Kew Field - the start of Kew Gardens
Kew Field - the origins of the estate at Kew - was once a single
large strip-farmed field that began to change gradually, from around
1600 into the more regular enclosed fields shown on the 1730s map
of the St André estate. Prior to this, between 1500 and 1550,
the house of Kew Park had been built into Kew Field's northeast
corner and its estate extended from there.
The Kew Park estate changed hands several times through the 16th
century, settling with Sir Richard Bennett in the first half of
the 17th century. His daughter, Dorothy Bennett, inherited the estate.
She married Sir Henry Capel, and it was the Capel family who developed
the first famous gardens in Kew Park.
The Capels lived at Kew Park (later calling it the White House)
during the latter half of the 17th century. The 1730 map shows the
house and gardens occupying a small area south of the Dutch House.
The design was of small walled gardens and formal courtyards flanking
the house, with the land outside used for agriculture. The map also
shows that the Capel estate (by now named St André due to
Elizabeth Capel’s remarriage) extended south for about two
thirds of the length of today's gardens.
Records of the time declare that Sir Henry Capel and “the
whole Capel family were famously devoted to gardening ... it was
close to an obsession”. The gardens were widely admired,
especially for their greenhouses, trees and exotic plants.
The diarist and author John Evelyn (1620-1706) was also a keen
botanist and landscape designer. A regular visitor to Kew Park,
he noted in 1678, “Hence I went to my worthy friend Sir
Henry Capel ... his garden certainly has the choicest fruit of any
plantation in England, as he is the most industrious and understanding
in it”. In 1683 he commented on the “cupola
made with pole work between two elms at the end of a walk, which
being covered by plashing the trees to them ... very pretty”.
In 1688 Evelyn recorded that Capel’s “orangerie
and myretum are most beautiful and perfectly well kept. He is contriving
very high palisadoes of reedes to shade his oranges during the summer
and painting those reedes in oil”.
Back to: 16th
& 17th Centuries: Royal Influences