A reader, Jos Haynes, made a comment regarding a few of our previous posts related to Sir George Sitwell and one of his sons, Osbert Sitwell. Jos made a trip to the Sitwell family seat, Renishaw, and has sent us a short note and some photographs of the gardens. Jos seems disappointed that the gardens were not more impressive but makes the point that there are a multitude of historic gardens in Britain with which to compare it unfavourably. The passage of time has also, no doubt, taken its toll – all gardeners can attest to how difficult it is to keep a garden intact. This would be even more difficult with a garden conceived in Edwardian times.
Nonetheless, to judge by Jos’s photos, it is still a lovely garden and I would like also to visit it some day. Below are his notes and photos.
I visited Renishaw largely because I had just finished reading Osbert Sitwell’s five volume autobiography – and the house and gardens figured frequently in the narrative, and of course the author’s father, Sir George, who was largely responsible for the present garden arrangement. The visit was rather disappointing, but perhaps my expectations were too high – did I expect to see the ghost of Osbert or Sir George walking the grounds? Well, no, but I did expect more of an ambiance which reflected their previous presence. The gardens are beautiful, no doubt, and I appreciated them, but there are hundreds, probably thousands, of gardens in England which can claim to be beautiful, and I never had the feeling of anything special or personal. Also, given my knowledge of the Sitwells and their history, I did expect the house and grounds to be imbued with more memories – for through the autobiography I almost felt that Osbert’s memories were part of my history too. The lake on which Sir George had experimented and for which he made many plans for it to be the centrepiece of his grand landscape now is almost lost to sight beneath the woods and close up is just a nondescript area of water – a far cry from the lake on which Sir George planned an island with entertainment rooms and swimming pool surrounded by a colonnade.
The house visit was also a let down. The guide could only point to pictures or items of furniture and give the title, the name of the purchaser and date – almost an auctioneer’s catalogue. I was reminded of the Reverend Eager showing English visitors around a Florentine chapel in EM Forster’s Room with a View, especially the way the guide switched direction from one side of the room to the other, and as her pointed finger moved, so did the 30 heads of the visitors in unison … except mine. I became more interested in crowd psychology and the way the mass became as one. So on that measure the visit was not a success – I came away not a whit the wiser about the life of the Sitwells.