Rodmarton Manor near Cirencester in the Cotswolds is one of the finest examples of the Arts and Crafts movement, showcasing a magnificent legacy of early 20th Century craftmanship. The house was built between 1909 and 1923 for Claud and Margaret Biddulph and remains the home of the fourth and fifth generations of the family.
Rodmarton was part of the Kemble Estate which was bequeathed to Michael Biddulph in 1884. Ten years later he gave 550 acres to his son Claud, a successful stockbroker, who married Margaret in 1906. The original 15th Century manor house was uninhabitable. So, they decided to have a new 74 room house built, along with befitting gardens and a selection of outbuildings.
The main approach to the house is along Holly Drive with its clipped hedges. It leads to the vernacular-style stone house and buildings arranged around a forecourt. Beneath the stone slate roof, the multi-gabled house and adjoining outbuildings were constructed from mellow Cotswold limestone.
The manor house, chapel and all the furnishings were built by the Cotswold Group of Craftsmen, led by architect Ernest Barnsley. He was a keen follower of William Morris and his brother Sidney was a master cabinetmaker. The group wanted to preserve the traditional crafts that were in danger of dying out under the glut of cheaper mass-produced furnishings. Over a 20-year period, the house became a workshop for traditional skills including metalwork, woodwork, masonry, needlework, painting and gardening, all created by craftsmen to the highest standards.
The Biddulphs eschewed society in favour of hosting events where locals could learn new skills in the magnificent reception rooms. Amateur dramatics took over the ballroom and the Rodmarton Women’s Guild gathered to stitch appliqué panels which now hang upstairs.
RODMARTON MANOR GARDEN
The house was designed to enjoy the best views of the gardens, including two open loggias. It was complemented by a glorious eight-acre garden. Designed by Ernest Barnsley as a series of compartmentalised garden rooms, it remains much as it was first laid out. Strong architectural style and formality is seen closer to the house created with the use of topiary and terraces. Further away, the garden rooms gradually relax as they blend into the open farmland beyond.
Margaret was a passionate gardener herself having attended Studley Horticultural College before her marriage. She worked with William Scrubley, the Head Gardener at Rodmarton Manor, and they developed the planting and garden details together. There is a well-established rockery, sunken garden, cherry orchard, a kitchen garden, topiary, lawns and white borders that are all well-tended. A lovely touch is the ‘troughery’ containing a selection of delicate alpines spilling out over the sides of the stone troughs. All the plantings are designed to encourage butterflies and birds to visit and share the garden. You will also find many strategically placed seats and terraces for pausing and enjoying the superb vistas of the rolling Gloucestershire countryside.
The garden at Rodmarton Manor is a lovely place to wander through. The formal elements often have touches of quirkiness to them which provides humour and creates a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Coupled with the blaze of blooms throughout the year, this is simply a charming garden.
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Images © Eliza Ford