Mr Chamberlin’s New Garden at Adderbury House


“Several years ago, the magnificent mansion at Adderbury, which had been the abode, successively, of the Earls of Rochester, the Duke of Argyle and the Duke of Buccleuch, was reduced to the dimensions of a commodious modern mansion, which is now the residence of W.H.Chamberlin, Esq.”

Alfred Beesley, History of Banbury, p.488


In the early nineteenth century Adderbury House and its estate reverted to the ownership of the Bishop of Winchester. It was at this point that William Hunt Chamberlin (1777-1851), a land agent and property expert, who at that time lived in Cropredy, enters the picture, although there is not enough evidence at present to be sure about the extent or timing of his involvement.

We do have a survey of 1808 which suggests that Chamberlin was the owner of Adderbury House at that time. If this is true, then it is probable that it was he who decided to “reduce” Adderbury House in size, to make it easier to let and to give it the proportions that Chamberlin would himself want when he eventually retired to Adderbury. In any case, the two wings of the house were demolished, and the costs covered by selling the building materials and contents at an auction held in February 1808. Once this had been done, Chamberlin leased the house to John Field, only taking up residence himself twenty or so years later.

When he did retire to Adderbury in the late 1820s, William Hunt Chamberlin was a new experience for the village – the owner of a large house and park who was not either an aristocrat or a military man or on the staff of a large estate. He was, in fact, an independent professional, a surveyor, one of those who had made possible behind the scenes, for example, the widespread enclosures of recent times. He knew all about land, its value and how it could be transferred, and made a number of shrewd purchases on his own account throughout his career. His friends were fellow professionals, lawyers and successful go-ahead farmers, and he soon settled into a bachelor semi-retirement in Adderbury, with his friends, his pictures, his maps, his household of male and female servants – and, eventually, his new garden.

At this time, tastes in garden design were moving on from the eighteenth century preference for natural-looking parkland around great houses. Under the influence particularly of the designer John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) gardeners were encouraged to treat gardens as distinct from “nature”. They were encouraged to lay out ornamental gardens immediately surrounding their houses, using the brighter colours newly available in bedding plants, as well as seeking to create spaces throughout their gardens where the exotic plants and trees nurseries could now supply would be displayed to advantage. The new style was called the “gardenesque” style and was promoted by Loudon in “The Gardener’s Magazine”, first published in 1826, as well as in the numerous editions of his Encyclopedia of Gardening, first edition 1822.

William Hunt Chamberlin described himself in the 1841 census as a farmer, with thirty acres. His land was bounded on the west by the Oxford Road, extended as far south as the River Swere, and east roughly to the present edge of the village. His first act was very much in the spirit of the gardenesque style. Around his house he established flower gardens and an orchard, stretching in a rectangle from south of the house to the area now covered by Lake House. Next he created an irregular loop of wrought iron fencing to separate his garden off from his farmland. The fencing led down from the present-day Lake Walk, where it is still in place, then swooped southwards, then east and north again to circle both lakes. We still have the iron fence on the eastern side of the lakes. To the north the iron fence met up with Long Wall, which then completed the loop back up to Lake Walk.

Within this perimeter Mr Chamberlin established a number of garden features, all related to his leisuretime activities and those of his friends. Leading down from the formal gardens, the winding woodland path would have provided shade even on the hottest day, and led past the icehouse which, by this date, might have functioned in Mr Chamberlin’s mind simply as a fashionable ruin. Where the path then met the top lake you could either go left to a viewing point from which you could see right down the lake, or continue right along the esplanade that Mr Chamberlin had established on the western side by strengthening the banks, where he and his friends could saunter side by side along the lake, shaded by the trees that he planted alongside. One of these, the very large plane tree, survives to this day.

At the southern end of the upper lake, Mr Chamberlin built himself a boathouse (today’s boathouse is a much later replacement) and dismantled the rather elaborate eighteenth-century arrangement for connecting the upper lake from what lay below (involving, it’s said, a pump and a lion’s mouth spouting water) with a much more natural-seeming waterfall. This gentle cascade watered Mr Chamberlin’s greatest innovation – a bog garden where we currently have a second, lower lake.

This garden had a meandering path through it and would have been an area where Mr Chamberlin could display some of the exotic plants that were increasingly becoming available to the nineteenth-century gardener as a result of the efforts of plant-hunters across the world. We might get an idea of what the appearance and atmosphere of this was by thinking of the Bog Garden at Upton House – recognising, of course, that this was a 1930s creation (by Kitty Lloyd-Jones). Clumps of bamboos are all that remain today of this exotic garden.

As we turn north along the far side of the lower lake, we come across a number of the buildings that Mr Chamberlain erected in his new garden. They confirm that his gardening was not on a grand scale. They are simple, rustic stone structures, although well-enough finished, made from ironstone which may even have been quarried on Mr. Chamberlin’s estate: a summerhouse, from which a group of friends could look out onto the bog garden, or a sort of sentry box structure where one man alone could sit in shelter and look south down the bog garden to the countryside and riverbank below. We must remember that Mr Chamberlin had just three outside men for the farm and the garden and only one of these, Edward Andrews, describes himself in the 1851 census as a gardener rather than as an agricultural labourer. As well as the pleasure garden and the 30 acres of pasture with its stock, these three would also have had to run the walled garden (nowadays the Parish Council allotments), which would have supplied fruit, vegetables and flowers for the house.

Near to the summerhouse is a curious small stone structure, which could be a seat, or possibly a cap to a spring. It has a date, 1848, carved above it. While we have no means of knowing the significance of this date, it would be nice to feel that it was at this date, some twenty years after he had started to construct his new garden, that Mr Chamberlin felt his work was finished. He died three years later.


Phil Mansell
September 2017

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