Re-discovering Deepdene’s historic paths

From 12th of December 2016 we began work to resurface two more historic paths on the Deepdene Trail to help visitors find their way and get around. The paths had been opened by hand earlier this year by the hard work of the Friends of Deepdene.

Early Deepdene paths

From its earliest times there has been a path network throughout Deepdene that has encouraged visitors to explore.

In 1653 when Charles Howard became owner of the estate, Deepdene mainly consisted of the deep valley at the heart of the grounds that are the Gardens of Deepdene today. He created there, over the next 20 years, one of the first truly Italianate Gardens in England. This ambition was greatly supported by the steep sides of the valley into which he cut paths creating Italian-style terraces in the manner of a theatre.

Sir Charles has shaped his valley in the form of a theatre with more than six narrow walks on the sides, like rows of seats, one above the other. . .’

John Aubrey describing his visit to Deepdene in 1673

The Hope family’s path network

In 1807 Thomas Hope became Deepdene’s owner followed by his son Henry Hope in 1832 and it is from their time that the main paths of the Deepdene Trail were formed.

‘Here I was much gratified with a pleasing picture of landscape-gardening; the quiet of echoing dells; and the refreshing coolness of caves and subterranean passages, all which combined to render this spot a kind of Fairy Region. Flower- gardens, laid out in parterres, with much taste, here mingle the aspect of trim neatness with rude nature, in walks winding though woods and plantations and containing several ruined grottoes and hermitages, well adapted, by their solitary situations, to study and reverie.’

Timbs, 1822, describing Thomas Hope’s Deepdene in A Picturesque Promenade Round Dorking

The first path we are resurfacing formed a ‘serpentine’ walk through the woods that linked the Gardens to the Terrace. This drawing from 1825 shows the first version of this path in Thomas Hope’s time.

Deepdene_map_1825
Early path highlighted on map from Britton, J. 1826 Descriptive account of the Deepdene, the Seat of Thomas Hope Esq. © Reproduced by kind permission of the Lambeth Archives department

When Henry took over he completed this route. He also added a new path linking the parterre – the formal garden area that has always been a feature of the gardens at Deepdene – to the Middle Walk.

deepdene_paths_1870

These paths remained throughout the Deepdene, playing host to visitors such as Winston Churchill who came to see his aunt, the Duchess of Marlborough, when she rented the estate at the turn of the 20th century. Later they entertained guests of the Deepdene Hotel in the 1920’s and 1930’s. As the estate was broken up and the House repurposed as headquarters for the Southern Railway (1939-1966), however, many started to become less cared for and overgrown.

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Friends of Deepdene

This year these two particular paths were uncovered by the Friends of Deepdene. The volunteers worked with us to locate and map out these historic routes then by hand they cut through the overgrowth revealing the routes we use today. Thanks to their hard work we can now relay the surface onto these paths allowing visitors to get around the Trail with more ease and follow these historic routes like visitors did in the past.

Join us!

Would you like to join the Friends on site and get involved in work like this? They currently work two days every week (Wednesday-Thursday). If you are interested in conserving this fantastic historic landscape, looking for a bit of regular exercise or are a dab hand with a pair of secateurs and willing to lend a hand, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please contact:

thedeepdenetrail@molevalley.gov.uk

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