Rethinking the country house garden, 1750-1850: Creation and consumption
Vice-Chancellor PhD Scholarship
This is a fully funded scholarship covering tuition fees at the Home/EU rate (£4,260) and an annual stipend of around £14,777.
This is a collaborative project between Manchester Met and English Heritage focusing on the Georgian gardens at two important houses managed by English Heritage: Audley End and Belsay Hall. It offers a new perspective by analysing the English garden as a place of consumption and production rather than simply a designed landscape. The focus is on practical issues of supply, maintenance and productivity, and on the ways in which the garden was shaped around its use by different groups and in turn helped to shape practices and identities.
Aims and objectives
The English landscape garden is a hugely important cultural icon and England’s major contribution to design history. It presents an idealized view of nature, inspired by 17th century landscape painting, and has frequently been studied in terms of design and aesthetics. These provide important insights, but afford only a partial picture of the landscape garden. It was also a material space, created by the complex interplay of social and economic processes and practices. Much has been gained in recent years by approaching the country house in this way, both in terms of its construction, maintenance and supply, and the identities and behaviour of its owners. This project seeks to deploy a similar approach to the analysis of the garden, tying it to the house methodologically and experientially as well as aesthetically.
The project approaches the garden as a site of consumption and aims to investigate the expenditure of landowners on the creation, modification and maintenance of their gardens and to explore how these spaces were used both productively and for pleasure.
This links to a number of related research objectives:
- To assess the nature and balance of spending on the garden and pleasure grounds. How did the costs of design, construction and modification compare with those of ongoing planting and maintenance, and how did these vary over time and between the two houses?
- To analyse the systems of supply that created and sustained the gardens. How was an expanding world of trade and exploration reflected in the development of planting, how were new plants sourced, supplied and transported, and how did plantsmanship emerge and impact on gardens, for example through horticultural shows and the professional press? What was the balance between self-sufficiency and commercial supply?
- To recreate and examine the distinct work communities built up around the gardens. What role was played by gardeners, gamekeepers, estate carpenters, blacksmiths, etc. in producing the physical infrastructure of the garden? What were the communities of knowledge and interest that linked gardeners, owners and suppliers, and how were they articulated?
- To assess how priorities of fashion, taste and the display of wealth were balanced with practical considerations of use and production. How did owners conceive their gardens in terms of display and productivity? To what extent were these spatially and financially distinct concerns?
- To critically analyse the ways in which gardens were consumed by visitors and arm-chair tourists. How were the gardens represented in literature and guidebooks and how did these relate to aesthetic ideals? To what extent were gardens public or private space, and how was access managed? What did visitors do in these gardens, how did they respond to what they found?
These questions will be drawn together through comparative analysis of two important houses in the care of English Heritage. Both Belsay Hall and Audley End have extensive archival collections, including accounts, receipted bills, plans and design drawings, correspondence, journals, and wage books. These will form the key sources for the research, but the gardens at both houses retain elements of their Georgian gardens and garden buildings, allowing the analysis to link textual and material sources.
Supervision and placements
The project will be jointly supervised by Prof Jon Stobart from MMU and Dr Andrew Hann from English Heritage, with further support offered by curatorial staff and to site staff and volunteers at both Audley End and Belsay Hall. The project includes a total of fifteen weeks during which the student will be working imbedded at the two properties and the EH office in London. During these periods, the student will work with curatorial staff to disseminate some of their research findings to site staff and volunteer guides. They will also have an opportunity to contribute towards the development of new interpretative schemes planned for both sites.
Academic significance and public impact
The project has the potential to form a landmark study in garden history, offering important new insights and shifting the debate into new areas. It impacts on academic research in three key ways:
- Bringing gardens into the historiography of consumption by focusing on processes of spending, owning and disposing/renewing. This allows the reconceptualisation of the garden as the crystallisation of flows (of goods, people and ideas) rather than a fixed stable end state
- Grounding gardens in practical issues of daily lives/routines. This draws out a social history of the country house garden which complements the usual design history approach; it situates them in and informs a broader historiography of the mundane and everyday
- Linking gardens (and owners) into global systems of supply and colonial sensibilities, but balancing these with consideration of the local/European. Again, this ties gardens into a very topical set of debates into which the project can feed important new ideas.
The project links closely with the current English Heritage research strategy. It addresses three core themes:  ‘Understanding the National Picture’ – addressed by exploring thematic links between sites and to wider considerations of design, supply and use of gardens;  ‘Peopling the Past’ – by introducing human stories into the history of EH sites;  ‘Developing the Assets’ – through informing and supporting re-presentation projects at EH sites.
In this respect, the project is particularly timely as both Audley End and Belsay Hall are scheduled for major investment and new interpretive programmes in the next five years. The research undertaken in this project will thus provide invaluable material that will directly feed into this process and play an important part in shaping the future interpretation of the properties. The student will be closely involved in these initiatives and thus in the future interpretation of the two gardens.
Specific requirements of the project
In addition to an excellent honours degree and a good MA degree on a relevant topic, candidates should have good knowledge of the Georgian period and experience of archival research (e.g. inventories, accounts, plans, correspondence). Knowledge of the historiography of consumption and/or garden history would also be beneficial.
As a collaborative project with English Heritage, this involves close engagement with the study gardens as heritage sites/attractions. Prospective students should therefore be interested in developing the public history element of their work and learning about the heritage sector.
This opportunity is open to UK and EU applicants
How to Apply
The quickest and most efficient way to apply for this course is to apply online. This way, you can also track your application at each stage of the process.
For more information click "LINK TO ORIGINAL" below.