Water Close Garden, The

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HCC Site ID. 1985 Parish: Winchester
Designations: None Area: 0.1 ha
Access: No Public access but can be viewed Ownership: Private

Location and Site

Viewable from the Water Close, a permissive footpath leading south off Colebrook Street in the city centre. The site’s southern boundary is part of the Castle Wall of Wolvesey Castle (LB I) and its eastern boundary, the Water Close, links to the Path and Wall of the Cathedral Close (LB II) and Winchester Cathedral (SAM). The site with its water garden is a visible reminder of the network of now mostly culverted waterways running through the City.

Historical Development

The Water Close garden was created in1958 by Peter (later Sir) Henry Berry Otway Smithers (1913-2006), diplomat, politician and noted horticulturalist. He was then MP for Winchester and owned Colebrook House (LB II) which lies to the east of the garden but separated from it by Water Close. He bought a terrace of small cottages on Water Close that were condemned by the City’s slum clearance programme and demolished them to create a new garden. The garden was designed by him, with the help of the then Cathedral architect Wilfrid Carpenter Turner. Smithers’ purpose was to enhance the Cathedral’s setting by opening up a new view of it and to give pleasure to the residents and visitors who passed to and from the Cathedral. In 1967 the garden was enlarged by the purchase of a section of land to the south bounded by the Wolvesley Castle wall. This enabled Smithers to create the formal, symmetrical Italianate design which still exists. He sold Colebrook House and the Water Garden in 1969 and moved to Switzerland where he created a renowned new garden at Vico Morcote above Lake Lugarno. As a horticulturalist he is noted for importing and hybridising Japanese tree peonies, for reviving the cultivation of nerines and for his extensive collection of rare magnolias. There are two magnolias in the Water Close garden. He was also a world-class plant photographer, awarded the RHS Gold Medal eight times. As a young man he was recruited by Ian Fleming to work for MI6 during the war and it’s possible that he lent his name to the character Colonel Smithers in ‘Goldfinger’!


View into the garden from Water Close

The garden is an enclosed rectangular space bounded by red brick and flint and stone walls. It is accessed through two doors in the north-west and south-east corners. The garden is viewed from the Water Close path through an opening some 10 feet wide in the centre of the east wall flanked by red brick piers rising above the wall. The piers define the width of the central pool of still water which is contained at its eastern end by a low iron railing of interlocking circles. Within the garden the western end is defined by an elaborate stone balustrade which has the appearance of a bridge over the pool. Behind the balustrade there is a large stone bust on a stone base. Both Peter Smithers and Wilfid Carpenter Turner were known to be early enthusiasts of architectural salvage and undoubtedly collected pieces for this garden. The pool appears to exit the garden under the ‘bridge’ at the western boundary; in fact the water flow is to the east and the level and stillness of the pool is maintained by two sluices, one of which discharges into a pipe running beneath the Water Close path and into the garden of Colebrook House. On either side of the pool are gently rising lawns backed by clipped yew hedges, each with a rectangular recess at its centre, which may have contained stone benches. The remainder of the space, planted with climbers and shrubs, is hidden from the external viewpoint.
There was a system of medieval conduits running through the walled city which by the mid-19th were carrying all the City’s sewage. Various schemes extended, diverted and created new conduits to carry the many streams flowing through the city. One of these, built in the 1860s, crossed under the passage leading from Colebrook Street to the Cathedral Close and this is almost certainly the source which Peter Smithers tapped to fill the pool in the Water Close garden. The water flows east out of the garden, rising again in the Colebrook House garden in a shallow basin as though a spring and then flowing down a shallow water staircase. The two gardens should be seen as one unified and elegant design.
However, the crux of the Water Close garden design was to open up a new view of the Cathedral, both from Colebrook House and from the Water Close path. The view is of the east end of the Cathedral and the windows of the Lady Chapel. The stillness of the water was intended to reflect that view in the pool.

Current Description

The last owner who cared deeply about the garden was Lady Barbara Ann Calcutt who died in 2015. Since then the future of the garden has been in some doubt. It has been neglected for some time (as of January 2018): the planting in and around the pool has suffered and overgrowth of trees, including the magnolias, have obscured the view of the Cathedral and blocked its reflection in the pool.


Balustrade, Bust, west Wall

Summary and Significance.

A very small mid-20th century garden reminiscent, fifty years on, of the work of Harold Peto. It was created by a benevolent owner to frame a new view of Winchester Cathedral and to give pleasure to residents and visitors passing to and from the Cathedral. It sits at the heart of the city conservation area in close relationship to listed heritage assets. Its significance lies in its close spatial and visual relationship to the Cathedral, forming part of its setting. It has a strong group value as part of the green environment of the Cathedral including the Cathedral Close, the Dean Garnier garden and the Abbey Gardens. The historic development of the city, beginning in the Roman period saw the partial concealment of waterways below ground: the Water Close garden surprises and delights as a reminder of that heritage by bringing a lost water way to surface life again.
HGT Research: February 2018


Peter Henry Berry Otway Smithers, ODNB entry no. 97241
Smithers, Peter, Adventures of a Gardener, Harvill Press with the RHS, 1995
Peter Smithers, Plantsman, Politician and Floral Pornographer (sic), https://parksandgardensuk.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/peter-smithers-plantsman-politician-floral-pornographer. Date accessed 19/01/2018
Remembering the man who created Winchester’s iconic Water Garden
http://www.hampshirechronicle.co.uk/news/15853092 date accessed 18/01/2018
Proudman, Elizabeth, The Waterways of Winchester, http://www.cityofwinchestertrust.co.uk/archive/TN94/spg08.shtml. Date accessed 16/01/2018
Sales Details for Colebrook House, 1969, HRO 118M82/15
Sales Details for Colebrook House and the Water Garden, 2006, HRO 165A06/54
Winchester Cathedral Close Drainage, 1867, HRO DC/E6/3/1
Plan of the surface streams and culverts, City of Winchester, 1953 HRO W/C5/9/20


Setting east end of Cathedral


View out from the garden

Our address

Winchester UK No Public access but can be viewed Click for Disclaimer & copyright
51.06027978991774, -1.3112183958946844

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