RECREATING THE GARDEN –TUDOR OR MANNERIST? 2010-PRESENT
Further archaeology and the demolition of the houses confirmed the presence of a major garden, with 3 levels, and terraces on three sides with walks up to 15’ wide. However modern carports and access roads encroached on two of those terraces and the Tudor wall was groaning under the weight of these interventions. There has been a long history of abuse of the site, knowingly and unknowingly, with all the neighbouring freeholds variously exploiting its vulnerability and decrying its heritage status and our conviction.
Scrupulous attention to the archaeology and the incorporation of all the remains became our way forward as the detailed presence of more walls and staircases, their materials and construction methods emerged. Initially our only aim was to copy like for like, but gradually many questions were raised, opportunities seen, where no original answer was in the offing. Indeed it seemed increasingly likely that there were 2 or more early phases of the garden’s development, one perhaps around 1540 (after the dissolution of the monastery at Rochester cathedral), the other between 1600 and 1640. This latter was when Restoration House was being aggrandized with its Mannerist façade. This period under Henry Clerke was one of prosperity and preferment, the Recorder of Rochester becoming its MP in 1621, 1625, 1626, Reader Middle Temple 1629, Serjeant at Law 1631, Treasurer Serjeant’s Inn Chancery Lane 1642-4 and in receipt of numerous perquisites. An ambitious garden upgrade, utilizing the fashionable Italian influence of Inigo Jones was the order of the day. Just as Jones’ masques roamed stylistically through Roman, medieval and Renaissance styles, so it became clearer to us that the recreation of the garden would be enlivened with flourishes of imagination where no literal evidence survived.
Where evidence did survive it had a Renaissance flavour. The terrace in front of the brick and flint Tudor wall was of red brick (English bond) and with a subtle backward batter to its face. Additionally it featured concealed buttresses to the rear, a characteristic of Renaissance defensive building to prevent enemies scaling the face. This naked slanting brick face corresponds with the plinth like ground floor of a renaissance palazzo, with the extravagant and vertical brick and flint diaper wall corresponding to an elaborately fenestrated piano nobile (first floor), while the High Terrace above corresponds with the attic, thus creating a Renaissance form and conforming for example with the front of the Pitti Palace in Florence, which with its attendant Boboli gardens was well known in England.
Into this elevation we inserted water cannons shooting into turreted rills punctuating the plinth floor. On top of this wall a series of upright pipes form an arcade of water railings, while a semi spherical opening in the centre, encircles a statue splashing with more canon fire. This so called Chalice acts as a central focal point, symbolic portal and pond, its spherical form putting its classical columns through serpentine contortions, and the bricklayers likewise.
The purchase of Vines House in 2014 enabled the removal of one of the offending carports, thereby reclaiming the Western Terrace. This terrace is supported by a brick wall with a ragstone plinth similar to its Eastern counterpart but without the sloping bank. This wall contains C16th work, evidence of the earlier phase, while the wall behind it, now the Western boundary wall, includes at its south end a real surprise in the return of another section of the brick and flint diapered Tudor wall, again C16th The heavily buttressed rebuilding of this Western boundary wall was necessitated to support the neighbouring carport and is proportioned on the classical orders, with roundels or bull’s-eye openings, some blanked out. The repair of the Tudor work at the south end has so far been obstructed by neighbours. At the north end a yew tree judged to be about 250 years old has been saved within a corbelled brick planting box.
The Northern wall has a red brick plinth, c1700, and has over time been heightened in several phases and types of brick. Our work gives this palimpsest a further phase, adopting the hand made red brick used throughout the Mannerist garden to frame and incorporate this North wall into the Mannerist vocabulary. Closing the garden in at the North, was never intended in the 16th and 17th centuries, and is a result of the division of the garden when Vines House was built, c1694.