Tag Archives: gardens

Christmas Days: in another Kensington garden

Today’s post is the last of my Christmas mini-posts and this one has nothing to do with the time of year. Consider it the equivalent of one of those nostalgic TV costume dramas. We’re back in another of those country house gardens on Campden Hill which I looked at a few weeks ago. This is the garden of Aubrey House which is of course still exists.

Aubrey House garden front c1893 GN71 - Copy

I featured this lethargic group of young women before in a post called Victorian dreamtime. The eldest stands waiting with her tennis raquet, surely not expecting the younger pair to stop reading. One of them looks far too engrossed, the other momentarily distracted. In another part of the same garden:

Aubrey House 5047 woman and boy - Copy

A woman and a boy inspect the contents of a stone bowl or planter. The same set of steps came be seen closer up below.

Aubrey House 5047 woman - Copy

The creased picture shows a woman also making a close examination of the flowers

Copy of Aubrey House 5047 woman

A close up version in greyscale shows her taking a very close interest in a particular flower. The leg of mutton sleeve of her dress places her in the 1890s. It’s possible she may be one of the two in this picture:

Aubrey House Two women in the garden MS5047 160 - Copy

Or one of them may have featured in a previous post set in wilder territory, Mary and Rachels’s Walk in the Country. Once again a little bit of gardening is going on. I think this is a view of the same path from the opposite direction facing away from the stairs.

This small set of pictures shows the tranquil but perhaps restricted life of women in affluent households at the tail end of the 19th century. Or maybe they’re just snapshots of sunny afternoons more than a hundred years ago, of no particular significance. After all if you changed the clothes you could still find women in gardens today looking just as tranquil and picturesque.

magazine-edith-wharton-05_140528156279 - Copy

Photo by one of the greats of modern photography, Annie Leibowitz, for a series inspired by the work of Edith Wharton featured in Vogue.

Next week we’re sticking with fashion and the 1890s as it’s time for another visit to the ever-popular 1897 Duchess of Devonshire’s Jubilee Costume Ball.

Sunday afternoon at the Horticultural Gardens

It’s 1863. While my friend James Hedderly is taking photographs of riverside life in Chelsea featuring subjects at the lower end of the Victorian social scale, a short distance away a professional photographer is taking pictures of visitors to the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens in Exhibition Road who come from an entirely different class. It looks quiet out there. The visitors look prosperous and well dressed. The water of the ornamental pond is still. The images are crisp. The poses are casual but even allowing for the unknown professional’s equipment I think the people in the pictures are still carefully placed in the composition and are holding their positions as the picture is taken.

In this view we’re looking north. The Albert Hall would have been right behind the glasshouse – at the time of this picture there were still four years before the foundation stone of the building was laid. At the left of the picture you can see the tower of a house at 1 Hyde Park Gate. The chimney I’m not too sure about. I can’t see a likely candidate on the 1862 Ordnance Survey map. Suggestions are welcome.

From a modern point of view the two women are amazingly overdressed. The one on the right looks daunted at the slope. How did her friend even get up there? In fact the crinoline skirt which would be held in ridicule by later Victorians and everyone after that was something of a step forward in terms of mobility and was much lighter than the previous fashion for masses of petticoats.

The man is probably just as restricted in his formal daywear despite his casual pose. Look again at the still water and the reflections in it of the balustrade and the two women.

This view shows the glasshouse from another angle. It’s another composition in which the people seem as still as the plants.

Another close-up shows that the only man in the picture is also reading instead of looking at the tranquil scene around him. Or perhaps it’s the same man moving around for the benefit of the photographer.

The gardens were not a huge success. They were one of the early ideas for populating Albertopolis as the area is sometimes called, and were always uneasy partners with other features of the growing museum district such as the 1862 Exhibition building to the south, which would itself give way to the Natural History Museum. Smoke and noise around the site increased and the Society had a limited lease on the land. Eventually Prince Consort Road would go through the site, right where those two women are standing in the picture, and later the Science Museum and the Imperial Institute would replace the Gardens.

This image from 1901 shows part of the Science Museum and the slightly sinister looking Imperial Institute building. The Institute is also gone now although the tower on the right remains on the Kensington skyline. Here is a view from the 1960s showing the tower in its modern setting.

But although the Royal Horticultural Gardens have left no visible trace they are not entirely forgotten. I know I’ve made this point before but in the photographs these two women are still there on that quiet afternoon still feigning an interest in the plants for the benefit of the photographer and ourselves.

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