Thomas Hayton Mawson is often described as ‘the leading landscape architect of the Edwardian era’. His work ranged from landscaped garden plans through to much larger projects such as civic parks and city plans. The bulk of his work dates from 1890 to 1920.
Mawson was born in 1861 in Scorton, south of Lancaster, The son of a Warper in a cotton mill. His father later went into business as a builder. Thomas obviously had an eye for fine architectural detail and developed an early interest in horticulture.
The death of his father in 1877, saw Thomas move to London where he worked for several landscape gardeners and nurseries. He married Anna Prentice in 1884 and moved to Windermere in the lake district in 1885, following their previous honeymoon there. Here he set about establishing, what later became Lakeland Nurseries. Within a few years, it was decided that Thomas’ fledgling garden design practice be separated from the nursery business, which was now run by his brothers Isaac and Robert.
One of Thomas’ most important early commissions was the gardens at Graythwaite Hall near Sawrey (Cumbria), begun in 1889.
During the 1890s, Mawsons’ reputation grew and business flourished, the majority of his work being concentrated in the northern counties and Scotland. In 1898/99 he entered a short-lived but highly productive partnership with the talented architect/designer Dan Gibson. The pair designed the house and gardens at Brockhole, Windermere, now the administrative centre for the Lake District National Park Authority.
The success of the partnership gave Mawson the confidence to write and publish ‘The Art and Craft of Garden Making’ in 1900. Published by Batsford. This became a standard reference in its day, and was revised and enlarged in four succeeding editions. The publication also helped promote Mawson’s views on garden design and helped generate considerably more work and larger projects, necessitating the opening of a London office.
The early 1900’s saw Local Government boards promoting ‘works of public utility’, such as parks and civic gardens to alleviate unemployment. Thomas was successful in winning several of the “design competitions’, notably the parks at Burslem and Hanley, in Stoke. Such projects went beyond landscape architecture and into the realms of town planning.
Thomas soon became popular abroad and the most notable overseas project was the design for the Peace Palace Gardens in The Hague in 1908. His next publication ‘Town planning, Civic Art’ was published in 1911 and is now an exceedingly rare book.
In 1905/6, Mawson began work for his most important private client, Mr W H Lever, later Lord Leverhulme. To form a municipal park from 400 acres of moorland to the east of Bolton and design the garden at The Hill, Hampstead, which featured an 800 foot terrace and pergola overlooking the Common, described in Pevsner as “amongst the most impressive of their date in London”. These and other projects for Lord Leverhulme were of heroic proportions for their day.
By 1910, Thomas had been joined by his eldest son Edward (1885-1954), who had qualified after several years of architectural training in England and Paris. A talented architect and artist, Edward became the chief designer of the practice, particularly after the Great War, in which Thomas lost his son, James.
It was Edward who was responsible for revising the final edition of ‘The Art and Craft of Garden Making’ in 1926. By this time, Thomas was suffering the onset of Parkinson’s Disease, but was able to dictate his autobiography, ‘The Life and Works of an English Landscape Architect’, published in 1927. The frontispiece of the book bears his portrait by Sir Hubert Herkomer, dated 1913. Mawson accepted the portrait as ‘payment’ for designing the gardens of Herkomer’s eccentric home (‘Lululaund’) in Bushey, Hertfordshire.
After his death, Mawson quickly lost recognition . Possibly due to changes in fashion and economy. Some say that it was because he had no definitive style, preferring to bow to customer demands, although it is quite evident when viewing his existing works that there are features which are “Mawsonesque”. Italianate terraces featuring balustrades, grand staircases, canals, water features and exquisite pergolas dominate the design with the planting taking second stage.
Mawson designed gardens have recently featured in TV programmes, with Monty Don was involved in the partial restoration of the garden at Dunira for Channel 4’s Lost Gardens in 1981, whilst in 2004, Chris Beardshaw’s Hidden Gardens featured Boveridge in Dorset. The most remarkable discovery of the latter programme was that whilst Mawson had laid out the gardens, Gertrude Jekyll had been consulted (most probably by post) as to the planting schemes. So perhaps without knowing it, these two heavyweights of Victorian/Edwardian garden design, never the best of friends, had unwittingly collaborated on a garden!
Chris Beardshaw’s Mawson-inspired ‘Boveridge Garden‘ won a Gold Medal at the 2006 Chelsea Flower Show. Noel Edmonds purchased the Grade 1 listed mansion of Wood in Devon, and has pledged to restore the Mawson designed gardens, described in Pevsner as “one of his major achievements.”
In September 2006, author Elizabeth Kissack has published a biography of Thomas H Mawson. Another biography by gardening lecturer and writer Janet Waymark, is scheduled for publication in 2008.
Many of Mawson’s projects have been altered or destroyed, but notable examples remain at The Hill in Hampstead, Brockhole, Holehird, Langdale Chase & Rydal Hall in Cumbria as well as the Dyffryn Gardens in South Wales. Many of his civic schemes survive, including the parks in Stoke and Stanley Park, Blackpool and the Eden Bridge Garden in Carlisle which has just received a £50,000 heritage Lottery grant for restoration works to start in October 2008. The design and execution of the latter is probably owed more to his son Edward.
Following the closure of Thomas H Mawson & Sons in the early 1980s, an archive relating to Thomas Mawson was established by the Cumbria Archive Service in Kendal, and the material therein is available to view by appointment.
Our thanks to Chris Mawson (G Grandson) for the information and Mawson family archive images.
Chris has written an extensive history on his great grandfather and his site even contains images from design plates for projects that were never executed.
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