Middlethorpe Hall, York
As part of Bloom! – a festival celebrating horticulture and flowers in York – I was invited give a talk yesterday about Fanny Wilkinson, Britain’s first professional woman landscape gardener, in Middlethorpe Hall, the home of her youth.
Middlethorpe Hall, now owned by the National Trust and run by the Historic House Hotels, is utterly lovely – from its panelled interiors, delicious food, kind staff – to its interesting and well-kept – and extensive – grounds. It retains an appealingly domestic atmosphere and it wasn’t difficult to think of Fanny Wilkinson living there in the 1880s with her mother and sisters.
Yet Fanny was not content with being a ‘daughter-at-home’ and enjoying these beautiful surroundings (although letters show she was delighted to return to Middlethorpe for short breaks) and it was while living here that she developed the ambition of becoming a landscape gardener. Wasting no time, she set off for London and enrolled at the Crystal Palace School of Gardening, run by Edward Milner who had been a pupil of Joseph Paxton. She was the only woman student- and an upper-middle class woman at that. All the others were male artisans – for whom the School was intended.
If you are interested in discovering just how many of London’s open spaces were designed by this one determined woman, you can read all about Fanny Wilkinson’s extremely successful career – and discover how it was intertwined with those of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Millicent Fawcett and Agnes Garrett, in Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle.