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HER Number:MDV103639
Name:Italian Garden, rear of Great Ambrook House, Ipplepen


Italian Garden, rear of Great Ambrook House, Ipplepen. Remains of the garden are visible on digital images derived from lidar data captured between 1998 and 2017 and from aerial photographs captured in 2017 and have been transcribed during the South Coast to Dartmoor AIM survey.


Grid Reference:SX 823 653
Map Sheet:SX86NW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishIpplepen
Ecclesiastical ParishIPPLEPEN

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses: none recorded

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • ITALIAN GARDEN (XX - 1909 AD to 1912 AD (Between))

Full description

Clark, J., 04/03/2013, Italian Garden, east of Great Ambrook Avenue, Ipplepen, Devon (Correspondence). SDV357586.

Letter of support from Devon Gardens Trust for inclusion of the Italian Garden at Great Ambrook on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England.

English Heritage, 05/06/2014, The Italian Garden at Great Ambrook: Notification of Designation Decision (Correspondence). SDV356711.

English Heritage has decided to add The Italian Garden at Great Ambrook to the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England. The site is now listed at Grade II. Copy of Advice Report and map attached.

English Heritage, 18/01/2013, Italian Garden, east of Great Ambrook Avenue, Great Ambrook, Ipplepen (Correspondence). SDV350899.

Application to add the Italian garden to the Register of Parks and Gardens .

South West Heritage Trust, 1838-1848, Digitised Tithe Maps and Transcribed Apportionments (Cartographic). SDV359954.

A linear bank corresponds with a field boundary and an earthwork pit corresponds with land parcel 1176 which is recorded as ‘Pit’.

Environment Agency, 1998-2017, LiDAR DTM data (1m resolution) EA: South Devon Coast to Dartmoor, LIDAR SX8265 Environment Agency DTM 01-JAN-1998 to 31-MAY-2017 (Cartographic). SDV361470.

Earthworks are visible.

Devon Gardens Trust, 1999, Devon Local Register, 61 (Un-published). SDV170167.

Keep, C. + Dodd-Compton, A. + Clark, J., 2004 - 2013, Great Ambrook (Un-published). SDV357585.

The garden that Thomas Lyon designed and built for Arthur Smith Graham between 1909 and 1912 was in the spirit of the age and one can see some links with the style of Harold Peto. The Italian garden was constructed on higher ground to the east of the house. It covers an area of 4-acres and comparing the 1842 tithe map, 1904 sales map and the 1954 edition Ordnance Survey Map it can be seen that the garden was sited across the existing boundaries of two fields. The garden is surrounded on three sides by rendered walls, 15 feet high in parts and wired for climbing plants. There is a small walled fruit garden between the Italian garden and Great Ambrook Avenue.

Devon Gardens Trust, 2013, Devon Gazetteer of Parks and Gardens of Local Interest (Reg/Local list of Historic Parks and Gdns). SDV354335.

Ordnance Survey, 2014, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV355681.

Map object previously based on this source.

English Heritage, 2014, National Heritage List for England (National Heritage List for England). SDV355683.

The Italian Garden at Great Ambrook is registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Design: for the unusual design of the garden, reflecting the early-C20 fashion for Italian style in gardens, but taking a more informal, picturesque approach suited to the Devon landscape within which it is set;
* Designer: as the only surviving garden created by T H Lyon, a local architect with a more far-reaching role as first Director of the Cambridge School of Architecture, whose eclectic tastes are well represented in the garden design;
* Garden structures: the garden includes a number of buildings and structures of unusual design, which form an integral part of the layout and experience of the site;
* Survival and Documentation: despite decades of neglect, the garden remains remarkably close to its original design, as evidenced by contemporary documents and photographs;
* Planting: a number of mature trees and plants survive from the original planting scheme;
* Historic interest: for the socio-historical context in which the garden was produced, being commissioned, designed, and written about by men linked by homosexuality as well as by aesthetic interests;
* Group value: with Grade II-listed Great Ambrook House, to which Lyon added a music room extension contemporaneous with the garden

See National Heritage List for England for full details.

Google, 2017, Google Earth Pro, EARTH.GOOGLE.COM 23-SEP-2017 ACCESSED 19-JUL-2018 (Aerial Photograph). SDV360456.

Structures are visible within a small clearing to the east of the garden.

Ordnance Survey, 2018, MasterMap 2018 (Cartographic). SDV360652.

Structures and features associated with the garden are shown on this map.

