Hidcote's Tennis courts, Gloucestershire

PUBLISHED: 12:07 23 December 2010 | UPDATED: 15:17 20 February 2013

Tennis players at Hidcote in the 1930s

Tennis players at Hidcote in the 1930s

Hidcote's tennis courts and pavilion are being given a new lease of life.

When Lawrence Johnston created Hidcote Manor Garden in the 1920s and 30s, he gave us one of the most beautiful gardens in England. Because most of his notes died with him, he also left us an enigma which is still puzzling the experts today, 50 years after his death.

Now one of Johnston's secrets is out - he was a tennis lover. A tennis court dating back to early Edwardian times has been unearthed, and restoration work is about to start. Later this summer it will ring to the sound of rubber on gut for the first time in well over half a century.

The net, the surrounding fencing and the lines were swallowed up by nature after the court fell into disuse during World War II. When Hidcote was given to the National Trust in 1948, the tennis court had become little more than a plant nursery with an unusually flat surface.

Last year, 100 years after Johnston's mother bought the garden and her son began his great work, the Trust launched the Hidcote Centenary Appeal, with the aim of raising 1.6 million for this world-renowned garden to match challenge funding pledged by an anonymous donor.

The work to restore Hidcote to its days of glory is well under way. New evidence has been found for the way the gardens originally looked, in the shape of a notebook, two diaries and some wall hangings, which have enabled experts to unravel some of Johnston's original designs. A new visitor route through the Manor House has been introduced, a new Plant Shelter has been constructed and an Alpine Terrace has been completed.

Now it's the turn of the tennis court. Old Ordnance Survey maps show that the court existed when the Johnstons acquired the garden in 1907. Presumably it was not up to the standard required by his vision, as he immediately set to work improving it. Tennis became an important part of the life Johnston enjoyed at Hidcote, as it was at so many affluent homes in the 1930s when tennis parties were an integral part of the social scene.

He constructed an all-weather clay-surfaced court of the kind often used in the early and mid 20th century - it was effectively an all-weather court, though it was not up to winter use - and surrounded it with 'tapestry' hedges made from interwoven shrubs. He also constructed a pavilion - a timber-frame structure with a thatched roof - and the restoration of this was due for completion during June.

"The hardest part of building a tennis court is laying a perfectly flat surface, and Johnston certainly got that right" says Hidcote property manager Mike Beeston. "I'm sure he would be delighted to see that the court where he and his friends used to play is being restored."

The Hidcote team consulted the experts at Queen's Club in London, who referred them to court construction specialists MG Sports, who were due to start work on the court at the end of June and complete it by early September. The project is costing 86,000, of which 56,000 is required for the court and the rest for the pavilion.

The court will be available to visitors to Hidcote on a pay-as-you-play basis or (along with access to the garden) for corporate tennis days, and there are plans to set up a Hidcote Tennis Club.

  • Hidcote Manor Garden, near Chipping Campden, is open every day except Thursday until August 31 and every day except Thursday and Friday from September 1 - November 2. Hours: 10 am - 6 pm until October 1 and until 5 pm thereafter.

The pig, the summerhouse and the lady who loved a walk in the garden

If it hadn't been for a curious pig, the latest restoration project at the National Trust's Newark Park might never have happened - and a 250-year-old building might have been lost for ever.

When the pig - an escapee from the farm next door - wandered into the undergrowth one day, Bob Parsons, who was the Trust's tenant at Newark at the time, decided to follow it. The animal led him through a dense wall of undergrowth and into the ruins of an 18th century summerhouse.

Bob, who took the property on in 1970 and had embarked on a lengthy restoration programme there, had no idea the summerhouse had even existed. He set to work finding out how it must have looked when it was built.

Newark, near Wotton-under-Edge, is now a stylish Georgian home with one of the finest panoramas in Gloucestershire. In fact the original house dates back to the 1540s, when it was built for a leading member of the court of Henry VIII. The surrounding estate's 700 acres offer one of the finest - and least known - panoramas in Gloucestershire. But by 1970, the garden had long been lost to nature - and it was Bob Parsons who rediscovered and restored it, creating a natural woodland garden with beautiful views.

Bob knew the summerhouse was far too important to be allowed to decay any further, and carried out temporary repairs, quite literally to stop the rot. But there was no money for a proper restoration. When he died in 2000 at the age of 80, the summerhouse remained an enigmatic shell.

Eight years after his death, the generosity of a local man has enabled Michael Claydon, who succeeded Bob as tenant, to carry out the work which was not possible in his friend's lifetime. The upshot is that the summerhouse has now been fully refurbished and reopened.

The work has been made possible by an unexpected gift from John Lyons, a local man who came forward after the the death of his mother Freda in 1997. Mrs Lyons had been a regular visitor to Newark and had particularly loved walking with her son in the garden. John decided that the completion of the summerhouse would be a fitting memoriam to her, and offered the sum of 35,000 to make the work possible.

The balance of the money came from the estate of the late historian and author Alec Clifton-Taylor, who left a bequest to the National Trust dedicated to the restoration of windows in vernacular buildings.

Rendering put up to safeguard the building temporarily had to be removed and the surviving timbers repaired and replaced as necessary. There was no roof and only one intact window, which was used as a model for replacement frames.

A certain amount of informed guesswork had to be used in roofing the building, as the original roof had completely disappeared. A new roof was constructed using lead sheeting.

The work was carried out by a local conservation builder, Kilcott Conservation, and joinery specialists Smith Brothers of Worcester.

On May 30 John Lyons and his brother and sister attended a ceremony to mark the completion of the summerhouse. A plaque was dedicated to the memory of Freda Lyons

Now the summerhouse is once again a focal point in the gardens at Newark.

  • Further information about Newark Park on 01453 842644 or 01793 817666 (Infoline), email: newarkpark@nationaltrust.org.uk
    Opening: Wednesdays, Thursdays Saturdays and Sundays from June 1 - November 2, 11 am-5 pm, last admission 4.30 pm.

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