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Robert Marnock (1800-1889)

The Gardens Trust are celebrating the work of Robert Marnock this summer. But who is Robert Marnock? I am afraid I had not heard of him until now but he became one of the leading landscape gardeners of the mid-19th century.  

As well as being designer and curator of botanical gardens in Sheffield and London, Marnock undertook a substantial number of private commissions across the country, plus sites in Italy and Belgium. He was a gardener at Bretton Hall, Yorkshire in 1834 (the grounds of which now form the amazing Yorkshire Sculpture Park) when he won a competition to design the Sheffield Botanic Garden. In 1840, he again won a competition for the design of a garden for the Royal Botanic Society in Regent's Park, London, where he became curator until 1862.

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From 1836 to 1842, Marnock edited two gardening magazines and contributed to the Florigraphia Britannica (1837). Later in his career, Marnock carried out a number of private commissions, as well as the design of Alexandra Park in Hastings (1878).

Robert Marnock is noted for ‘Winding walks shaded by trees, long stretches of green turf studded here and there with giants of the forest, sequestered nooks and shady dells, flower beds in some places, woods all round and delightful views from everywhere.’

I have discovered that, nearer to home, he was responsible for the design of the pleasure gardens at Park Place, Remenham, and at the Fairmile in Cholsey (at the time in Berkshire but now in Oxfordshire). 

PARK PLACE, REMENHAM, is a Grade II* Registered Park and Garden.  The whole park is now in a number of private ownerships where security is paramount.  Quoting from LUC’s Conservation Management Plan in 2005:

The Estate was bought by John Noble of ‘Noble’s Paints and Varnishes’ in 1869, together with the Temple Combe Estate. Noble made many improvements to the pleasure grounds, and built a large number of glasshouses, many new farm buildings, and a new boathouse near the old boathouse.

‘Extensive landscape gardening was carried out under the direction of the late Mr. Marnock, the well-known landscape gardener’. Robert Marnock had previously laid out Noble’s other Estate Berry Hill, in Buckinghamshire. Noble claimed that ‘many thousands of specimen trees and shrubs were planted, including as far as possible every known variety. Mr Marnock used his great experience with much success, as now, after thirty five years, his schemes of planting have grown into most beautiful
arrangements of colour, and on every side fine groups of scarlet-oak, maple, salisburia, and pyrus blend successfully with tulip trees, golden elms and purple prunus; and are backed by extensive woods abounding in many rare varieties of wild flowers amid the natural undergrowth.’ It is likely that this planting was primarily within the 19th century Pleasure Ground.


Remnants of Marnock’s design survive in part around the main house at Park Place.

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OS 1875-1878

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Google Earth 2021

FAIRMILE, CHOLSEY is a Grade II Registered Park and Garden, now in Oxfordshire but until 1974 was part of Berkshire.   Built in 1870 as an asylum, the grounds were laid out to a design by Robert Marnock for which he was paid £30.  There is little on record but the map below shows the grounds soon after they were laid out; with the Fairmile today to the right.

The Historic England citation in the Annual Report for 1872 notes 'the planting of the trees and shrubs on the grounds in front of the Asylum, in continuation of Mr. Marnock's plan'. Gardening and work on the asylum farm, orchard, and vegetable garden formed an important part of the patients' regime, with over fifty patients being thus employed in 1871 (Ann Rep 1871). The farm included over 3 acres (1.25ha) irrigated by sewage.

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OS 1897

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Google Earth 2020

The Fairmile was redeveloped for housing in the late 2010s, retaining the parkland area between the main asylum building and the Reading Road; Marnock’s tree planting, oval approach and the central lawns.  The photos below show some of the surviving aspects of the grounds.

Bettina Kirkham, Summer 2023

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