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The Gardens



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The Melbourne Hall garden, with its broad sweeps of lawn, avenues and unexpected vistas, is one of the best known historic gardens in the country and is the best surviving early 18th century English garden in the manner of Le Nôtre. It was never considered ordinary. As early as 1712 it was described as ‘curious’, and by 1789 it was not only curious but ‘old-fashioned’ as well.

Work on the present garden began on 6th May 1704 when a contract was signed between Thomas Coke and William Cooke of Walcot to reconstruct the old flower and kitchen gardens as ‘a division of Partare work’ with ‘terrasses, sloops, verges and fleets of steps’ for £400. By July, Cooke reported that he was ready for the statues, and in October a second contract was agreed with him for laying out the rest of the garden.

Most of this part was entirely new and occupied a former field to the south east of the old garden. This second contract, for £450, comprised levelling and forming the ground for ‘divisions of wilderness work’, ‘reservoirs or bassons for water’, fruit walls, kitchen gardens, orchards, plantations and hedged alleys. The moated islands of the 17th century garden were filled in and replaced by the present ‘basin’ further east.

The hexagonal Muniment Room, with its attractively-shaped roof, is an important survival from the 17th century garden. Originally a dovecot, it was heightened and remodelled by Thomas Coke in 1708.


The hexagonal Muniment Room, with its attractively-shaped roof, is an important survival from the 17th century garden. Originally a dovecot, it was heightened and remodelled by Thomas Coke in 1708.


The crowning feature of the garden is the wrought iron arbour known as ‘The Birdcage’ which was made by the celebrated ironsmith Robert Bakewell in 1706-8 for £120. It was made at a forge in the basement of ‘Stone House’, which still stands on the south side of the parish church. Betsy Coke was not fond of Bakewell. During his residence at the Stone House he fathered an illegitimate child and Betsy complained to her brother that his behaviour was not to be borne with. The arbour made Bakewell famous, but its manufacture left him penniless. In form it is derived from wooden arbours common in French gardens. Bakewell went on to produce famous ironwork for many important buildings. Two other examples nearby are the chancel screens in Derby cathedral and Staunton Harold church.


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History of Melbourne Hall

Gardens