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Churchill College has beautiful gardens and excellent playing fields. The casual observer might be forgiven for assuming the site holds little more than a vast expanse of grass and a few mature trees, for on closer inspection it is clear that the grounds and gardens offer far more than that.
There is a mini arboretum, the Møller parterre and fruit orchards in the domestic gardens along Storey’s Way. There are beautiful herbaceous borders, an orchid collection, and more than seven hundred trees across the forty-two acre site, including the Quercus robur (oak) and Morus nigra (black mulberry), planted by the College’s Founder, Sir Winston Churchill, on 17 October 1959.
The original landscape master plan for the College was drawn up in 1959 by the landscape architect, Sheila Haywood. Her response to the College’s Modernist architecture was to use planting to frame the buildings. Trees and shrubs, chosen for their form and foliage, were to create landscapes with borders that framed the vast brick facades. This was never destined to be a traditional college garden.
But how were those gardens and the vast expanse of playing fields first developed? Nearly sixty years have passed since the site was levelled, the playing fields seeded and the first trees planted. How was this achieved, and to what extent has the College been able to maintain the integrity of Sheila Haywood’s original design in the face of new development on the site and the need to refresh and adapt planting styles across the decades? The College’s Garden Archives hold some fascinating clues.
Churchill College is still a young college but it is fortunate to be home to the Churchill Archives Centre, one of the largest repositories in the United Kingdom for the preservation and study of modern personal papers. The College’s own archives are now nearing sixty years old and contain important records relating to the creation and establishment of the grounds and gardens of the College. Do you have any reminiscences? What impact, if any, did the grounds and gardens have on you? If you have anything to contribute we would be very pleased to hear from you. We would also welcome any photographs, particularly covering the period up to 1995.
The archive already holds numerous drawings by the landscape architect, Sheila Haywood, who was responsible for the landscape master plan for the College (1959). Gordon Patterson, the landscape architect for Stevenage New Town, was the College’s consultant landscape architect from 1992–1998, and a number of his drawings are contained with the archives. These are further complemented by oral history recordings with Gordon Patterson, and current and former Fellows, staff and students.
The ‘service road’ in 1962 looking towards the tennis courts and North Court. Photo courtesy of Nigel Birch (UG 1961)
Photographs and other memorabilia will be gratefully received, together with reminiscences about the grounds and gardens. These will help to set the framework for the future.