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Article by Douglas Ashby for Parish Magazine, August 1999

Historic Burton Latimer Gardens,
Past and Present

Today much pleasure is derived from visiting beautiful gardens: some laid out in the days when families of means could employ several gardeners whose expertise and dedication ensured their efforts would be enjoyed by succeeding generations.

The Hall.  A house has probably stood on this site since the 14th century when it was the home of the powerful Latimer and Neville families. The present building, although dating from 1620, incorporates earlier work and has been lived in by the Harpur family since 1760.

The Parish Award Map of 1803 shows the three medieval fishponds in the grounds and an avenue of trees extending eastwards from the house. A few of these trees survive but many succumbed to Dutch elm disease some years ago.

The garden on the south side retains much of its layout of the 19th century with its long lines of yew hedges and herbaceous borders enclosed by little box hedges. The old walls still retain metal name plates of fruit trees long since gone.  The Pear Walk still remains and an ancient Mulberry tree manages to bear fruit each year.

At the end of the gravel walk between the yew hedges one has a long vista looking towards the house with its gables and mullion windows. Over the drawing room the bedroom window of unusual arched design, probably opened on to a balcony from where a past generation could have looked out over an Elizabethan parterre garden.  There is no explanation for the different raised levels in the spacious lawns.  If only history could speak!!

On the raised east lawn used to stand an enormous walnut tree. (Click here to read memories of evacuee Wynne Malpass)

In 1958 a competition was organised by a timber company to find the oldest walnut tree in the East Midlands.  Certainly one of the oldest in Northamptonshire this tree won, its age being identified as 435 years and the late Capt. John Latimer Harpur was awarded the £5 prize money. His mother, Mrs. Charlotte Harpur had enjoyed its shade for nearly 70 years and after her death in November 1960 aged 94, the old tree, whose huge branches were shackled with a chain for safety, finally died too and was felled.

The Old Rectory. Covering an area of over two acres these former gardens were once considered among the most beautiful in the neighbourhood and were well known for their rare trees, shrubs and plants, not to mention the extensive kitchen gardens and hot houses.  Some of the rectors were wealthy and ensured their upkeep to a high standard.

About the year 1700, Thomas Montagu (rector 1676 – 1719) who was a grandson of Henry, 1st Earl of Lanchester, planted an avenue of elm trees north of the rectory. This was known as Elm Walk. Sadly most were blown down in the gale about 1895. The last tree had to be felled in 1954.

An old faded photograph shows the three daughters of the Revd. P B Newman (rector 1872 – 1895) in this avenue.

There were three tennis courts and of course garden parties abounded in those days, and on Burton Feast Sunday the Britannia Silver Bank always played when parishioners and their relatives would enjoy strolling and chatting in such delightful surroundings.

The sad demise of the house is now an unhappy memory.  All that remains is the datestone (A.D.1750) now in the churchyard propped up against the Manor House wall, and the beautiful panel of armorial stained glass that hangs in the middle window of the south aisle of the church and once formed part of the staircase window which was saved by Richard Loake and myself from destruction in 1970.

The Manor House. The datestone of this gabled thatched house is 1704 and until the 1920’s the original garden was relatively small, then it was extended and laid out by Mr. Robin Green whose wife was a sister of the Revd. L.K. Lethbridge (Rector 1920 – 1930).

The site of the house is thought to be medieval and was possibly moated. This would account for the undulations in what is perhaps the most charming garden in the parish. During the time of Mr and Mrs Lancelot Loake (1936 -1968) a tennis court and swimming pool were installed.

Fernbank, Church Lane.  This was originally a 17th/18th century farmhouse which was extended during the last quarter of the 19th century. For many years this was a sort of Dower House for The Hall and was the home of three generations of unmarried Harpur ladies.  Miss Ellen who died in 1896 followed by her niece Miss Augusta until 1900 and lastly Miss Marion, great aunt of the present Richard.  She sold it in the 1920’s and went to live in Bournemouth where she died.

The original garden was only the width of the house and extended down the Lane to the little closed cemetery, but in later years a future owner was to make far reaching changes. Until 1975 Fernbank was the home of Mr and Mrs Richard Loake for nearly 40 years and in the 1950’s Mr Loake (who was a former churchwarden for 38 years) was able to acquire the adjoining land and extend his garden which became something of great beauty; in every direction the eye caught variety and colour, but the magnificence was reserved for the Delphiniums that were perfected in such a way that visitors would travel great distances on open days just to gaze in wonder at the array of colours of this stately bloom.

One dominant feature of the old garden was the huge Wych Elm that stood on the top lawn, but sadly had to be felled in later years because it became unsafe.

There are other gardens worthy of mention which must be reserved for a future article.

Douglas Ashby

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