Experience 50 acres of quintessential Somerset gardens, near Taunton. Spanning three centuries of garden design, Hestercombe Gardens offer a unique combination and varied experience of the Georgian Landscape Garden (designed 1750s), the Victorian Shrubbery and the Edwardian Formal Gardens (early 1900s).
Setting off along the gravel walk on the southern edge of Rook Wood you’ll discover a breathtaking view from the magnificent Daisy Steps which were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to create a link between his Formal Garden and the earlier Landscape Garden.
The Victorian Shrubbery is a small enclosed garden incorporating a nineteenth-century yew tunnel with views to the Victorian water tower.
Hestercombe’s Landscape Garden, designed by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde, incorporates the restored eighteenth-century Octagon Summerhouse and its framed views of the gardens both up and down the valley.
The Terrace Walk leads to the Chinese Seat and the Valley of Cascades glimpses through the trees to see the Pope’s Urn so named after the original design by William Kent for the poet Alexander Pope and erected in his garden at Twickenham.
The spectacular Great Cascade is the dramatic centrepiece of the Landscape Garden and its theatrical effect was inspired by Bampfylde’s visit to William Shenstone’s garden, The Leasowes, in 1762. Opposite is another viewing point – the Rustic Seat allowing the visitor to stop and contemplate this sublime scene.
The earliest remaining medieval feature of Hestercombe House is a stone archway (currently accessible as part of the A Gentleman of Taste exhibition) dating from about 1280. In 1391 the estate was acquired by Sir John Warre.
The house underwent a major makeover in the 1680s when under the ownership of Sir Francis Warre and again between 1725 and 1730 when his son-in-law John Bampfylde took down most of the medieval part of the house and re-fronted the west elevation creating a typical Georgian façade that still survives. In the years following his death in 1750 the famous landscape garden was created by his son and heir Coplestone Warre Bampfylde.
In 1872, after almost 500 years in the hands of the Warre family, the Hestercombe estate was purchased by the 1st Viscount Portman. Lord Portman gutted the house interior giving it an expensive Victorian facelift, including a porte cochere at the entrance (a covered area under which carriages could park) and an elaborate water tower, typical of the fashionable picturesque asymmetry of the day.
In 1895 a new wing was added to the rear of the 17th century Orangery which was then further extended eventually creating the courtyard that now forms the visitor centre. Used initially as stables the buildings contained a tack room, groom’s accommodation and a number of loose boxes, some of the fitting for which have been retained in what is now the Stables Restaurant.
In 1904, the house was greatly embellished by the addition of the Formal Garden designed by Edwin Lutyens with planting schemes by Gertrude Jekyll. At this time, the Hon. Teddy Portman bought a matching pair of Cadillacs for himself and Mrs Portman. He built a garage with an inspection pit on the site of the present picnic terrace and a fine chauffeur’s cottage at the entrance to the courtyard – now housing the estate office. On the south wall above the porch is the Portman coat of arms incorporating the motto: A clean heart and a cheerful spirit.
After the death of Mrs Portman in 1951 the house was the headquarters of Somerset Fire Brigade for over 60 years before, in 2013, being acquired by the Hestercombe Gardens Trust from Somerset County Council through the community asset transfer scheme. The house, which was opened to the public for the first time in May 2014, now houses a gallery, gift shop and a second-hand book shop.
The Hestercombe Gardens visitor centre opened in May 2005, made up of a low range of 17th century stone farm buildings with tiled roofs and brick detailing. The upper storey of the ticket office was built as a dovecote in the early 19th century and still contains nesting holes for pigeons.
The house was bought by the Hestercombe Trust in 2013 from Somerset County Council for a mere £1 and now has many uses, mainly as home to Hestercombe Gallery, Gift Shop and a second-hand Book Shop as well as a functions and weddings venue.