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by Ted Howell

Between the Wars
In 1935 H. Gordon Selfridge Jr. and his family moved into Friars Lawn. In 1990, Jennifer Selfridge Macleod produced a short account of the house including references to the garden. I have reproduced her account in full, with comments in bold type.

The house had handsome tall wrought iron gates and railings next to the street. There was a flag stone walk to the front steps, surrounded by a small lawn. The children have vague memories of a fishpond in that lawn which was filled in for safety reasons just before or soon after they moved in...

The back garden was bordered on the left (as one looked out of the house) and on the back by a high brick wall, which still stands in 1990. Next to the left wall, extending back about two thirds of the way to the back wall, was a flowerbed and flag stone walk. A lawn extended from that walk all the way across the property almost to the fence separating the garden from that of the newer house on the right.

In the middle of the back end of the lawn, a very large apple tree stood; the children used it as the wicket in their cricket games... This may have been a Codlin apple – a kind of cooking apple producing small, green, elongated fruit used for cooking and much valued for their keeping quality. These trees grew large and could live to a venerable old age. It is just possible that this tree could be one of those marked on the 1865 OS. Map

There was a little woman, as I've been told,
Who was not very young, nor yet very old;
Now this little woman her living got
By selling codlins, hot, hot, hot!
- Traditional nursery rhyme

Behind the apple tree was an extensive raised planted area with big stones. Jennifer remembers one particularly large one that had been cut into a rectangular shape with a protruding well-carved lion’s head....

At the very end of the garden, at back left-hand corner where the side wall met the back wall, there was a rabbit hutch which the family used to raise pet rabbits...

The rest of the back was for growing fruit and vegetables.

The back wall of the garden continued to the right, around two additional house lots...The children remember a house being built on the other during their tenure...

Up until the last or so of the family’s tenure at Friars Lawn, a gardener by the name of Bryant was employed to mow the lawns and to make improvements in the plantings and walks. Among his various projects, he built or improved two rock gardens - one to the right of the drive way as one enters the gate (there was a large and beautiful snowball tree there), and one in the raised area behind the apple tree in the back. He also laid new flagstone walks around the latter area. The rockeries and the snowball tree have disappeared. The paths are still there – recognisable as the only flagstones among later brick and concrete.

There were two excellent apple trees (besides the large old on, that gave only small very hard and sour fruit), delectable peaches and pears against the back wall, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, red currants, gooseberries and rhubarb – plus hazel nuts from the tree which still stands by the back steps.

A large stand of fragrant lavender was by the front door. Flowers such as hollyhocks, pansies, peonies and many others filled the flowerbed....

Part of the back wall of the house had or came to have considerable ivy, all the way up to the top floor and surrounding some of the big windows. Before the family left, however, much of it had fallen off- in spite of the trimming that they had hoped would save it. The ivy on the garden wall continued to thrive.

The stone trough (still there in 1990 but in a slightly different location) was on the left side of the ‘well’, next to the garden wall – or it might have been on the main garden level, but still next to the wall.

- Jennifer Selfridge Macleod, Friars Lawn from 1935 to 1940. August 1990.

The garden described above is based upon a concept of landscape sometimes referred to as the ‘English Renaissance’ or ‘Cottage’ style. This had its origins in the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late Victorian era. Just as the Movement’s philosophy was a deliberate rejection of Victorian industrialism and alienation, the English Renaissance garden was seen as the antithesis of Loudon’s ‘Gardenesque’. Nature now over turned art. William Robinson in his seminal book ‘The Wild Garden’ (1870) advocated the planting of native trees and flowers while deprecating the excesses of the prevailing fashion, which he referred to as ‘pastry cook’ gardening. Later in that same century, Gertrude Jekyll, a friend and admirer of Robinson, would fill strictly formal beds and terraces with billowing clouds of flowers in flowing, colour co-ordinated drifts.

This romantic fashion, with its nostalgic appeal to a lost rural Eden, filled the gardens of the day with ‘cottage garden’ plants – hollyhocks, pansies, peonies, forget-me-nots and michaelmas daisies – as described in Jennifer’s account. Fruit and vegetable cultivation was another symbol of idyllic self-sufficiency (as well as one of the highest manifestations of the Victorian gardeners craft).

The rockeries mentioned above, at first sight out of keeping with this cottage style, enjoyed a wave of popularity between the two wars. This fashion was inspired principally by the writings of Reginald Farrer and his disciples and fuelled by the early 20th Century ethos of the 'Plantsman’ - the knowledgeable (and gentlemanly) collector and cultivator of rare and unusual plants. The rock gardens of Farrer and the other cognoscenti were undoubtedly masterpieces of construction and planting. Their sub-urban imitators were all too often awful assemblages of miss-placed stone and inappropriate plants.

Two undated photographs, possibly from the 1930’s, show views of the front of the house (Central Library Ealing, collection T371). The first depicts a cricket match on the Green with Friars Lawn in the background. Close examination reveals a border of shrubs over topping the front wall of the property. There appears to be a topiaried shrub in a large pot to the left of the front door (as you look at the house) and no evidence of the wisteria, which today clothes the front of the house. The second picture, labelled ‘The Grange and Sunnyside’ (the pre-1935 name of Friars Lawn) gives a clearer view of the property. The closely set, vertical rails of a wrought iron fence largely obscure the planting. However, though the open gates can be glimpsed what appears to be a small, rectilinear raised pond. It stands to the left of the double gates and is raised some six inches above ground level by low (brick?) walls surmounted by flat, stone coping. The Selfridge children ‘vaguely recalled’ a fish pond in the front garden (see above)

Although both photographs are undated, some information can be deduced from the pictures themselves. Both seem to depict the house around the same time; the facade, wall, gates and railings are identical; the wisteria is absent. The picture of the cricket match also shows motorcars consistent with a date in the early 1930’s; the close-up is labelled as ‘Sunnyside’, the pre-1935 name for Friars lawn.

Some the Selfridge garden can still be seen today. As well as the flagstone paths to the back of the garden, Jennifer’s stone trough still stands in the well and the iron railings have been returned to the front wall. The two English yews (Taxus baccata) must date from before the Selfridge’s occupancy, as does the ivy, with its capacity for infinite regeneration. Although fruit trees are still prominent in the garden today, none date from as far back as the 1940s. However they, and the wealth of flowers, would lend a familiar flavour to any visitor from seventy years ago.

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