In 1914, Gertrude Jekyll received her third commission for gardens in the Wimbledon area. Bowerbank was to be on a 1½ acre plot in Marryat Road on the former Wimbledon House estate. Her designs are very detailed with plants carefully selected both for a double entrance frontage and a large rectangular back garden sloping down towards a hedge. Beyond was an ornamental lake. However, no house by the name of Bowerbank has ever been identified and it is unknown whether the designs were ever implemented. It is now clear that Bowerbank was eventually built under the name Windyridge but may have been delayed by WWI. The lower part of the garden no longer exists but the house, upper garden and frontage all remain.
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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.
Marryat Road takes its name from the Marryat family who from 1812-54 lived at Wimbledon House, Parkside, a large house on a 40.5-hectare estate just north of the Village. Mrs Charlotte Marryat (1773-1854) was an American from Boston. She married Joseph Marryat MP, Chairman of Lloyds, who died in 1824, and then spent the remainder of her life carrying out good works for the community and devoted to her large family, including her son, the novelist Captain Frederick Marryat. She also had a large and spectacular garden, said to have been 'unrivalled in the neighbourhood of London for the beauty and variety of their flowers' (Wimbledon and Putney Post, Christmas Number December 1897, p6). There were rare flowers, oak and beech trees, a large cork oak, a fine Ligustrum lucidum, evergreen oaks, a red cedar, Rhododendron ponticum, Magnolia acuminata, Pinus serotina and other American imports. Mrs Marryat was a member of the Royal Horticultural Society and her eldest daughter travelled extensively abroad, procuring and sending home rare plants, especially from Italy and the Alps. Her younger daughter had responsibility for a separate garden of British plants. A great flower garden spread over 3 acres containing 200 beds.
On Charlotte Marryat’s death, the house and estate were bought by Sir Henry Peek MP who lived there with his family until 1894. They maintained the fine garden with its many trees and shrubs, an extensive series of greenhouses, and cages containing rare birds and other animals. (A peacock can still be seen in the Museum of Wimbledon.) An avenue of elms led to the flower garden, which contained thousands of roses and other exquisite blooms. Beyond the garden was the 4-acre Margin Lake or fishpond covered with water-lilies. This had been created in the 1770s as a smaller version of the lake a little further to the north in Wimbledon Park, designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. A conservatory was filled with exotic plant species. Peek had a gardening staff of more than 20. Particular treasures included England’s finest specimen of the Japanese gingko tree (Salisburia adiantifolia), also known as the maiden-hair tree because its leaves resembled the maiden-hair fern. Other rarities included the American needle tree (Celtis occidentalis), the snowdrop tree, and various firs including a deciduous cypress.
Peek, son of the founder of Peek Freans Biscuits, played a central role in leading the successful campaign to save the adjacent Wimbledon Common from development under the Act of 1871. But for five years after he left the house the garden was left to decline and after his death in 1899, his son Sir Cuthbert Edgar Peek sold the Wimbledon House estate itself to a development company. The land was then sold off for housing to a number of investors over a period of 14 years. Marryat Road and Peek Crescent were among new roads created.
Under a Deed of Covenant of 24 August 1899, all of the purchasers undertook to restrict the number of buildings created on their lands. Margin Lake was also to be preserved as a beautiful public amenity for the neighbourhood under a later covenant dating from 21 December 1908.
Among those with an eye to the former estate’s development potential was another member of the Peek Frean & Co family, Sir Arthur Carr (1855-1947), the firm’s chairman, who lived at 10 The Downs in another part of Wimbledon. On 26 July 1911 he bought one of the plots to build a house, extending it the following year. Then, on 16 September 1912 he bought another plot on 1½ acres with permission to build three houses. In 1913 he engaged a local architect, William E Hewitt, to build the first of the three. It was to be known as Bowerbank and Gertrude Jekyll was commissioned to design gardens both in the front beside Marryat Road and the back on a large area sloping down to the lake. In February 1914 Jekyll provided detailed designs with complete plant listings for each bed, specially selected trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. The back garden followed a symmetrical pattern around a large rectangular tennis lawn which stretched down to a hedge separating the property from the lake. Jekyll’s cost estimate went to Walter Hewitt on 25 February and some plants were despatched to Messrs Luff & Sons (presumably gardeners) 'at new house Bowerbank' on 3 March 1914.
