1845 – Bayfordbury, near Hertford, Hertfordshire

SM 55 – Dec 15

In 1845 – three years after he created his first ever rock garden for John Warner at ‘Woodlands’, in Hoddesdon – James 2 was awarded his first landscaping commission by William Robert Baker to build a rockery and rose garden at his imposing Georgian and Regency mansion at Bayfordbury, on the outskirts of Hertford.   William Robert was the grandson of Sir William Baker – one of the wealthiest and most successful businessmen in England at that time.   His family were renowned for their love of gardens, and were particularly devoted to arboriculture.

James 2’s work was obviously well regarded, because, a year or so after it was completed, he was approached by Thomas Gambier Parry, William Baker’s brother-in-law, to re-landscape his gardens at Highnam Court, Gloucestershire – gardens that are featured in Chapter 4 of ‘Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy’.

The estate at Bayfordbury was soon planted with many fine trees, including ten great Cedars of Lebanon – five on each side of the house – that were planted as 9-year old saplings in 1765, and several of them still surround the house today.   In 1767, Sir William also planted the first ‘fir’ trees on a nearby site, now called the Pinetum, and, in 1837 – no doubt in celebration of Queen Victoria’s coronation – his grandson, William Robert, developed the site formally in collaboration with John Claudius Loudon, the famous landscape gardener of that time.   A fine grove of giant redwoods was incorporated within it, and today, after several extensions, it occupies nearly eleven acres on the eastern slope above the Kingfisher Brook, about a quarter of a mile from the rear of the house.[i]

It was just a few years later, in 1845 – perhaps after seeing John Warner’s garden in Hoddesdon – that William Robert Baker invited James 2 to build a rock garden at the side of the house, and a rose garden with a circular lily pond and fountain at the rear of his new stable block.   The rock garden no longer exists, but an article published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle provides a clue as to what it looked like in 1885 – some fifty years after it was created. [ii]   The writer tells us that the Bayfordbury rock garden was:

‘. . . a sheltered nook, encircled by trees and hedges.   The rock plants are grown on mounds or burrs, forming so many islets amid a sea of turf, encircled with trees.   The burrs are not, some would say, the most suitable of materials for a pictural rockery, but experience shows that, here at least, they tone down into soft gradations of colour, and become time-stained and lichen-covered in a way most pleasing to the eye.’

 5-10-55-01 - Bayfordbury Rock Garden

 Fig 1 – The Bayfordbury Rock Garden   (Photo by Mr and Mrs Murray)

 I have also seen an old photograph that provides a clear idea of what the rock plants on their ‘mounds or burrs, forming so many islets amid a sea of turf, encircled with trees’ actually looked like.   It is shown here in Fig 1, although it is not known how much of the total garden this represents.

The Rose Garden

The rose garden at the rear of William Robert’s new stable block used to house the National Rose Collection, but that was later moved to St Albans.   This garden itself no longer exists either, although the circular lily pond and fountain do still survive.   In this case, there is an old photograph – this one published by Country Life in 1923 – that shows what it used to look like, and it is reproduced here in Fig 2.   The stable block has now been converted into flats, and the lily pond has been recently repaired – Fig 3 was taken in 2001, and, as far as I can tell, the central fountain might possibly be the original.

 5-10-55-02 - Bayfordbury C Life Picture

 Fig 2 – The rose garden, lily pond and fountain c1923.     (Photo reproduced by permission of Country Life)

5-10-55-03 - Bayfordbury Rose Pond

 Fig 3 – The garden at the rear of the Stable Block, Bayfordbury, in 2001


1848 – The Pinetum Grotto

William Robert Baker was evidently pleased with James 2’s work on his rock garden and rose garden, because it is almost certain that he invited him to return to build an open grotto and a small artificial waterfall in the pinetum.   The work was carried out in 1848,[iii] and, although this is not recorded in the Historic England ‘Pulham Database,’ some rather meagre remnants of the work still exist, and bear all the hallmarks of the Pulham hand.

It has not been possible to locate any pictures of the Pinetum grotto as it was in its early days, and very little of it remains today.   What is left is a quite short ‘rock walk,’ or twisting pathway that leads the visitor between small outcrops of rock on either side – a typical Victorian device of ‘strolls, surprises and vistas’ that the Pulhams adopted in many of their gardens -that eventually leads to an open-topped grotto.

It looks not much more than an open cupboard let into the high bank.   Fig 4a shows the state of the site when it was ‘re-discovered’ by Dr Edward Eastwood – Curator of the Pinetum at the time of my visit in 2001 – and, in the interests of safety, scaffolding was inserted to support the backs.   Dr Eastwood believed that there used to be a small ‘ice reserve,’ or niche, nearby, and it is not clear whether the grotto used to be viewed by the gentry from path level or from the high banks above.   Figs 4b and 4c were taken during and after some restoration work.

5-10-55-04 - Bayfordbury Pinetum Grotto

 a)   Pre-Restoration            b) Part Restoration                c) Post Restoration

(Photo: Roy Harmer)     (Photo: Edward Eastwood)     (Photo: Edna Boughen)

Fig 4 – The Bayfordbury Pinetum Grotto.

 There is a water channel that leads down to a small waterfall, with the water falling onto a ‘splatter paving’ – Fig 4c – rather than a lake, pond or pool.   The water is likely to have been pumped up from the Kingfisher Brook to a point above the waterfall by means of a ‘ram pump’, and Dr Eastwood planned to install such a pump when the reconstruction is complete, and everything is once again ready to be ‘switched on’.   It is now some years since my visit, and I do not know whether, or to what extent, this has yet been done.

Both natural and artificial stone were used in the construction of the rockwork – the natural stone being both Hertfordshire pudding stone and large flints.   There is a small chalk pit nearby, from which limestone may have been taken for use in the construction of the rockwork.

The Baker family continued to live at Bayfordbury until the second World War.   Following the death of Admiral Sir Lewis Clinton Baker in 1939, his widow leased the house to Dr Barnado’s Homes, although this occupation lasted only a few years.   The estate was auctioned off in lots in 1945, and the house, with its surrounding parkland, were purchased by the John Innes Horticultural Institution, a leading plant and fruit-breeding organisation who are probably best known for their famous garden composts.

By the time they arrived, the rockery beside the house had fallen into a sad state of disrepair, and the stones were used to create a ‘more modern’ rockery elsewhere on the estate.   They also commissioned a number of ‘Management Plans’ for the site as a whole, one of which suggested that the ground in and around the Pinetum rockery should be allowed to ‘revert to its natural state.’

In 1963, the Institute decided to move to a site near the University of East Anglia at Norwich, and Bayfordbury was sold in 1967 to the Hertfordshire County Council.   It passed to the University of Hertfordshire in 1992, by which time the Pinetum had become seriously neglected.   It also suffered considerable damage during the severe gales of the late 1980s, but still had great potential as an interesting plantation of conifers, with several mature hardwood trees, including a large Lucombe Oak, a Beech, tall Hollies, Trees of Heaven, and Acacias.   It is a unique habitat, and an important resource for scientific research and education at all levels.


[i]     ‘A History of Bayford,’ by Neville Hudson in a leaflet published in aid of Bayford Gardens’ Day, 10 July 1994.

[ii]     Gardeners’ Chronicle, 22nd August 1885

[iii]     Bayfordbury Record Book, by Lady Clinton Baker, in which she collated and recorded dates and details relating to the various works that were undertaken on the Bayfordbury estate over the years.   Held by The Trustees of the John Innes Foundation in their Historical Collection

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