmanor.co.uk
Evolution, not revolution, at Iford Manor Gardens
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