Until 2010, nothing further was known of Bowerbank although it was mentioned in a book on Jekyll’s gardens published in 1992 and the detailed plans and plant lists are held by the Reef Point Collection of her work at the University of California in Berkeley with copies at Godalming Museum. Whether the Bowerbank gardens were ever created according to her designs is unclear but it seems likely that WWI may have intervened in Carr’s plans, perhaps reducing the availability of construction workers. Carr himself remained resident at 10 The Downs and never lived in Marryat Road.
Hewitt died in 1919 (apparently of Spanish flu) but it is now clear that he did build the large house for which he had been commissioned in 1913. However, when this was occupied for the first time in 1920, it was called not Bowerbank but Windyridge. Its address was 21 Marryat Road and the first resident was a publisher, Hugh Nathaniel Hunter. After his death in 1933 it was occupied by his son Hugh Curling Hunter, a well-known racing driver. It was requisitioned for offices during WWII and was divided into two separate residencies, No.19 and No.21, in 1956. The name Windyridge House revived in the 1990s. The division of the property followed a decision by the Lands Tribunal in 1953 to set aside the original covenants restricting the number of buildings on the 16 acres that included Windyridge, two other large houses nearby, and the 4 acres of Margin Lake. A few years later, the lower part of what had been the back garden conceived for Jekyll’s Bowerbank design was sold off for development. Margin Lake was drained and the land also used for housing. All reminders of the original Wimbledon House estate disappeared with the lake but Windyridge House with its remaining gardens, largely replanted in the 1970s, survive to this day as the Bowerbank that might have been. Today the large detached house is now divided into two separate semi-detached properties, the original front entrance divided between the two but otherwise recognisable. Outline of housing development on former lower part of the rear garden and lake just beyond the original boundary. There is a boundary fence/hedge between two halves of the former rear garden as well as hedges dividing both remaining halves from housing development covering original lower part of the rear garden. The original rear terrace from the Jekyll garden remains although divided in half, across entire rear of building. Other than the yew hedge on the front boundary of the property, all trees, hedges, shrubs, and other plantings are post-WWII. Front entrance plants listed by Jekyll (1914) were as follows: To the left: Guelder, Spiraea prunifolia, Holly, Standard Laburnum, Birch, Mahonia Aquifolium, Rhododendron Ponticum. In the centre: Rhododendron Everestianum, Rhododendron Aloum Elegans, Mahonia Aquifolium, Rhododendron Albi Grandiflorum. To the right: Holly, Birch, Mahonia Aquifolium, Rhododendron Ponticum. Front entrance as seen 2010: Variegated Holly, Sedge Grass, St John’s Wort, Rhododendron, Ceanothus Horizontalis, Fuschia, Heather, Lily of the Valley, Japanese Maple, Ceanothus (tall variety), Hydrangea Annabel, White Rose, Azalea Pearl, Choisya, Mahonia.
Richard Bisgrove, 'The Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll' 1992; Jane Brown, 'Gardens of a Golden Afternoon', Allen Lane, 1982; Dictionary of Business Biography 1860-1980, Butterworths; Electoral Registers, British Library and Merton Reference Library; 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; Kelly’s Street Directories, Merton Reference Library; Richard Milward, 'Historic Wimbledon', Fielders, 1989; Richard Milward, 'Wimbledon Past, Historical Publications Ltd, 1998; Richard Milward, 'Wimbledon: A Pictorial History', Phillimore, 1994; 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.
LPGT Volunteer Research by Tony Matthews, 2010