17 October 2022
‘Nurture those seemingly impossible dreams!
Whatever the time … whatever the reason’
Autumn has truly settled in, the trees are rich in colour, and each day the evenings are closing in earlier.
Before dusk turned to darkness on Sunday, Charlotte and I strolled from the Black Horse along the banks of the Grand Junction Canal, through Milton Keynes Art Centre, Linford Manor Park and Saint Andrew’s Churchyard, enjoying the sculptures and the new works in the meadows, parks and gardens.
Nestled in the park’s wildflower meadow, the Seed Pods were created last year by Ian Freemantle, a woodworker based in Stony Stratford, as part of his ‘One Tree Project’ in 2021.
The timber for his sculptures came from the Stockgrove Redwood, once the central tree on an avenue of 12 specimens planted 100 years ago at Stockgrove Park House between Milton Keynes and Leighton Buzzard. Sadly, the tree died close to its 100th birthday, having reached a height of over 100 ft.
Since then, its wood has been turned into a variety of sculptures whose wood changes colour from striking red to a soft silver-grey.
The extensive green spaces of Great Linford Manor Park have been much altered in appearance since the pleasure gardens were first designed and shaped in the 17th and 18th centuries.
When the Pritchard or Uthwatt family replaced the mediaeval mansion and built a new Great Linford Manor, they did not want to look out their front windows at a street of common homes and hovels. The houses on the High Street were demolished to make way for a new manor house and the new, formal manor gardens.
Only the mediaeval parish church and the Almshouses built ca 1700 were left standing.
The garden at Great Linford was designed as an English country pleasure garden with ornamental ponds. Richard Woods (1715-1793), a contemporary of Capability Brown, made use of the Hine Spring to feed a series of cascading ponds, and a stream also flowed through the park to the rounded fish ponds.
Close by the canal bank, we came to the site and remains of Great Linford’s Doric Seat, once hidden away in the ‘Wilderness’, where it offered unhindered view over the Ouse valley.
Catherine Uthwatt (1724-1794) of Great Linford was the daughter of Thomas and Catherine Uthwatt. When she married Matthew Knapp in 1750, she left Great Linford to live with him on his estate in Little Linford. Her mother was bereft at the loss, and it is said she would sit in the Doric Seat, gazing across the Ouse valley towards Little Linford, imagining her daughter was sat on her twin Doric Seat.
And so, she thought, they silently and sadly communed across the valley that separated them.
Whether the tale is true or not, the Doric Seat with its ornate Greek-style Doric columns was, provided a tranquil place away from the formalities of life in the manor house until the charming setting was dealt a blow in 1800 when the Grand Junction Canal was built only a few yards away. The railway followed in 1864, with its raised embankment, and both canal and railway bisected the estate, blocking the views across the valley.
The Uthwatt family resisted the encroachments and became embroiled in a bitter argument over compensation. Blackhorse Wood now hides what remained of the vista.
In its dying days, the Doric Seat was reduced to a shadow of its former glory, enduring an ignoble end as a cow shed, with the tasteless addition of concrete feed troughs. Finally it became the victim of vandalism and was burnt down in the 1980s.
The site is marked by the recently-crafted Doric Seat columns, created by Arcangel, a reminder of a lost folly or treasure on the landscape.
The same creative team also designed the nearby Lime Leaf Chair, a sculpture that doubles as a seat with a view. The lime leaf is shown in a skeletal state, which is how the leaves appear as they start to decompose.
The Lime Leaf Chair was inspired by Great Linford’s ancient Lime tree, thought to be 300 to 500 years old, and one of the oldest trees in Milton Keynes. Lime trees are also known as Linden trees, and this has led to speculation that Great Linford takes its name from a ford over the River Ouse near a Linden tree.
Darkness was encroaching further as the two of us strolled through the churchyard, with its Quiet Garden, laid out in 2018, and the Walled Garden behind the Almshouses, maintained by the Friends of Great Linford Manor Park.
Words from ‘Parkland Peace’ by Alan Reavill on the gate into the Walled Garden say:
Restful, quiet, peaceful, idyllic scenes:
Places, perhaps to pause, relax and contemplate –
Nurture those seemingly impossible dreams!
Whatever the time … whatever the reason,
The Park offers so much … whatever the season.
After our peaceful walk through these idyllic scenes in mid-autumn, we headed back along the canal bank in the evening darkness and enjoyed dinner in the Black Horse.
As we left, night had fallen on Great Linford and we could feel the autumn rain on our shoulders.