Hegarty, C., Knight, S. and Sims, R., 2018-2019, The South Devon Coast to Dartmoor Aerial Investigation and Mapping Survey. Area 1, Haldon Ridge to Dart Valley (Interpretation). SDV361305.

Earthworks and structures associated with the early 20th century Italian garden, located on gentle west facing slope to the rear of Great Ambrook House, Ipplepen, are visible on digital images derived from lidar data captured between 1998 and 2017, and from aerial photographs captured in 2017. The garden occupies an area of circa 1.5 hectares and is almost completely obscured by dense tree cover on the available aerial imagery, although several features are visible on lidar images. The centre of the garden is defined by a sub-oval shaped earthwork pit, circa 35m in length by 20m in width, with outer bank to the northeast, which corresponds with land parcel 1176 on the Parish Tithe Map and recorded as ‘Pit’ on the accompanying Tithe Apportionment. It is reported by another authority within this record that this former 19th century carrion pit was dug out to make a shady area in the garden known as ‘The Dell’. A much smaller circular pit-like feature, circa 10m in diameter, is located within the southern corner of the garden. To the west of the garden is a rectilinear shaped terrace cut into the west facing slope and measuring circa 50m in length by 30m in width. The north, east and south sides of the garden are defined by banked features, circa 7m in width, which likely mark the location of the rendered garden boundary walls and which are flanked on one or both sides by earthwork ditches, circa 3m in width. A semi-circular terrace is incorporated into the eastern edge of the garden perimeter. Recent restoration and shrub clearance of the grounds following its abandonment during the mid-20th century has exposed a narrow semi-circular walled structure within this terrace which is visible on aerial images captured in 2017. Earthwork banked features of possible tree mounds located beyond the garden perimeter to the south may be associated with Great Ambrook House and the garden as part of wider landscaping works and so have been included within this monument polygon. A number of structures and features associated with the garden are shown on the 2018 Ordnance Survey MasterMap.

English Heritage, 21/03/2014, Italian Gardens at Great Ambrook, Ipplepen (Correspondence). SDV356428.

The garden at Great Ambrook was laid out between 1909 and 1912, for Arthur Smith Graham (1871-1928), on farmland lying to the east of Great Ambrook House, to which Graham had moved in 1899. The architect/designer employed for the work was Thomas Henry Lyon (1869-1953) of Haytor Vale, Dartmoor, who also built a music room addition to Great Ambrook for Graham at the same time as creating the garden. Lyon was first Director of Design at the the new School of Architecture at Cambridge, where he extended the chapel at Sidney Sussex College in 1910-12. He worked on other garden designs, Great Ambrook being his largest commission of this kind, and the only one known to survive. The builder is thought to have been Lewis Bearne, who also worked at Castle Drogo. Arthur Graham, whose parents came from wealthy merchant families, grew up in Surrey and Kent. He moved to Devon, having read classics at Christ Church, Oxford, without graduating, buying Great Ambrook together with the adjacent farm of Newhouse Barton. It may be that his move to the secluded Devon property, and his creation of the enclosed Italianate garden there, was connected with his homosexuality. Graham appears, his identity thinly veiled, in the cult novel 'Nicholas Crabbe: A Romance' by Frederick Rolfe (or 'Baron Corvo'). The novel sees Theophanes Clayfoot (Graham) steal the affections of Robert Kemp (Graham's close friend, the poet and author Sholto Douglas) from Crabbe (Rolfe), and transport him to Sonorusciello, the idyllic Cornish garden which represents Great Ambrook. Evidence regarding Graham's life at Great Ambrook, and the form and features of the garden itself, appear consistent with the idea that the garden was created as a setting for a form of social life and recreation which would not otherwise have been possible in the early years of the C20. The garden, known from early on as the 'Italian Garden', was created across the boundary of two existing fields, taking advantage of the dramatic possibilities of the sloping site; near the centre, a former quarry, used as a carrion pit in the C19, was dug out to make the shady area of the garden known as 'The Dell'. The hard landscaping, consisting of steep paths of Portland stone, leading between garden buildings and sporting facilities, was largely complete by 1912. The raised terraces and summerhouse provide early examples of the use of reinforced concrete slabs – Lyon was later cited for his use of Truscon flooring by the Trussed Concrete Steel Company in its advertising. The planting too was largely established by 1912; there is evidence that Graham bought from the renowned nursery of the Rovelli brothers on the banks of Lake Maggiore. Following Graham's death in 1928, Great Ambrook House and its garden were occupied for five years by Thomas Cuthbert Shaw, before coming into the ownership of Enid Milner, whose family remained until 1963. In the 1930s and 1940s Great Ambrook was noted in Kelly's Directory for its 'Italian garden with many rare and unusual trees and shrubs'. During the 1950s and early 1960s, however, the garden fell into neglect and was so thoroughly overgrown at the time of the 1963 sale, when then estate was broken up, that its existence appears not to have been known of. The garden was rediscovered by its owner, Mr Kenneth Rees, in the late 1980s, and since that time has been gradually uncovered and restored. Much of the undergrowth which had obscured the garden has been cut back, though those trees and plants which survive from Arthur Graham's time are now mature and the overall appearance is considerably more shady and verdant than is shown in early photographs.

