Character Areas Tour
The Home Park is the name given to the pastureland that now comprises much of the School's golf course. It is bordered on the north by the Building Reserve, on the south by the Eleven Acre Lake, on the east by the Rotunda and Sleeping Wood, and on the west by Warden Hill Walk. The area was once enclosed by an inner ha-ha, and it has never included buildings because it was designed as a rustic foreground to views of distant buildings, particularly from the Rotunda on its eastern side.
The first reference to this area according to the Survey is a 1633 document that lists an "Oulde Parke" of just over 77 acres that belonged to the old house. It was incorporated into the estate of the new house, which was finished in 1683, and by 1712, when a stable was built there for the coach mares, it had become known by its present name. At that time, it was more heavily wooded and was used as a deerpark rather than a pasture, and it included the character area of the Rotunda and Sleeping Wood.
In 1718 and 1719 the area was developed in a number of ways. The ha-ha enclosing it (an inward looking ha-ha to keep animals inside) was begun, and the Survey notes that, unlike the external ha-ha at Stowe and indeed unlike any other ha-ha of record, it was built as a military fortification. There was no stone wall, but instead two steep banks were cut into the earth and were retained either with turf or with wooden hurdles pegged into the banks. Out of these projected wooden spikes. Along the top, presumably both to beautify the ditch and to keep visitors from falling into it and injuring themselves on the spikes, were yew hedges about three or four feet high.
At the same time the ha-ha was being built, the deer were moved from the Home Park to the new deerpark on the north side of the House, and the area began to be used to graze cattle. The area was also used as a botanical resource for the rest of the estate, because accounts for 1718/19 indicate that several thousand horse chestnut trees were transplanted from there to plant up new walks. Turf was also removed to be used in other areas. New planting of firs and elms was also carried out in the Home park. The Survey remarks that at this time it was more common to get the necessary trees for a garden and park from elsewhere on the estate or from neighboring estates than from nurseries.
In 1720, after Lord Cobham had returned from a military expedition, major work on the garden began in all areas. The triangular character area of the Rotunda and Sleeping Wood was created out of the eastern part of the Home Park, and so the ha-ha was extended to define that area and a bastion built at its western point. On this bastion was built Vanbrugh's Rotunda, which was completed the following year.
Around 1725 Cobham expanded the garden to its current southern and western boundaries, and this expansion enclosed the Home Park entirely within the garden, making it a sort of wilderness inside a more artificial area. (Alexander Pope may have been applauding this landscape design when he criticized the fictional Timon's Villa in his moral essay "Of the Use of Riches" in 1731: "No pleasing Intricacies intervene, / No artful wildness to perplex the scene" The Home Park certainly provided an "artful wildness"). The southern boundary of the Home Park, then, was the strip of land known as Pegg's Terrace -- the Survey suggests that it was named after the daughter or maid of Richard Earl, who lived near the Lake Pavilions and fed the fish in the ponds in the southern part of the Home Park -- and the western boundary was the strip of land known as Warden Hill Walk.
Although the Octagon Lake cascade dates from around 1722, it was not until some six years later that another dam was built some 500 yards farther downstream to create the Eleven Acre Lake. Its edges, though not geometrically shaped like those of the Octagon Lake, were nevertheless formal and straight, and the area of the lake that now extends northward into the Home Park was then a separate pond with an island, a causeway passing between the two bodies of water. It was at this time, in 1728/29 that accounts indicate that what Bevington calls the Artificial Ruins, or the rockwork arches over the Octagon Lake cascade, were built. Another cascade of some 25 feet high leading out of the Eleven Acre Lake was built to let water (by a passage under the Warden Hill Walk) into the Copper Bottom.
The Survey reports that the early 1750s, when Earl Temple inherited the estate, was the next period of change in the area of the Home Park and the Eleven Acre Lake. In 1751 there are numerous references to removing the yew hedges as well as the ha-ha, although, as the Survey suggests, since this ha-ha had been constructed of only turf-walled ditches it may have eroded during the previous thirty years, with the hedges providing the only real barrier to cattle. Accounts for the 1750s also record that the park was ploughed and planted with corn (wheat) and mown for hay.
In 1752 work began on naturalizing the contours of the Eleven Acre Lake (this was about the same time that the edges of the Octagon Lake were softened by removal of its stone edging and that its central guglio was removed). The causeway that had run between the lake and the pond was removed, and the lake was extended into the pond area. Two islands were created, which within 20 years would be modified to their present size and position.
Little seems to have been done to the Home Park over the next century except that by 1880 it had been fenced off and planted with single specimen trees rather than clumps, which had been the style of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. As mentioned above, the area is now home to the golf course, and the sort of planting that has been done for the purposes of the course has obscured some of the views that were intended from the Rotunda over the Home Park to the south and west.