A History of Gobions
Chapter Four - The Gardens at Gubbins Today
by Linda Jonas
Walpole’s summary of Bridgeman’s mature designs as "a backbone of bold, straight vistas skillfully exploiting the lie of the land and connecting the main features of the garden - canals, bowling greens, amphitheatres, temples - but interlaced with meandering walks through a wilderness of forest roves and extending into the surrounding countryside by use of the ha-ha to conceal the boundaries of the garden" was well illustrated by his design for Gubbins as can be seen from the plan of the garden overlaid on the estate map of c.1735. By studying the 1774 description of the garden quoted earlier it is possible to identify most of the features mentioned and a key plan showing these more clearly has been drawn.
Today, owing to the ravages of time and R. W. Gaussen, very little of the garden remains and the "morsels of forest" have virtually taken over. However, if we follow the route of the 1774 walk it is possible to find some of the main features and to have a faint echo of the "surprising greatness of Gubbins" noted by George Bickham in 1748.
Gubbins mansion stood north of Gobions Pond where the back gardens of The Grove meet the wooded area known as Gobions Garden. It was approached by a gravel driveway running east/west from the Great North Road, then known as the Kings Highway. From the house the land drops down to a small valley with the Raybrook stream running through before rising again to Swanley Bar. The 1718 field map refers to Lowins Spring field to the east of the house, evidence of the underground springs in water. Bridgemans plan uses straight and meandering walks, formal and informal pieces of water, statues and buildings, thickly planted trees and open spaces all to give a variety of experience from the elegant bowling green with its pyramid-shaped trees, exotic orange and lemon trees and statues to the mysterious grotto and "wild" cascade.
From the house the walk passed by a large, seven sided stone pigeon house designed by architect James Gibb possibly in 1732, who worked on extensions to the house and on several other commissions with Bridgeman. A straight avenue then took the visitor to a rotunda of trees reminiscent of Stowe with a gravel walk round to the first large piece of water. Some of the fine mature oaks in the gardens of houses in Mymms Drive must have been part of this rotunda and the "oblong piece of water" can still be seen from the path to the wood from Mymms Drive although now it is very overgrown with trees and water plants. The pigeon house was sold off by Gaussen, as was the "fine large figure of Time...holding a sun-diai" which was viewed over the pond.
After crossing the stream a formal walk led to the summer house and then turned left through meandering walks towards the wilder end of the garden. Being of timber, nothing now remains of the structure of the summer house even though the site is visible as a "terraced’ slope. The path round the east end of the wood does follow much of the route of the meandering walks although the exact position of the grotto is no longer clear. Nor is that of the "cascade" however our current assessment is that this was at the west end of the path planted with redwoods by Gaussen and that the puddingstone-faced bridges formed part of this feature. There is also a circular depression in the area which could have been the site of a formal curved stone seat, the ‘contemplative situation" referred to by "The Ambulator".
From the seat, the path led to the statue of Hercules which formed a focal point looking down straight avenues to the canal, the bowling green and back towards the cascade and its site can be seen a few yards over the Victorian brick bridge towards the Folly Arch. The visitor now walked alongside the canal which is still clearly visible with, as at Rousham, its temple at the east end. The remains of the temple foundations were partially excavated in 1988 by the Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust but until a full dig can be carried out they have been left hidden by undergrowth. By their size, the fine horse chestnut trees at each end of the canal could have been planted by Bridgeman. It was the opinion of the ecologists who surveyed the wood for the Trust that the hornbeam in particular in the area of the garden were not part of an existing wood but were planted in pasture and they do grow in a very even pattern echoing the "military precision" of the planting at Eastbury.
Leaving the canal the route passed the statue of "Cleopatra as stung with an asp", the loss of which can only be regretted as with all the statues mentioned, on its way to the large oak where the walkers stopped for a view across the canal back up to the pigeon house. This oak no longer stands possibly because as elsewhere in the country most of the oaks in the wood were cut down during the 1914-18 war for trench props etc. The walk concluded by visiting the bowling green, the site of which can still be clearly seen as a flat area with raised banks on its southern boundary.
The Folly Arch, which Gobions Jeremy had erected in 1740, is attributed to James Gibb for its design but does not appear to be part of the original Bridgeman plan. It was apparently erected to commemorate the estate’s connection with Queen Elizabeth 1 (the estate being given to her in 1550 by Edward VI but returned to the More family by Mary Tudor in 1553). It was built as a "triumphal arch" and was not intended as a gateway, however when he combined the two estates Robert Gaussen made a new driveway up to Brookmans along one of Bridgeman’s tree lined avenues with the arch as its main entrance. In order to allow carriages to have a straight run through the wood instead of using the old causeway which kinked round to the left he re-routed the stream and built a new brick bridge crossing it at right-angles. The pedimented walls to this bridge have now but a fine view of the Arch can still be had from this position. The avenue lime trees was felled and the stumps blown up during the 1939-45 war as part of the "Dig for Victory" campaign to make this country self-sufficient in food.
It is clear that the garden at Gubbins incorporated most of the features for which Bridgeman became known with the apparent notable exception of the ha-ha. There are ditches and banks round the perimeter of Gobions Wood but whether these are the remains of mediaeval hedge and ditch boundaries or of ha-ha’s is difficult to say. There appear to be banks marked on sections of the plan but again it is not possible to say for certain what these are and no mention is made of ha-ha’s in either of the contemporary descriptions of the garden. All we can conclude is that the surrounding pasture would most probably have been grazed, the animals would not have been allowed to wander amongst orange trees and gravel paths and Gobions Jeremy would have wanted an uninterrupted view from the house of "one of the most remarkable Curiosities in England".
Index - A History of Gobions
Chapter 1 - A History of Gobions - Peter Kingsford
Chapter 2 - The Present: Gobions Woodland Trust - Linda Jonas
Chapter 3 - Charles Bridgeman & The English Landscape Garden - Richard Bisgrove
Chapter 4 - The Garden at Gubbins Today - Linda Jonas
Photographs - Assorted prints from the book
Appendix - Appendices I, II, III - Three sections rolled into one including the Roll of Known Owners; Welham Green Connections; North Mymms Parish Valuation List 1838
All material reproduced on this site thanks to the co-operation of the Gobions Woodland Trust. The Trust has its own page on this site.