Horton Hall, Northamptonshire

Posted on April 1st, 2009 by Jonathan Lovie

The proposals at Brislington House and Putteridge Bury both highlight the danger sometimes posed by a division in ownership, which in turn leads to an increase in development pressure or incremental change. At Horton Hall, a Grade II landscape near Northampton, we were alerted by a local resident to the sub-division of part of the historic park, and the apparent annexation of parkland for domestic gardens.

Horton may be familiar to some members as the site of The Menagerie, a mid-eighteenth century folly attributed to Thomas Wright, which was home to the late Gervase Jackson-Stops. Here he and his successors have created a remarkable late twentieth century garden within the surviving eighteenth century framework which is of considerable significance in its own right. Although the main house, which had been remodelled by Wright, was demolished in the 1930s, other Wrightian landscape structures survive, including an Ionic temple and a triumphal arch (both converted to domestic use in the nineteenth century), together with an icehouse and a remarkable dam disguised as a bridge. Despite the loss of some other features of the rococo landscape, including, apparently, an artificial volcano, enough of this remarkable landscape survives to present a coherent picture, held together by its central bowl of parkland and serpentine water.

We shared the residents’ concerns, therefore, when we learnt that areas of parkland adjoining twentieth century properties built on the site of the demolished mansion had been parcelled up and sold off to individual owners who had then erected fences around their new property. Elsewhere we noted that owners of houses built in an area of the former pleasure grounds known as The Shrubbery seemed to have removed historic planting in order to open-up views from their gardens. One particular case stood out where fences had been newly erected and earth moving had taken place; in an area which turns out to be the site of the early eighteenth century formal gardens which had been swept away by Thomas Wright.

Sadly, South Northamptonshire District Council did not share our view that these changes constituted ‘operations’ requiring planning consent; and they would need additional evidence before requiring an application for change of use from parkland to domestic garden.

This case highlights the relative weakness of the Register as a national designation, the problems faced by local government when considering specialised issues such as historic landscapes, and the potentially enormous impact of incremental changes, which while perhaps apparently minor in themselves, have a significant cumulative effect. We will continue to work closely with the local residents and the county gardens trust to monitor this situation; and as with Creech Grange, we will consider whether, as new information emerges about this landscape, it is correctly graded.

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