It occurs to me that I keep referring to something a bit strange-sounding in these blogs and that it may be worth explaining what the bloomin’ heck I’m talking about.
Today, therefore, I’m going to focus on one of the best tools Willmott obsessives have in their box:
It’s a nickname, short for ‘Kip & Knyff’, a style of topographical drawing/engraving, often found as old prints in the back corridors of National Trust-type country houses:
The style was made popular by two Dutch draughtsmen, Johannes ‘Jan’ Kip (1652/3-1722) and Leendeert ‘Leonard Knyff’ Knijff (1650- 1722) who, both separately and together, specialised in exactly that kind of view. There are two excellent blog posts about them here and here.
Kip & Knyff became seriously popular and many other artists jumped on the bandwagon, sometimes colouring them in:
It seems that during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries no country house was complete without such a representation, either painted or as an engraving. Country house owners acquired and displayed them like football cards.
Here’s my copy of the Warley Place Kip:
It’s about one third the size that of Ellen’s (which only now I realise I’ve never measured) but still plenty large enough to pore over. In fact I have two copies: one pinned to the board above my desk, the other for carrying around on field trips.
I got them from a Warley Place Open Day many years ago and as far as I know volunteers still sell copies at Bulb Spectaculars. This year’s next opening is this coming weekend, March 25/26.
Ellen had dozens of these engravings printed. We found a large roll of full-size versions in the Spetchley cellars in 2019.
And it’s pretty good stuff. Minutely detailed and generally accurate, it’s our best shot for knowing what Warley (or the pleasure gardens, at least) looked like in their heyday.
Things became even clearer, though, when we fetched up two hand-coloured versions. Ellen must have specially commissioned a handful of them for special friends and family.
They were a bit crumpled but lovely Joe Pimpernel and Peter Yardley were able to lay them (almost) flat and take an excellent, super-hi-res photograph of one, which means we can really drill down to the nitty gritty of Ellen’s garden. I love that the artist has included gardeners, horses and even dogs, as well as the plantings.
We have no idea who drew Ellen’s Kip, where or when it was made, but it would have been some time between 1900 and around 1906 (basically before she started running out of cash). We can only hope that the bill for it turns up at some point. It can’t have been made much before these dates for two reasons:
1) Ellen only took possession of Warley on her mother’s death in 1898 and that was a Bad Year for her. She only started recovering in 1899.
2) The rockeries in the old orchard are well-established in the drawing, and she did not have those built until the early years of the new century, 1904, if memory serves (I can’t currently find the exact date in my labyrinthine notes, sorry…):
Having said that, the rockeries are depicted wrongly, so Ellen may have been planning them and just asked the artist to include an imagined version to keep it as up to date as possible.
The print is supremely confident; a statement of intent made at the same time as she had a glorious silver front door key* and fabulous map made, both of which I’ll discuss another day, so I’m proposing 1900 or 1901.
So – there it is. Ellen has recovered from her malaise, her temporarily lost way. Warley is hers now, and the World is going to know it. Just look at that deliberately archaic-sounding title:
Warley Place, the Seat of Miss E.A. Willmott.
Ellen was not responsible for the probably-iffily-acquired coat of arms (which I’ll talk about another day, it’s an amusing tale…) but she didn’t mind re-using it, making sure that everyone knew she was right up there with the toffs.
However dodgy the crest, the Kip’s depiction of Warley Place is pretty accurate, and we have long been grateful that we’re able to consult it for placing long-gone features and plants.
I used it, for example, to count the box planters that pop up in Chapter 17 of Miss Wilmott’s Ghosts, and I am pretty sure that stuff like that would have been depicted accurately – it would have been an easy win for the cartographer. They’re dotted around the site, but I like this part because it includes Miss Willmott herself in it, with her sister Rose, and one of their many dogs:
I’ll get to dogs another day, too. Sorry – I know this is frustrating but it’s so easy to get sidetracked talking about Ellen Willmott.
The buildings, including the stables, look correct:
…and Kip can also tell us about the layout of her hothouses:
Alas, we find frustratingly few photos of them, though archaeology bears-out the drawing:
Likewise, I’m fairly confident of the trees, like the famous Spanish chestnuts:
…which, of course, are still with us:
There are problems with Kip, which we must bear in mind. We can’t completely rely on it.
Its biggest ‘sin’ is of omission: the estate is depicted on level ground, when everyone knows that Warley Place is at the top of a steep hill, falling away into the boating lake. This is, of course, completely in keeping with the style. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Kip & Knyff original showing a hillside.
There are also some issues with perspective. The walled garden, for example, looks gigantic in comparison to the rest of the site. Again, this may be a style choice.
In its favour, the print shows, in detail, areas we know very little about – such as the trial beds and a rather modest little grassed area on the north side of the walled garden that is just beginning to turn up in photographs. Without the Kip we wouldn’t have known what they were of.
The engraving somewhat annoyingly runs out before the edges of the main pleasure garden, leaving tantalising gaps in our knowledge, most frustratingly we only have half of the Alpine Garden:
…though on the plus side, we can at least see the roof of the now-lost filmy fern grotto, of which we have virtually nothing anywhere else. For that we usually have to rely on archaeology:
And, of course it’s no good whatsoever for other, now-lost parts of the Warley estate. We have very, very little knowledge of the floral delights at Well Mead, for example (though I have recently found some photographs) and virtually nothing on the Headley Garden (the estate’s ‘productive’ area). I have never knowingly seen any photographs of Warley Farm, either.
But this is not the place to discuss what we don’t have. The Warley Kip is by far the most useful single tool we have for Ellen’s lost garden – and I am sure it has not yet revealed all its secrets. I get something new from it every time I look.
My discovery this time as I looked really, really hard was – wait for it – a ghost…but, no, I’ll leave you to find that one yourself, when you get your own copy…
See you at a daff day…
*The key may have been for a safe.
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