Dunmow's forgotten delights
PUBLISHED: 11:23 12 May 2014 | UPDATED: 11:23 12 May 2014
Great Dunmow is famed for the many attractions of its charming High Street, but Lily Floyd introduces us to some of the other highlights of this rural town
Great Dunmow has a growing reputation as a perfect place to visit for a day of pampering, thanks to its selection of restaurants, tea rooms, boutique outfitters and beauty salons.
In fact, Zoe Brady, a member of the Town Team committee in Great Dunmow, believes the town has something for everyone. ‘We have a very close community that is thriving and it still remains an independent town, especially the High Street. Locals work hard to bring regular events to the area and this town offers great days out for everyone to enjoy.’
But away from the High Street, the town also borders the forgotten gardens of Easton Lodge, a country house that dates back to Tudor times. Easton Lodge is an idyllic, Grade II listed haven and its gardens offer a picturesque space for the people of Dunmow to enjoy on their doorstep.
Helen Carter, trust administrator for Easton Lodge, explains: ‘Many people in Dunmow and the surrounding area know of the gardens, but have never visited us. People are amazed what is here and come back as it’s always changing. It also provides local businesses with sponsorship opportunities to support an important historical venue.’
The latest project for Easton Lodge is the repair of the Walled Garden, which was originally the Kitchen Garden for the house. Volunteers are also working on the Italian Garden, which was donated 50 tonnes of gravel in October 2012 courtesy of SRC Aggregates Highwood Quarry in Great Dunmow.
Sandy Halford, who has been a volunteer for more than six years, explains: ‘It’s quite a special club. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t just sitting around having cake, we work very hard. I volunteer every Thursday and have convinced my friends to help out too. There is a certain feeling about this place when the sun is shining, but we have worked through rain and snow too.’
Sandy continues: ‘The locals are very lucky to have gardens like these in their town and they don’t have to drive too far to visit. Easton Lodge is such a beautiful, magical place as it provides fascinating history and it makes me happy to be a part of it.’
In 1590, Elizabeth I granted the 10,000 acre Manor of Estaines to Henry Maynard, as a reward for performing his duties as Private Secretary to the Lord Chancellor and Treasurer to the Queen. By 1597, Maynard had replaced a former hunting lodge, known as Easton Lodge, with a new Elizabethan mansion based on Norfolk’s Blickling Hall. In 1847, almost the whole of the Elizabethan part of the mansion was destroyed by fire. Although uninsured, the property was rebuilt in Victorian Gothic style at a cost of £12,000.
Following the deaths of both her father and grandfather in a quick succession, Frances ‘Daisy’ Maynard inherited the estate of Easton Lodge in 1865, at the age of just three. As the Countess of Warwick, she became well known as a leader in society and a long-time mistress to Edward, Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII.
During the 1890s, additions were made within the four-acre grounds of her cottage, Stone Hall, including The Garden of Friendship and the Shakespeare’s Border.
In 1902, the gardens underwent their most radical change when the Countess commissioned Harold Peto. Originally trained as an architect, Peto created some of the most notable Edwardian gardens in England. He introduced some strong architectural features including balustrades, stone columns and terraces, and he was given a free hand and unrestricted budget to create one of his finest works, the Japanese Gardens.
Sadly, much of the estate was damaged during World War II as the US Air force occupied Easton Lodge and 10,000 trees were blown up to make way for runways and most of the house was demolished.
Claire Matthews has been a trustee for three years at the gardens, she says: ‘Easton Lodge still needs renovating but it’s such a beautiful place. These Harold Peto designs are the only ones to be found in East Anglia and are considered to be among the foremost examples of his work in the UK.’
The Gardens of Easton Lodge now has two separate ownerships, with six acres privately owned and maintained by the owners of Warwick House, which gives visitors the opportunity on open days to access all of the gardens. The rest of the gardens are owned and maintained by Land Securities Plc, which includes 18 acres of the majority of the woodland, grassland and the Italian Garden. The trust relies on help from volunteers and donations from visitors on open days and group visits. They will be applying for grants this year to help restore the gardens to their former glory.
Claire adds: ‘We welcome everyone to come along to our open days and people are welcome to bring their picnics and dogs too. We would also like to encourage new volunteers, as it’s a great way to be in the fresh air and meet like-minded people from all walks of life. There is hard and easy work, and they can come when it suits them as we are just grateful for their help. We can offer homemade cake though.’
FIND OUT MORE
PUBLIC OPEN DAYS
Main season open days in 2014 take place on May 18, June 22, July 20, August 17, September 21 and October 19. The gardens are to open to the general public at any other time.
Open Day Band Concert
Saffron Walden Town Band will be giving two concerts, at 2pm and 3.30pm, and there will be craft and nature activities available for younger visitors. There will also be guided tours at 1pm and 3pm plus bacon rolls and homemade soup on sale at lunchtime with hot drinks and homemade cakes available all afternoon.
Admission: Adults £3.50 and children free
Easton Lodge is delighted to be able to offer groups the opportunity to visit part of the gardens every Thursday throughout the year. Visits will last approximately 2 hours and the cost is £5 per person. For information call on 07934 376555 or visit www.eastonlodge.co.uk