Beeches, The (The Cement Garden)

You are here Home  > Private Parks & Gardens >  Beeches, The (The Cement Garden)
Item image
HCC Site ID: 1977 Parish: Fyfield
Designations: Area: 0.4 ha
Access: No Public Access Ownership: Private

Location and site

The Beeches can be found on the A342, about halfway between Weyhill and Ludgershall and four miles west of Andover. The narrow flat site of about one acre is tightly enclosed by the A342 along the north-east boundary and the old Midland and South Western Railway line along the west boundary. Redenham Park lies to the north side of the A342; within the park and approximately 500 metres from The Beeches are large areas of Ancient Woodland. A line of fine beech trees line the A342 along the site boundary, giving the house its name. (English Nature and Test Valley Local Plan)

Historic development

Stanley Norbury was born in 1921 and in 1942 he joined the RAF. After the war he purchased the land and temporary structure in which his family had been living since 1935 and over the next twelve years he slowly dismantled the hut and rebuilt it by his own design into the existing bungalow called The Beeches. During this period he started to experiment with cement structures, first making a bird bath and then ‘stone’ seats. He made the moulds from hardwood placed on a polythene base into which the cement mixture was poured; by next day the concrete was sufficiently set to allow him to commence carving it with a knife. In 1966 his mother died and with more time available he started to excavate a kidney-shaped swimming pool in the middle of the garden plot, between the house and the railway line (HRO aerial photograph 1971) but soon he abandoned the project and left the site alone for the next nine years (Jean Norbury 2013; Phillips, 1995)

In 1974 he was inspired to convert the old pool excavation into a garden. He bought Purbeck stone to line the walls and then towers, steps, a pavilion and a graceful balustraded bridge appeared.

Moulds were made using old railway sleepers as a framework into which the cement was poured, then Stanley cut patterns into the cement; he had up to ten days to do this before the cement set too hard. Many of the patterns were inspired by nature: fish, birds and squirrels representing water, air and land; carved roses and ivy garlands clambered over the towers and stairways. The garden was filled with pots of foliage plants, flowers, climbing roses and variegated ivy and every niche hosted a figurine. An elaborate bridge connected the remaining sections of Stanley’s traditional garden which was planted with a variety of shrubs and columnar conifers which reinforced the Mediterranean atmosphere. He said that ‘at no stage, even as each fresh feature appeared, did the outcome result from a preconceived idea. The various features, one with another, came into being by the suggestion of what was already complete. They grew from the materials and my inspiration was mainly from Purbeck stone and conifers.’ (Shaw, 1985) but later he acknowledge that he was inspired by Spain, Turkey and Italy (Innes 1995).

In 1995 the garden was selected as a finalist in the Daily Mail National Garden Competition and was featured in several magazines, local newspapers and Meridian TV. Stanley died the following year, 1996, and his house ‘The Beeches’ was sold in 1997.

Subsequently little is known of the garden until 2010 when the house was again sold and bought by a local landscape designer who had known about the ‘cement’ garden. The present owner has already removed much of the overgrown plants and shrubs which had enveloped the garden and further restoration is an ongoing project.

Current description

A site visit was made in December 2012.
The bungalow which is protected by tall hedges is approached from the A342; a tantalising glimpse of a turreted wall can be seen through a line of beech trees. The garden is approached through an elegant archway and immediately tall columnar evergreens invoke a Mediterranean-inspired space within which there are glimpses of apparently stone walls, turrets, towers and parapets. The sunken garden cannot be seen.
A path guarded by a cement peacock leads down to an elegant gate under an archway; here, more than two meters below ground level an extravaganza of water, stone and cement embellished with carved flowers and animals surrounds a space dominated by a domed pavilion facing a fountain in a trefoil-shaped basin. The depth of the garden is enhanced by an encircling balustraded wall, punctuated by flights of steps leading to the outer garden. The main entrance-way glories in a full ‘arabesque’ treatment: four slender columns support a semicircular fretwork archway through which sunlight dances on the Purbeck stone walls of the entrance. It is apparent that Norbury enjoyed embellishing his work: the capitals of the outer pair of pillars are carved as lotus leaves, the entrance arch is surmounted by a decorative frieze and everywhere there are carved flowers and animals. All the walls are inset with niches, most occupied by small figurines and vases; a tall climbing red rose scrambles up the walls towards the balustrade of an overhead bridge which passes over the entrance way.
The garden is dominated by the domed pavilion and two tall towers. The rear wall of the pavilion is embellished with a pattern of intertwined roses and three wall-plaques of a fish, birds and squirrels represent water, air and land. Stone seats offer a view of the entrance portico, the fountain and the two tall turrets which project skywards. A flight of shallow steps takes the visitor out of the garden into the remaining shrub garden. A path leads back to the house past a terrace backed by a seventeen-foot high wall. Beneath the tall conifers a second peacock struts importantly; his sculptor admitted that he was less than successful with the proportions of the bird, but it remains an elegant garden ornament. The entire garden had become totally overgrown until the present owner began a programme of gradual restoration in the past year (2012).

Summary

The ‘Stanley Norbury Cement Garden’ was created between 1974 and 1996. It is a rare example of unusually extensive use of cement-moulded garden features in a domestic garden. In particular, it demonstrates the adaptability of the medium and its suitability in a garden setting. The extensive decoration softens the utilitarian aspect of the material and the widespread use of curves, arches, pillars and balustrades in this garden contrasts with the more widespread use of concrete and cement in modernist settings. In 1995 the garden was recognized as a contender for the Daily Mail Garden of the Year and in subsequent published material it was lauded as an outstanding example of a garden created with passion.

References

Maps and photographs
HRO: 134M87/102/43 aerial photograph, Fyfield north, 1971
Books
Le Vay, B. ‘Eccentric Gardens: Xanadu, near Andover’ in Eccentric Britian, 2005, Bradt Guides second edition, pp.177-179
Taylor, G. & Cooper, G. Gardens of Obsession, 1999, Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Magazines and newspapers
Shaw, A. ‘Fantasia on a theme of stone and firs’ in Andover Advertiser, 28 June 1985
Innes, M. ‘Xanadu in Andover’ in Country Living, July 1995; pp.87-89
Phillips, A. ‘Creative Craftmanship’ in Hampshire, the county magazine, May 1995
Daily Mail ‘Weekend’ , Saturday 1st July 1995
Electronic Sources
http://www.natureonthemap.naturalengland.org.uk accessed 29/01/2013
http//:www.magic.defra.gov.uk accessed 29/01/2013


Our address

Address:
No Public Access Click for Disclaimer & copyright
GPS:
51.232062364342745, -1.577545166364871

Comments are closed.