Great Ambrook lies to the south-west of Ipplepen, and is surrounded by undulating agricultural land. The garden covers an irregularly-shaped area of approximately 4 acres, sloping upwards to the east away from the Grade II-listed Great Ambrook House, from which it is separated by the house drive, running from north-east to south-west. Great Ambrook House is a largely C18 house on the site of a medieval manor, with a large music room addition of 1909-12 by T H Lyon; standing to the north is the converted coach-house. On a plot to the south-west of the garden is a late C20 house, Abbot's Croft. The garden is bounded on the north, east and south-east sides by rendered walls: those to the north and east reach up to 15 feet high, and are wired for plants on both sides; the southern wall is lower, allowing views into the field beyond. The south-west boundary is edged by modern post and wire. Defining the north-west corner of the garden is a walled orchard, pre-dating the Italian Garden, its south-east wall having been lost in the 1960s. To north, south and east the garden is bounded by fields.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES: the original main entrance to the garden is at the west end of the site, with wide stone steps leading up from the former carriage drive; the steps are flanked by large stone troughs. The carriage drive originally curved south-eastwards into the garden from the main drive to Great Ambrook House, and ran along the eastern side of the garden; the south loop of the carriage drive was cut off when the plot on which Abbot's Croft is built was created. A modern entrance here, at the junction between the truncated carriage drive and the main drive, is the one now most frequently in use. A wide gateway at the north-west corner of the garden, having circular gate piers with scalloped capitals, and double timber gates, provided access to the carriage drive which is believed to have run along the north side of the garden wall to the summerhouse at the north-east end of the garden. Here,
an archway gives pedestrian access to the garden. At the east end of the garden is an opening in the wall, approached from within the garden by the Palm Walk; replacement timber gates open to give a view of the field, known as the Peacock Field.

