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Gobions Woodland Report 2001

The Spirit of the Place

Geometry of Bridgeman's Design for GobionsEditor's Note: Click on the thumbnail image on the right to reveal a larger version of the illustration showing the geometry of Charles Bridgeman's original 18th century design for Gobions. The following text needs to be read in conjunction with this sketch, which appeared on the front cover of the Gobion Woodland Trust Friends' Report 2001. This small reproduction on this page is not clear enough to make out the features, but when you click through to the larger version it does give some idea of the original layout, with its prominent features, described in detail below. This is how the gardens looked originally and not what the Gobions Woodland Trust has in mind for them today. Click here for the trust's latest proposals.

A Greek never entered a wood without expecting to meet a god in it. John Ruskin Modern Painters 1856

  1. The early 18th century garden in the wood had two linked but apparently opposed aspects; firstly, it was a sequence of incidents (Canal, Bowling Green, pool and cascade, Grotto etc.) on a system of paths laid out through the woodland. Many of these incidents were visually linked to each other (the Canal was visible from the Bowling Green, the Temple from Hercules etc.) but each incident had its own particular character and could be seen as self-contained. An important part of the wood's character was that these self-contained incidents were themselves contained within a wider enclosure, separate from the surrounding fields, helping to promote the sense of the wood as a magical space, in but not of the world - and hence Toldervy's references to Druids and to Mab and Oberon. It was important that it should appear cut off and separate.

  2. Secondly, the garden was connected at several places to the wider landscape (Hercules to the Folly Arch, the Bowling Green to Time and the boundaries of the estate, and the house must have been visible from much of Great Wood and was part of Toldervy's perambulation/circuit); these links with the world outside the wood were as important to the wood's character as was the sense of its separateness from the world. The two strands can coexist because these links were carefully selected; only those parts of the outside world that helped to promote the fantasy were admitted into the garden (the Pigeon House, the mansion and pleasure ground, the swallow holes), otherwise the specific area of the outside world visible from the wood was transformed by Art (Cleopatra, the obelisk, the Folly Arch).

  3. It seems that there was a deliberate intention to throw the Art of the layout in Great Wood into sharp contrast with the natural woodland through which the allees, paths and cabinets were cut; to heighten the contrast by placing (hiding) the Bowling Green, where the greatest concentration of artifice was found, in the middle of the wood, so that it was described by Toldervy as the 'most retired Bowling Green I ever saw'.

  4. There was also a great contrast between the layout in Great Wood, where all the classical buildings, statuary and urns, and straight paths were found, and the less obviously formal layout in Dive Wood, where the only summerhouse was wooden and painted green, the paths 'meandered' and the incidents included a grotto, a winding arch and natural wonders. The layout in Great Wood drew exclusively from the classical world (both buildings, and Hercules, a Gladiator, Adonis, Venus, Cleopatra, the obelisk and the Urn), whereas for Toldervy, Dive Wood conjured up images of ancient Britons.

  5. Where Great Wood gave the visitor a series of glimpses out into the surrounding fields and from where the house was widely visible, with the single exception of the Lattice Summerhouse, there do not seem to have been any views out of Dive Wood, helping to create a secret, enclosed, mysterious atmosphere. To Toldervy, Dive Wood's 'gloom' and 'mid-wood Shade' brought to mind a haunted world of Druids and Bards.

  6. Today almost all contrasts between the two woods have been evened out; there are no buildings in either wood and all the paths meander. The only difference is provided by the tree-cover - even-aged Ash, Elm and Hornbeam over most of the Bowling Green woodland, Beech, Scots Pine and Hornbeam, with the Redwoods, around the Upper Lagoon, Hornbeam coppice with the occasional Beech and Hazel in Dive Wood - and by the difference in topography (Great Wood level, Dive Wood broken ground). Art has retreated almost completely and Nature taken over. Today, it is the Redwoods, planted as part of the first stage in the wood's gradual conversion from garden to wood, that most hint that this was once more than simply a wood.

  7. Deep Bottom was predominately agricultural until the 20th century, when trees were planted on the valley slopes. However, with the swallow holes it was always a curiosity and had its place on the 18th century ornamental circuit. Today the marshy ground and most of the swallow holes are overgrown and the valley sides woodland of little interest, only the disused sewage works at the west end lend an air of decay and abandonment. The old road (West Boundary Path) - a holloway on the south side of the valley - is the most interesting feature in this area together with the pasture fields to the south-west of Deep Bottom. These fields, rather unkempt with burgeoning hedges and good hedgerow Oaks, have probably more than any others retained something like their 18th century character.

  8. As noted above, the fields around Great Wood and Dive Wood were brought into the ornamental landscape by erecting a statue, an obelisk and the Folly Arch in them, and by cutting vistas to these through the wood, or by planting avenues across them. This aspect of the design has disappeared without trace. The fields have reverted completely to agriculture and even the Folly Arch appears to have no connection with the wood.

  9. Iconography. As we do not know whether Toldervy saw all of Gobions' statues or whether the route taken by him was in the prescribed sequence, it may not be possible to construct a complete iconography. The following notes suggest a few possible attributions:
Hercules, half mortal half divine, stands on the main dividing line in the wood; a solar hero and a symbol of the western sky and clouds at sunset on a mound giving views west across the informal pools to the setting sun or east across the Canal to the Temple. From the Temple, Hercules was silhouetted against the western sky.

The statues on the Bowling Green dedicated it to love and summer; Venus, the favourite decorative figure of 18th century English gardens (at Stowe, Rousham, Oatlands etc.) and the classical deity of the garden as well as of love and beauty; and Adonis, loved by Venus and emblem of vegetation in whose wake the flowers bloomed and the birds sang - the personification of the six favourable months of the year, the period in which the Bowling Green would have been used.

From the Urn there were opposed views to Cleopatra (love) and the Gladiator (war), male and female sharing a violent and unnatural death. The summerhouse gave views in four directions but principally south to Venus and Adonis and north to Time - a reminder of the bargain Venus struck with Pluto allowing her only six months of Adonis' company each year.

From the Alcove the view seems to have been composed around an Egyptian theme, taking in Time, Cleopatra and the obelisk.

From the Gobions Wood Heritage Report prepared by Landscape Design Associates (S Campbell, A Harland, K Legate, N Owen and J Phibbs)


All elements of the Gobions Woodland Trust Friends' Report 2001
Introduction and general matters - Michael Jonas
Herbs of Gobions Woodland in flower - illustrations
Shrubs of Gobions Woodland in flower - illustrations
Second Heritage Lottery Fund application - Michael Jonas
The Spirit of the Place - description
The Spirit of the Place - illustration
Lottery Fund application - illustration


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