The History of Batsford Arboretum
The 17th Century
The earliest verifiable recorded history of Batsford Park of which the arboretum forms the central part dates back to the Freeman family who owned the estate in the early part of the 17th Century. We know that a substantial house existed on the site which was altered and extended over a period of some 200 years. The gardens were extensive and originally formal in their layout, evolving into a more relaxed theme in the late 19th century.
1886 - 1916
The stature and backbone of Batsford Arboretum which we see today was no more than a dream when its creator inherited the Batsford Estates from John Freeman-Mitford in 1886.
During the 1860s Algernon Bertram Freeman - Mitford (later 1st Lord Redesdale) travelled widely in oriental Asia as an attaché to the foreign legation.
He was deeply influenced by the landscapes in China and Japan and became fascinated by those plants that he found there, especially the bamboos. Whilst in Japan he became a respected expert on the politics and culture of the country.
Upon inheriting the estate Algernon Mitford, know as Bertie, demolished the Georgian house and rebuilt a new mansion between the years 1888 and 1892 as well as rebuilding many estate houses. However, it was not until 1890 that Bertie was able to turn his attention to the gardens.
His influence was most radical almost erasing all traces of the original layout. He created a 'wild' garden of near natural plantings inspired by his observations of plant groupings in the Japanese landscape. He was able to create a garden which allowed him to explore his ideas combining conventional parkland with a garden landscape. He had become an accomplished and respected plantsman and a great authority on bamboos. Most of the major trees, many of which are most unusual, were his original plantings.
He also created one of the foremost bamboo collections of the time and some of these still live on today. As well as introducing a multitude of unusual plants, Bertie Mitford created an artificial watercourse some 600 metres long down the west side of the gardens. He enlisted the help of the Pulham Brothers, well known throughout the country at that time for their landscaping abilities, to build other major features which can still be seen including the rockeries, streams and waterfalls, lake and the hermits cave.
No further major development took place in the early part of the 20th century and in 1916 Bertie, now the 1st Lord Redesdale, died. He was succeeded by his second son David who was father of the famous Mitford girls. The five older girls and their brother Tom all lived at Batsford during the first world war. The oldest, Nancy, based the early part of her novel ' Love in a cold climate' on their time at Batsford. Very soon after the war the estate was sold to cover death duties.
1919 - 1984
The estate was sold in 1919 to Gilbert Alan Hamilton Wills, later the 1st Lord Dulverton. His wife, Victoria took a great interest in the gardens making many additions to its plant stock. Quite a number of the larger specimens were planted during this time, including the Handkerchief Tree and some fine Copper Beeches..
During the war years and for some time after 1945, the wild gardens were neglected and became somewhat overgrown. Frederick Anthony Hamilton Wills succeeded his father as the 2nd Lord Dulverton in 1956. Fortunately he had a great passion for trees and together with Mr. Ken Hope, his head forester, he proceeded throughout the 1960s to halt the decline. With great vigour and enthusiasm he consolidated the existing collections as well as adding a multitude of other trees to Batsford. He was single-handedly responsible for raising the status of Batsford to an arboretum of international standing.
1984 - Present day
In 1984 Batsford Park was donated to a charitable trust founded by the 2nd Lord Dulverton to ensure the future of the arboretum. The 2nd Lord Dulverton died in 1992 and the Batsford Arboretum continues to be administered by the Batsford Foundation who proceed to develop the arboretum as a place of great beauty to enjoy as an educational resource.
In 2002 the Arboretum was recognized by the *N.C.C.P.G* as holding the national collection of Japanese Flowering Cherries.