Greystones, an Arts & Crafts style house at 29 Mostyn Road, Merton Park, was built in 1913 and its gardens were designed by Gertrude Jekyll. They survived for half a century and although destroyed in the 1970s, were partly restored in 1992 by the then owners. Jekyll’s distinctive box and yew hedging has since been re-established as have the original broad shapes of the beds containing shrubs and flowers. However, subsequent owners have chosen not to allow access of any kind and it is not possible to check whether Jekyll’s detailed plant listings are still maintained. Nevertheless the site was once part of the John Innes estate and remains within the John Innes Conservation Area today. Its architect, JS Brocklesby, also designed John Innes Park, virtually next door to Greystones, which opened to the public in 1909.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/10/2010
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The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
Mostyn Road is named after Mostyn Cottage, an early C19th building that stood just north of Kingston Road, the ancient boundary between the parishes of Wimbledon and Merton in Surrey. It was one of several avenues created by property developer John Innes (1829-1904) after he and his brother James (1819-1902) had begun purchasing farm land in the vicinity in the 1860s. By the 1880s their property covered between 160-200 hectares.
John Innes bought the local Manor Farm and developed it for the next 30 years, turning it into a comfortable residence with a winding carriage drive through ornamental grounds that led to a gate and lodge in the new Mostyn Road. In 1872 he took over the lordship of the manor and in 1890 the farm house was renamed Manor House. He employed architect Henry Goodall Quartermain (1843-1904) to design the estate as the garden suburb of Merton Park where commuters would have easy access to new railway links to central London. The first houses in Mostyn Road were cottages built to house estate workers displaced by the improvements at the farm directly opposite. As time passed, larger detached houses as well as semi-detached cottages were built along the avenue. Innes, very active in local affairs, was also a prime mover in the foundation in 1895 of the Rutlish Science School for Boys in the adjoining Kingston Road. Quartermain died in 1904, followed shortly afterwards by Innes, who bequeathed the Manor House, its grounds and funds to create a park and a school of horticulture. The grounds were designed as a public pleasure ground by Quartermain’s successor, John Sydney Brocklesby (1879-1955), and John Innes Park (q.v.) formally opened in 1909. The following year the John Innes Horticultural Institution opened nearby. Brocklesby visited the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) in 1908 and may have received her advice when designing the park. In 1910 Jekyll visited the new Horticultural Institution Library as former editor of the 'Garden' journal and was clearly interested in the area. A local resident of Merton himself, Brocklesby was also close to an old school-friend and neighbour, George Hugh Hadfield, who owned a paint manufacturing firm in Mitcham. Brocklesby continued to develop new housing on the former Innes estate and in 1911 he designed and built a house with a Dutch-style gable at 27 Mostyn Road near to the Horticultural Institution. It was called Crowsteps and set a precedent. In 1913, Hadfield commissioned his friend to build another Dutch-style house for him next door. To be known as Greystones, this would have a bell shaped gable rather than the stepped gable that gave Crowsteps its name. But it would also have another special feature: a garden designed by Jekyll.
Greystones, 29 Mostyn Road, was included among those of Brocklesby’s planning applications that were either designed and built for himself or for a client who gave him a free hand with the design. It closely adhered to the architectural principles he followed throughout his long career. Using a clever juxtaposition of styles, he created the illusion of a C16th English building which had been extended in the C17th to accommodate the fashionable Dutch style by adding the gable and a side wing. It also had a single tall chimney stack and narrow rectangular windows on three storeys with a striking porch and bay window at the base. In 1910, Brocklesby had demolished the nearby Elizabethan Church House and used its beams and stone in the construction of Crowsteps. Further material from the same source was now used for Greystones too, recreating the Tudor effect. This was a major aspect of the Arts and Crafts movement which stressed the use of local products and materials to create traditional styles of buildings. The house also exemplified Brocklesby’s philosophy with regard to internal space.
Gertrude Jekyll drew up a garden plan and visited Greystones several times to implement it. Brocklesby’s own sons, Edward and Hugh, assisted her with the planting. Years later Edward remembered her throwing daffodil bulbs up in handfuls and ordering them to be planted where they fell. She also planted some beds herself and her professional assistant remained as gardener to the house for many years afterwards, well known for obstructing any attempt to make alterations or additions to the garden. Although her original garden plan for Greystones is lost, her hand-written notes for its plant content are held at Godalming Museum. Greystones exemplified her use of plant and colour combinations. One of the most striking features of the garden was the use of box hedging to separate the narrow lawns and beds. Having matured, this was still in place more than 40 years later. George Hadfield only remained at Greystones for a few years. By 1920 he had given up his directorship of the paint company and mortgaged the house in order to finance another project with Brocklesby. In 1922 he sold Greystones, which subsequently had a number of owners. Throughout this period until 1965 the Gertrude Jekyll garden appears to have remained intact. Photographs taken in the mid-1950s showed the box hedging still very much in place. In 1965 it became the home of actor Alan Stratford-Johns (1925-2002) and his family. What may have been a lawn or vegetable garden at the rear of the property disappeared to be replaced by a large outdoor swimming pool while the intricate pattern of box hedging and flower beds in the front was replaced by a single lawn, used for games. Although Brocklesby’s architecture remained, all trace of Gertrude Jekyll’s garden and the quietly respectable image of Greystones had clearly vanished. The immediate environment had also changed significantly. The entrance to Rutlish School’s playing fields was now around the corner from Greystones. This had once been the entrance to the John Innes Horticultural Institution but that had moved away from Merton in 1953 and Rutlish had taken its place in 1957 after the closure of its original premises in Kingston Road. Modern school buildings now provided an outlook. A wall at the entrance remained, built by Brocklesby in 1910, as well as a detached house designed by him in the same year for the Horticultural Institution’s superintendent. The plans had been re-used in 1924 for a second house built on the site of the Institution’s fruit testing ground. Two semi-detached cottages had been built at same time and since then, housing had arisen along most of Mostyn Road. What remained of the open countryside to the south when Greystones was built had now disappeared.
