Built by poet Alexander Pope (and something of an obsession during his later life) is the grotto and tunnel that he had constructed at his property on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham.

Pope came to live in what was then the fashionable retreat of Twickenham in 1719 and employed architect James Gibbs to create a small Palladian style villa there, living in it until his death in 1744. He also obtained a licence to tunnel beneath the road known as Cross Deep and leased about five acres of unenclosed land on the other side which he developed as his garden – a project he lavished great attention upon.

His first grotto was established in the cellars which stood at ground level facing the river and then extended along the tunnel from the rear of the cellars, leading to a misapprehension, promoted by no other than Dr Samuel Johnson, that the grotto lay under the road. Pope, who had apparently been delighted to find a spring in his grotto complex, opened his gardens to the public in 1736.

Inspired by what he found when visiting Hotwell Spa at the base of Avon Gorge in 1739, he decided to redesign the grotto as a museum of mineralogy and mining and while much material – including a stalagmite from Wookey Hole in Somerset and hexagonal basalt joints from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland (the latter a gift, apparently, from Sir Hans Sloane) – was put into the walls, the grotto was never completed.

The grotto and tunnel is now all that remains of the villa Pope built which was demolished in 1808. What survives of it is located within the grounds of Radnor House School.

The grotto is generally open only briefly during the year including during the Twickenham Festival. An effort continues to have the grotto restored and public access increased. For more details on the restoration project and when the grotto can be visited, see www.popesgrotto.org.uk.

PICTURE: verdurin (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

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Be dazzled by more than a million twinkling lights at the enchanted wonderland that is Kew Gardens this Christmas.

The Royal Botanic Gardens in London’s west have once again teamed up with entertainment promoter Raymond Gubbay Ltd to create a brand new illuminated trail. It starts with a path lit by hundreds of illuminated globes winding through trees festooned with silvery shards of light, snowflakes and stars and includes attractions such as an enormous glowing ‘Sledge Tree’ – made from more than 360 wooden Santa sledges, and a chorus of ‘Singing Trees’.

Other artistic installations along the trail include an ultraviolet walkway of thousands of continuously moving bubbles (created by Between Art and Technology (BAT) Studio), an enchanted promenade of hundreds of huge glowing peonies, giant grasses and coloured reeds (the work of French art studio TILT), and a host of giant trees, made from thousands of colourful, sparkling flowers complete with holographic petals (creative studio PITAYA) located along the Great Broad Walk Borders (included in the trail for the first time).

The fire garden has also returned – this year as a corridor of intricate pulsing fire sculptures and rotating lantern-lit Christmas trees – as has the Palm House finale in which the pond and glasshouse spring to life in an explosion of laser beams, jumping jets of light and kaleidoscopic projections playing across a giant water screen.

And, of course, there’s roasted chestnuts, mulled cider and Santa and his elves as well as a festive fairground and other food and drink. Open between 5pm and 10pm (timed entries between 5pm and 7.40pm),  the after dark event runs until 1st January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.kew.org.

PICTURES: Above – A sea of illuminated globes by the Palm House / Below (top to bottom)  – 1. Giant glowing trees along The Great Broad Walk Borders; 2. Animated illuminations at Kew’s lake;  3. Giant peonies; 4.Palm House Grand Finale. ALL PHOTOGRAPHY © Jeff Eden/RBG Kew.

heathrow-garden-gateThe UK’s first airport “garden gate” – featuring some 1,680 plants – has been planted at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 in a six month trial of the concept which could see the garden gates being implemented across the airport. Designed by urban greening specialists Biotecture, the installation at Gate 25 covers seven different sites in the gate room and features plants such as English native ivy and the Peace Lily and provides an “eco-sanctuary”, conveying a sense of calm to passengers as they embark on their journey.

Syon-Park

Yes, we’re a bit out of order here given we looked at the subsequent Battle of Turnham Green last week, but today we’re taking a look at the Civil War fight known as the Battle of Brentford.

As recounted last week, having taken Banbury and Oxford in the aftermath of the Battle of Edgehill, the Royalist army marched along the Thames Valley toward London where a Parliamentarian army under the Earl of Essex waited.

Battle-of-BrentfordHaving arrived at Reading to the west of London, King Charles I, apparently unconvinced peace talks were heading in the right direction, ordered Prince Rupert to take Brentford in order to put pressure on the Parliamentarians in London.

On 12th November, 1642, up to 4,600 Royalists under the command of the prince engaged with two Parliamentarian infantry regiments at Brentford, one of the key approaches the City of London. The Parliamentarians were under the command of Denzil Hollis (who wasn’t present) and Lord Brooke – various estimates put their number at between 1,300 and 2,000 men.

Prince Rupert’s men – consisting of cavalry and dragoons – attacked at dawn under the cover of a mist. An initial venture to take a Parliamentarian outpost at the house of Royalist Sir Richard Wynne was repulsed by cannon fire but Sir Rupert ordered a Welsh foot regiment to join the fight and the outpost was quickly taken.

The Cavaliers then pushed forward across the bridge over the River Brent (which divided the town) and eventually drove the Parliamentarians from the town and into the surrounding fields (part of the battle was apparently fought on the grounds of Syon House – pictured at top).

Fighting continued into the late afternoon before the arrival of a Parliamentarian infantry brigade under the command of John Hampden allowed the Roundheads to withdraw.

About 170 are believed to have died in the battle (including a number who drowned fleeing the fighting). Followed by the sack of the town, the battle was a success for the Royalists who apparently captured some 15 guns and about 400 prisoners. The captured apparently included Leveller John Lilburne, a captain in Brooke’s regiment.

The Royalists and Parliamentarians met again only a few days later – this time at Turnham Green (for more on that, see last week’s post).

Incidentally, this wasn’t the first battle to be fought at Brentford. Some time over the summer of 1016, English led by Edmund Ironside clashed with the Danes under the soon-to-be-English king Canute. Edmund was victorious on the day, one of a series of battles he fought with Canute.

Meanwhile, more than 1000 years earlier, it was apparently at Brentford that the British under the King Cassivellaunus fought with Julius Caesar’s men in 54 BC on their approach to St Albans (Verulamium).

A pillar stands High Street in Brentford commemorating all three battles while there is an explanatory plaque about the battle in the grounds of Syon Park.

For more the Battles of Brentford and Turnham Green, see www.battlefieldstrust.com/brentfordandturnhamgreen.