The manor existed by the seventeenth century; John Rocque’s 1746 Survey of Ealing (opposite) shows a small house facing Ealing Green and formal gardens or parterres north, south and west of the manor house, probably including the current kitchen garden; there were also pasture fields and cultivated fields beyond them to the south and west, all divided by hedgerows.
John Soane, architect of the Bank of England, purchased the estate of 28 acres in July 1800 and set about rebuilding all but the south wing of the house, which had been designed in 1768 by his first employer, George Dance; he also began reworking the grounds. The manor house and its gardens were conceived as a country idyll, an architectural showcase for Soane, who hoped to inspire his sons and cultured visitors in the pursuit of architecture; this was to be achieved by studying the house as well as the artificial Roman ruins, built north of the manor house. Designed as an advertisement for his own idiosyncratic architectural style with its stripped classical detail, radical colour schemes and inventive use of space and light, he also intended that it would become a suitable residence for his elder son when he became an architect.
Soane appears to have had an unusually active involvement in the design and use of the gardens and park. John Haverfield of Kew, who worked frequently with Soane, advised on the laying out of the grounds and the resulting landscape was a miniature landscape park suited to a Regency country villa, with lawns, shrubberies, exotic trees, flower garden, kitchen garden, a serpentine lake with rustic bridge and arbour above (in imitation of a Roman temple at the water’s ‘source’), an ornamental shrubbery walk and a great number of classical fragments, all set within a small park. Several surveys and designs by Haverfield and others survive.
There are detailed records of fruit and vegetables grown in the kitchen garden and Soane had a keen interest in food; as a member of the ‘Committee of Taste’, he advised on a book of recipes, which includes recipes for many of the vegetables grown and fish caught by Soane at Pitzhanger.1 The house welcomed leading figures in the arts and was the scene for a succession of ‘Gothic scenes and intellectual banquets’.2
Disappointed by his sons, Soane sold the manor to General Nevill Cameron in 1811 and the Ruins were dismantled. Many other items and contents from the manor house, including Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress, were moved to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. There followed a series of owners who made relatively minor changes to the landscape, for instance the addition of hothouses, and possibly the round lily pond (by 1865); the lake was drained by 1839 and the north wing of the manor was rebuilt.
In 1843 the manor was purchased by Spencer Horatio Walpole and it became home to four of his sisters in-law, the Perceval sisters.3 It was Spencer Horatio Walpole’s son, Spencer Walpole who agreed to sell the estate to the London Borough of Ealing in 1899-1900.4
The next significant phase of the park’s history began in 1901 when it was opened as a public park. Although the initial intention was that the park be maintained ’as a park and not a garden’ and that ‘no steps be taken towards floricultural development’, new planting, park facilities, new paths and avenues were added and water bodies redesigned.5 The fishpond was widened, lined in concrete and redesigned as a skating and model boating lake, with islands, a fountain and ornamental planting. In the 1930s the former serpentine lake became a sunken water garden. Over time, the addition of ornamental trees, hedges and bedding changed the character of the gardens into that of a municipal park and the gardens around the manor became visually isolated from the rest of the park. Many of the stone architectural features collected by Soane disappeared, and the condition of others deteriorated. The forecourt and diagonal approach to the manor through Soane’s flint archway was fundamentally altered with the erection of the War Memorial on the Ealing Green boundary in 1921, as it was aligned axially on the manor house entrance door. The kitchen garden was closed in the early years of the public park, then used by Middlesex Education Committee as a botanical school, to teach students gardening and finally reopened as a secluded rose garden in the 1920s.
However the intellectual focus of the manor house continued: it was extended in two phases to house a Public Library which remained until 1984; a modern art gallery has occupied the northern extension since 1996. Following conservation work, the building opened to the public again in January 1987 as the London Borough of Ealing’s main museum and the ‘PM Gallery & House’, showing contemporary art, opened in the enlarged north wing in 1996. The park is a site of a great number of memorials, including the extensive Mayors Avenue, other memorial trees, the Diana memorial tree and planting, the War Memorial and the Empire Windrush memorial.
Pages in Walpole Park and Pitzhanger Manor
- Project updates
- The vision
- Overall project aims for Walpole Park
- Pitzhanger Manor Trust
- Upcoming events
- Getting involved
- You are here: Park history
- Heritage trees in Walpole Park
- Archaeology survey in Walpole Park
- Kitchen Garden
- Art in the Park
- Horticultural apprentice
- Walpole Memories Oral History Project