In 1982 Christopher Spencer and his wife Suzan bought Greystones from Stratford-Johns, who handed them the original plans of the house and told them the garden had been designed 'by a woman with an unusual name'. However, the garden design plan itself had been lent to an exhibition and never returned. The Spencers confirmed Gertrude Jekyll as the designer as the house was listed in the index of her garden plan in her biography of 1934. Christopher developed a keen interest in Brocklesby and contacted his sons before publishing a book 'Elbow Room', about his life and work at Merton Park and elsewhere in the country. The Spencers were also determined to unearth as much information as possible about Jekyll’s involvement with their property. They contacted Godalming Museum in May 1991 for confirmation that original hand-written notes by Jekyll held in its collection actually related to Greystones. The notes listed plants and prices, and in the absence of a full garden design plan, still provided an extensive picture of what had been procured in 1913. Through Brocklesby’s sons, they had also been able to learn first-hand about Jekyll’s presence there. Using pitchforks in the front lawn to assess the hardness of the soil, the Spencers located the exact locations of the original beds and narrow lawns, now entirely concealed by turf. From photographs taken at the time of construction and many years later they were able to see exactly where the original box hedging had been and how Jekyll had structured the garden. Hanging ivy had once hung around the front door and a conifer had stood beside the front path. The hedges had stood perhaps five and half feet high, enclosing different areas of the garden in a way then hard to imagine.
They gathered sufficient information to recreate the original design and using Jekyll’s notes, purchased as many as possible of the shrubs and other plants listed. They cleared the entire front garden site, planning to reinstate the hedging. During the work, their son discovered a trench containing both bricks and flints from an old wall, long disappeared. Eventually, on 3 November 1991 they planted the first of 150 box plants.
Aware of the public interest in such a project, Christopher negotiated coverage in the BBC TV series 'Gardeners’ World'. Their work was filmed at various stages over 2 years and the first of four programmes showing their subsequent progress was televised on 3 April 1992. By June 1992 the initial restoration was largely completed and for the next six years they maintained the front garden as the Hadfields had done from 1913, watching it develop. However, the swimming pool at the rear of the house was also retained, contrasting oddly with the Edwardian frontage but clearly adding to Greystones’ commercial value.
In 1997 the Spencers moved out, letting the house to James and Lucy Rothman who continued to maintain the restored Jekyll heritage. The Rothmans bought the house themselves in 2003 but sold it in turn to the present owner in 2008. No further record of the maintenance is currently available.
Gardens of England and Wales, 1995; Jane Brown 'Gardens of a Golden Afternoon', Allen Lane, 1982; Sally Festing 'Gertrude Jekyll', Penguin, 1991; Fenja Gunn 'Lost Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll', Charles Letts, 1991; Francis Jekyll, 'Gertrude Jekyll, a Memoir', Jonathan Cape,1934; The John Innes Society, John Innes and the birth of Merton Park, 1998; Patrick Loobey, 'Merton, Morden & Mitcham', 1996; Christopher Spencer and Geoffrey Wilson, 'Elbow Room - The Story of John Sydney Brocklesby, Arts and Crafts Architect', Ainsworth and Nelson,1984; Judith B Tankard and Martin A Wood 'Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood', Appendix 1, Sutton Publishing, 1996; Michael Tooly and Primrose Arnander, 'Gertrude Jekyll - Essays on the Life of a Working Amateur', Michaelmas Books,1995. Catalyst Television for BBC TV, Gardener’s World, (3rd April 1992); Helen Chappell, ‘Real Life Gardens: Miss Jekyll’s Legacy’, Homes and Antiques magazine, (August 1997); Gardens of England and Wales, (1995); Betty Massingham, ‘Miss Jekyll, Portrait of a Great Gardener’, Country Life, (1966), p103 (Notes from Wood and Garden, Longmans Green, 1899, p 4).
LPGT Volunteer Research by Tony Matthews, 2010