Mulgrave estate's 18th century blueprint still relevant

PUBLISHED: 18:36 28 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:37 20 February 2013

Mulgrave estate's 18th century blueprint still relevant

Mulgrave estate's 18th century blueprint still relevant

A blueprint drawn up by an 18th century landscape designer is being put into practice on a 16,000-acre Yorkshire estate. Jo Haywood reports Photographs by Joan Russell

There is a little red book in the library of Mulgrave Castle that is rarely seen but has a profound effect on the day-to-day business of this grand North Yorkshire estate.

It was produced by renowned landscape architect Humphry Repton in 1793, setting out his vision for the substantial estate around the Phipps family home by the sea in Sandsend in a series of stunning watercolour paintings. It is hardly a grand scale volume, standing as it does at a little under A4 in size, but the current Marquess of Normanby Constantine Edmund Walter Phipps and his family hold it very dear.

Its always been regarded as a treasure by the family, explained Jim Mortlock, forest manager of the Mulgrave estate. Its a beautiful thing and a real treat to see. But I dont get to see it that often its too precious to his lordship.

I do have a good copy though and, if Im honest, the whole thing is imprinted on my brain.

Which is perhaps not surprising when you consider that Jim has to work with Reptons plans every day, slowly moulding the landscape into the beautiful, romantic and sublime estate the great garden architect foresaw more than two centuries ago. He works closely with the Marquess, who reintroduced the blueprint set out in the little red book after taking over the estate in 1994.

His lordship is very involved, and knows what he wants from his landscape, said Jim. We are very much on the same page and I have a very keen understanding of what he wants. We have our own shorthand when it comes to the landscape.

The landscape in question is a massive 16,000-acre slab that runs along the coast from Runswick Bay to beyond Whitby and inland to Glaisdale. It has 48 tenant farmers, a successful timber and firewood operation run by Jim and his team and a flourishing abundance of flora mainly native and fauna including badgers, roe deer, stoats, weasels, otters, owls, woodpeckers, nuthatches and buzzards.

I use as few chemicals on the land as I can, said Jim. The vitality and increasing numbers in the wildlife population are a testament to everything we do here. Im happy to leave dead trees for the woodpeckers and holes for owls to nest in. They are as much part of the estate as we are.

This is very much in line with Reptons original ethos. He championed working with the natural landscape, not against it, steering clear of strong, geometric lines and opting instead for softer, more organic planting.

I am in the enviable position of working for an owner who wants to finish what Repton started by introducing curving fingers of forest to soften and enhance the landscape, said Jim. Repton loved it here. He was blown away by the views across the bay. He was very much a visionary in his time, and what were trying to do is make his vision a reality.
And if anyone can do it,

Jim can. He first came to Mulgrave as a junior forest worker at the age of 16.

A local lad from neighbouring Whitby, he took himself off to university to get a degree in forestry and then to college in York for further business qualifications. When hed completed his education, there was only one place he wanted to be back on the land at Mulgrave.

I feel like I have worked here forever; man and boy, said Jim, now 55. Forestry gets in your blood. Its such a long-term project that once it grabs you it never lets go.

Ive got about a million jobs to do every day and Im sprinting to stand still most of the time. But I still thrive on the challenge after all these years. And just look at how beautiful this place is. I feel at one with this landscape because Ive been here for so long. There are parts of the estate that I feel belong to me because Im the only one who ever gets to see them.

Unlike other major estates, Mulgrave is not a massively commercial enterprise. It welcomes the public on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays and doesnt charge them for the privilege. But dont expect maps, information boards, an adventure playground and a tearoom.

That is not what this estate is all about. In this modern cut-throat world you have to make money, said Jim. But for his lordship, this is very much a family home. He doesnt like people taking photographs of his house and he doesnt want people trekking across his lawn. But who would?

There is a commercial sawmill on the estate, run by Jim, that provides timber for building and boats. But its main money-maker is firewood.
There has been a definite upsurge in people wanting to burn quality hardwood as its a much greener option, said Jim.

Thinning our hardwood plantations used to produce a minus figure on the balance sheet, but now we can put the thinnings to good use and make an income out of them. It also helps us to open up the forest floor and let the light in, providing a much healthier environment for the flora and fauna.

Repton would almost certainly have approved of the thinning scheme as his main objective was always to strive to improve what nature provided and make the landscape even more beautiful and bountiful in the process. He was excited by the opportunities Mulgrave offered in the 18th century. What he would make of it now is anyones guess. But Jim has an inkling.

If Repton was here now he would view our efforts with a wry smile and be secretly very pleased with the way were following his plan, he said. He put things in motion more than 200 years ago and were still striving to match his aims now.

This job will never be finished of course. Thats the thing about nature; it just keep on growing and surprising you. But thats part of the joy of working on an estate like this. Its both our heritage and our future.

Reptons reputation

Humphry Repton (1752-1818) was a minor squire who had worked in business and as a farmer before launching himself into landscape gardening at the age of 36.

He is best known for two things. First, he coined the term landscape gardener in reference to his work. Second, he created his iconic red book, a portfolio to help his clients visualise his designs for their estates.

Other garden architects produced drawings, but his were unique in their detail and in his ingenious addition of flaps and overlays to give clients both before and after views of their land.

Reptons involvement in the development of a garden or estate began and ended with the red book. It was up to the owner to make sure the work was done which, inevitably, meant many of his schemes were not actually executed.

Among the many gardens he designed are those around Harewood House, Tatton, Woburn Abbey, Longleat, Clumber Park and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

The print version of this article appeared in the July 2011 issue of Yorkshire Life

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