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Skipwith Hall Garden History

Skipwith Hall started life as a Jacobean farmhouse.  It took shape as a Queen Anne ‘manor house’ for the parish of Skipwith around 1700 when the medieval moated manor opposite the church fell into disuse.

The mulberry tree at the front is thought to have been planted at the time the ground and first floor of the front elevation were built, around 1703.  The second storey, to provide staff accommodation, was added during the time of prosperity in the 1770s following the Agricultural Revolution.

Skipwith Hall was the centre of a working estate as described by a Miss Elizabeth Shackleton when she came to visit the then owners, Mr and Mrs Walton, in 1772.  She writes on Tuesday 25 July, “Mr Walton took me into all his stables, barns, coach-house, and outbuildings – into all the gardens, stoves, hot houses, and hot walls, which are most large and handsome and well stock’d with all kinds of various sorts of good fruits – we never sat down, but after dinner had ten different sorts of grapes – one of Pines, pears, plumbs, currens and gooseberries.”  The hot walls run the length of the south facing wall from the walnut tree down to the bottom of the garden.  There used to be two ‘hot houses’, with a fire at each end of the wall.

The years rolled on and Skipwith remained in something of a timewarp until the estate was sold to Beilby, 3rd Baron Wenlock of neighbouring Escrick Park in 1898.  He found, rather amazingly, the land was still farmed on the medieval three field system, with various grazing rights being excercised on the ‘Common’.  Lord Wenlock started modernising the parish and it  was one of the last in England to be enclosed, by an Act of Parliament in 1899.  The Hall was occupied by the agent and then two little old ladies until the major upheaval of 1929 when Lord Wenlock’s only child, The Hon Irene Forbes Adam (nee Lawley) downsized from Escrick Park.  

Irene set about fashioning the house and garden to her taste with great energy.  Two wings were added to the east and west and to the north an extension.  She was very close to one her cousins, the Contessa Iris d’Origo, who had employed the ‘underrated’ (Sunday Telegraph 26.8.12) English architect and gardener, Cecil Pinsent (1884-1963), to transform her house and garden in southern Tuscany at La Foce.   From 1914 Irene was in close correspondence with Cecil too.  Cecil, whilst not offering a grand design for the garden at Skipwith, was a regular visitor and in particular is known to have helped with removing the main entrance from around the mulberry tree to the rear of the house, with the Italian Garden, and with the designing of Richard’s Garden in 1952.  Irene also corresponded with Vita Sackville-West.
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