GARDENS AND RECREATIONAL AREAS: the layout of the garden is fluid and cohesive, the naturally sloping site being divided by a number of walkways leading between a variety of features and vistas. The overall conception is in the picturesque tradition, rather than forming a series of compartments in the style more usually associated with Arts and Crafts gardens. The paths form a unifying feature throughout the garden, being constructed of irregularly shaped or 'crazy' paving in Portland stone, with rills running alongside them; the sound of running water adds a further sensory dimension to the garden. The north walk follows the line of the north wall from the carriage gateway to the north end of the eastern terrace; the centre walk begins at the original main entrance, and moves upwards through the centre of the garden, passing to the south of the DELL, to the terrace; the south walk, which defines the south-east edge of the garden, leads from the terrace, towards the recreational areas in the south-west part of the garden. The garden contains numerous trees planted in the early-C20, and now mature, including western red cedar (Thuja plicata) Chusan palms (Trachycarpus fortunei), maidenhair trees (Gingko bilboa) and Monterey cyprus (Cupressus macrocarpa) and a Magnolia acuminata. At the eastern end the garden, the three main walks converge on the semi-circular terrace, 33 feet in diameter, which marks the garden's summit; beneath the terrace is the spring-fed water tank which feeds the complex water system, served by the rills edging the paths, and by a number of large stone-built reservoirs. At the centre of the terrace is a sundial. Set against the north-east wall is the south-west-facing summerhouse. This is a two-storey building, square on plan, with storage areas below and a single room above reached by an external stair rising diagonally across the frontage. Beneath the stair, to right, is a small loggia. The north wall of the building has an octagonal window at ground-floor level. The summerhouse originally had an ogival domed roof, now lost. The unroofed building is in a state of serious disrepair. The arched gateway in the garden wall to the north of the summerhouse leads into an enclosure in the adjacent field, in which are,planted a holm oak and a cork oak. Set into an angle in the outer face of the north garden wall, a small colonnaded shelter provides views towards Dartmoor. To the south of the terrace, on the outer face of the garden wall, a disused hothouse which formerly contained a grapevine. The lower, south-western part of the garden is dominated by the tennis court (converted from lawn to hard court in the 1930s). At the court's southern end, the stone-built tennis pavillion, which consists of a viewing terrace raised on columns, accessed by a wide central stair. At the centre of the balustraded terrace is an octagonal pool for swimming. At the south end of the terrace, a curved seat of grey Ipplepen marble, with scrolled pedestals and arm-rests. Benched seating is built around the sunken areas beneath the terrace. Leading south-east from the tennis pavilion, the grassed Apostles Walk, lined with red cedar, leads past the small rose garden, with rectangular beds set into stone paving, to the swimming pool. This feature, constructed of stone, consists of a rectangular pool, narrow but deep, surrounded by a low wall suitable for seating, surrounded on three sides by roughly-hewn pillars of Dartmoor granite, which originally formed part of a pergola. To the south side of the pool, shallow steps lead down to the sunbathing area, with a stone bench at the west end. One section of the South Walk is covered by a pergola, 111 feet long, formed of granite columns with tall squared bases, and planted with Akebia quinata and Vitis cognetiae, both of which of which appear in photographs of the garden in its early days. At the centre of the pergola, the palm walk (lined with Trachycarpus fortunei) leads from the centre walk, and ends at the gateway to the Peacock Field, from which there is a 'borrowed view' of the landscape with a copse pre-dating Graham's work at Great Ambrook. Here is planted a Camellia japonica 'Alba Plena', thought to be original to the garden. At the east end of the South Walk, a group of five Podocarpus salignus. To the north of the South Walk, between the swimming pool and the Palm Walk, is the square, planted with mature specimen trees, including a wild cherry, which at 23 metres was recently designated Devon champion.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV170167Un-published: Devon Gardens Trust. 1999. Devon Local Register. Devon Local Register of Parks and Gardens of Local Historic Interest. A4 Stapled + Digital. 61.
SDV350899Correspondence: English Heritage. 18/01/2013. Italian Garden, east of Great Ambrook Avenue, Great Ambrook, Ipplepen. Notification of Designation Application. Digital.
SDV354335Reg/Local list of Historic Parks and Gdns: Devon Gardens Trust. 2013. Devon Gazetteer of Parks and Gardens of Local Interest. Historic Parks and Gardens - Register and Local List. Digital.
SDV355681Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2014. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey Digital Mapping. Digital.
SDV355683National Heritage List for England: English Heritage. 2014. National Heritage List for England. Historic Houses Register. Website.
SDV356428Correspondence: English Heritage. 21/03/2014. Italian Gardens at Great Ambrook, Ipplepen. Digital.
SDV356711Correspondence: English Heritage. 05/06/2014. The Italian Garden at Great Ambrook: Notification of Designation Decision. Email and Advice Report. Digital.
SDV357585Un-published: Keep, C. + Dodd-Compton, A. + Clark, J.. 2004 - 2013. Great Ambrook. Devon Local Register of Parks and Gardens of Local Historic Interest. Digital.
SDV357586Correspondence: Clark, J.. 04/03/2013. Italian Garden, east of Great Ambrook Avenue, Ipplepen, Devon. Letter. Digital.
SDV359954Cartographic: South West Heritage Trust. 1838-1848. Digitised Tithe Maps and Transcribed Apportionments. Tithe Map and Apportionment. Digital.
SDV360456Aerial Photograph: Google. 2017. Google Earth Pro. Various. Digital. EARTH.GOOGLE.COM 23-SEP-2017 ACCESSED 19-JUL-2018.
SDV360652Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2018. MasterMap 2018. Ordnance Survey Digital Mapping. Digital. [Mapped feature: #63144 ]
SDV361305Interpretation: Hegarty, C., Knight, S. and Sims, R.. 2018-2019. The South Devon Coast to Dartmoor Aerial Investigation and Mapping Survey. Area 1, Haldon Ridge to Dart Valley. Historic England Research Report. Digital.
Linked documents:1
SDV361470Cartographic: Environment Agency. 1998-2017. LiDAR DTM data (1m resolution) EA: South Devon Coast to Dartmoor. Environment Agency LiDAR data. Digital. LIDAR SX8265 Environment Agency DTM 01-JAN-1998 to 31-MAY-2017.

Associated Monuments

MDV8638Related to: Great Ambrook (Building)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV7515 - The South Devon Coast to Dartmoor Aerial Investigation and Mapping (formerly NMP) Survey (Ref: ACD1748)

Date Last Edited:Oct 3 2018 6:29PM