©EH - Photo: above, below and last. ©Studio Hardie - Sketch (below second bottom)
Southern Green was invited by English Heritage to provide landscape design consultancy services as part of an exciting project to revitalise this Grade I Registered Park and Garden in Northumberland. Although this is one of the finest properties in the English Heritage portfolio, and located close to the Tyne & Wear conurbation, it received few visitors and did not get the recognition it deserved as a unique and spectacular Listed landscape. As part of the Belsay Awakes project, Southern Green developed proposals for an adventurous play area near the Grade I Listed Castle complex. The new play area is located in woodland to the rear of a former Coach House utilising an area that is visually unobtrusive.
The play area design is inspired by the history of the Middleton family and the 'Wildman' and 'Wildwoman', mythical figures which feature in various forms across Belsay. The ‘Wildman’ is also featured on the coat of arms of the Middleton family who owned Belsay for over 700 years. An exhibition in Belsay's Pillar Hall a decade ago brought to life the long-standing mythical figures, the 'Wildman' and 'Wildwoman', who have watched over the Middleton family for centuries. These figures, emblematic of the Middleton family, encapsulate nature's picturesque essence, retaining an air of mystery. They metaphorically embody the spirit of Belsay's gardens and the people behind them and represent untamed nature versus civilisation, embodying both the wild and noble aspects.
The mythical creatures bridge Northumberland's wild landscape with the formal classical features envisioned by Sir Charles Monck. The Wildman & Wildwoman theme is underpinned with other subsidiary themes like the Middleton family and traces of their presence, picturesque ideals, plant collecting and Greek influences. The Middletons' history spans royal service, medieval warfare, border reiving, influential women, religious nonconformity, and their connection to the castle, manor house, and associated garden. The picturesque character of the landscape is both ‘wild and tamed’. Belsay garden is listed as one of the finest examples of the Picturesque movement in Britain and the play area emphasises the 'wild to tame' journey through the gardens. Plant packing crates are inspired by Sir Charles Monck's exotic collections from expeditions, and passion for rare plant cultivation.
References to Sir Charles's voyages and the global resonance of the Wildman's myth are integrated, subtle references to Sir Charles’s travels in Greece and Sicily where he observed not only ancient buildings, but also landscapes, vistas and plants. This can be seen in the amphitheatre which will be used as an outdoor classroom, as well as an informal play feature.
Following the initial design stage, we worked alongside Studio Hardie who developed designs and installed the play installation.
Link to: Belsay Awakes - Landscape