When touring the gardens of ancient estates, a certain discipline is required to keep one’s mind on the gardens and not the equally remarkable buildings, artifacts and history. Coughton Court, the home of the Throckmorton family since 1409, is such an estate and visitors should be prepared to be charmed, inspired and educated by its somewhat modest but appealing attractions.
Situated in the Warwickshire countryside in the heart of England, this imposing Tudor house with the Church of St. Peter in the background, is surrounded by beautiful gardens.
The Coughton Court estate covers 25 acres of pastoral land and has a lake, many gardens, two churches, a Tutor house, a 16th century gate tower and a courtyard with Elizabethan half timbered walls. The place is beautiful to explore and the story of the family is compelling to learn, not only because it covers centuries of English history, but because the Throckmorton’s refusal to give up their Catholic faith put them at great risk during and after the Reformation. Sir George Throckmorton was a knight in King Henry VIII’s household but strongly opposed the king’s break with Rome over his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his pending marriage to Anne Boleyn. Despite heavy fines, imprisonment and exclusion from the Court, Throckmorton did not reject his Catholicism.
The courtyard garden was based on Elizabethan Knot gardens to echo the Tudor architecture of the tower.
King Henry VIII and his many wives are well known to both students of history and the general public. However, in recent years, Thomas Cromwell, the man who advised Henry and was the driving force behind the dissolution of English monasteries in 1536-40, has emerged from the pages of textbooks to make an appearance in the detective stories by C.J. Sansom and the historical novel ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel. These books depict the Throckmorton 16th century England as turbulent, dangerous and vicious.
The Walled Garden is called “the jewel in the crown” and is divided into different sections or ‘rooms’ with names such as Red Garden, White Garden, Rose Labyrinth, Early Summer Garden, Pool Garden and Hot & Cool Garden.
The Rose Garden has over 200 different varieties of roses.
The Throckmorton troubles did not end with the Reformation. The family was involved in the Throckmorton Plot to kill Queen Elizabeth I and the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to kill King James. During the Civil War in the 1640’s, the Throckmorton’s supported the Royalist cause and Coughton Court was captured and ransacked by Parliamentary troops. Evidence of this fascinating history can be found throughout the estate. The Tower Room with its panoramic view was critical for monitoring any approach to the house and it served as an ideal location for the secret celebration of the Mass. The priest hole built in one of the turrets provided a life-saving hiding place in perilous times.
Two parallel lime walks lead from the house to two sunken gardens, each with a distinct planting scheme.
As you drive into the estate, you pass two churches set beside the manor. The older church is the parish church of St. Peter, rebuilt around 1450. After the Reformation, St. Peter’s became an Anglican church and a private Catholic Church was built beside it.
There are several water features. One is the marshy bog garden with gunnera the size of elephant ears. A boardwalk across the bog garden lets you get close to the plantings.
In 1946, the Throckmorton’s turned over Coughton Court to the National Trust; however, the family holds a 300-year lease. The current tenants, Clare McLaren-Throckmorton and her family, continue to live in the house and own and manage the gardens.
Considering its 600-year history, the gardens are a very new addition to the estate. Christina Williams, daughter of Clare, began creating the gardens 15 years ago and today visitors can delight in her work by surveying the walled garden, bog garden, knot garden, riverside walks and courtyard.
By Barbara Reinhardus
Photo credits Barbara Reinhardus
© Riding the buses™ 2015