The entrance to Sezincote is up a dark avenue of holm oaks that opens into an English park of Reptonian influence with fine trees and distant views of the rolling Cotswold hills. The name Sezincote is itself derived from ‘chêne’, French for oak, and ‘cot’ for dwelling. It literally means the ‘home of the oaks’. Yet despite this somewhat romanticised English introduction, nothing will quite prepare you for what you find at Sezincote. As it is, in fact, a Mughal Indian palace created in 1805 by the nabob Sir Charles Cockerell.
Sir Charles, grandson of the diarist Samuel Pepys, returned to England having amassed a fortune in the East India Company. He inherited Sezincote when his older brother John who had also worked for the East India Company, passed away in 1798. After inheriting the estate, Charles employed his other brother, the architect Samuel Pepys Cockerell, to design the Indian-style house. The house combines Mughal and Muslim elements with Palladian motifs resulting in a unique and fanciful property that still remains. The house provided the inspiration for the Royal Pavilion in Brighton which was designed for the Prince Regent by famed Regency architect, John Nash.
Thomas Daniell, who was a painter of Indian architectural sceneries, was chiefly responsible for many of the garden buildings. It is thought that Humphrey Repton helped advise on the gardens. Although, while the gardens have a distinctly Reptonian and Picturesque feel, little is known about his actual involvement.
The house fell into a state of decline during the second World War when it was rescued by Sir Cyril and Lady Betty Kleinwort. Once the structure was restored, Lady Kleinwort turned to Graham Stuart Thomas, the leading horticulturist and rosarian of the day, for planting advice. The partnership between Thomas and Sezincote would officially last for 30 years.
There are two main gardens at Sezincote, the formal Persian canal garden beside the house, and a more informal stream garden near the entrance to the grounds. In 1964, after a visit to the Taj Mahal, Lady Kleinwort established the Persian Garden of Paradise using hardy fastigiate yews to achieve the right look. The Persian Garden is framed by the iconic orangery with its peacock motifs which blurs the boundaries between indoor and outdoor space.
The more informal stream garden, known as the Thornery, shines in every season with primulas, hostas, astilbes, lilies and irises planted in large blocks under rare shrubs and trees. Some, like the ancient weeping hornbeam, said to be the oldest in the country, were part of the original landscape planting. The Thornery is approached over an Indian bridge adorned with Brahmin bulls, which gives way to winding paths along a stream. At the top of the stream is a fountain pool punctuated at one end by a small temple to Surya, a Hindu sun god. Stepping stones lead across the stream and under the bridge, where stone benches let visitors sit out of the sun and enjoy the view down the garden slope.
Sezincote remains a delightfully alluring and exotic garden enveloped by the bucolic Cotswolds countryside. It has been handed down within the Kleinwort family and remains a much-loved family home to this day.
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Images credit: Eliza Ford