What we see today is a late eighteenth century ‘landscape park’ overlying and created from an early eighteenth century formal garden.
The site is relatively compact if compared with garden such as Stowe, but in its compactness Hartwell packs in equivalent references to iconography and equal importance in terms of how it was viewed in its heyday and the way it influenced others to lay out their estates.
Like many designed landscapes Hartwell is a palimpsest containing many stories from the sixteenth century to the present day.
Early history of the estate
It was held in one family, the Lees for over four hundred years and served then as a retreat from the world of politics and business.
Hartwell’s importance is perhaps as much about the stories locked up in its landscape and iconography, as it is a discrete, precious oasis.
The earlier formal garden is recorded in spectacular detail in eight topographic paintings by the Spanish genre painter Balthazaar Nebot (active 1730 – after 1765).
What makes the Nebot paintings stand out is the minute detail, both showing how the garden worked physically and showing the owners and their staff doing things in the landscape.
Later history of the estate
The later 18th C landscaping was done by Richard Woods. Woods created some spectacular landscape gardens which include Wardour. He was quite capable of working on a large scale and of using the picturesque style to best advantage.
Hartwell is a charming smaller example of an eighteenth century landscape park in which the designer may have been influenced by a stranglehold of what went before.
The late 18th century park survives and provides a charming setting for the new use of the house as a Country House Hotel – where guests can stroll by the lake before dinner and enjoy this undisturbed rural retreat.
The line of HS2 clips this inner park and severs it from the outer park, both are on the English Heritage Register and at only 350m from the house it is likely the noise and train movements will be noticed by hotel guests.
The National Trust believe that the most efficient way of preventing disruption would be to enclose the line inside a ‘land bridge.’ Whilst this would entail disruption during construction, it is the only solution that will guarantee the long term tranquillity of Hartwell House.
HARTWELL is included on the English Heritage register of Parks and Gardens of historic interest in England and Wales at Grade II*. There are only some 1700 sites in total on the register of which 430no. are II* – and in Buckinghamshire 11no. The Register does not confer statutory protection but local authorities are strongly advised to consider inclusion on the Register as having the equivalent status of statutory protection.