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The Chelwood Vachery Forest Garden was an Edwardian folly garden lost due to neglect during WWII and a subsequent landslide in 1954 before being partially recovered.


This unusual spot seems to have an atmosphere of its very own and has been a favourite of mine and my family for many years.  It exists between space and place.  For while a Forest such as Ashdown exists as a place on a map, on entering the wooded areas place becomes space.  This is in part due to the cognitive dissonance of isotropic spaces - the tendency to feel lost in areas that look the same.

This is partially countered by the presence of reference points - some obvious such as bridges, others more subtle such as introduced plants.  These signifiers, however, do not work together to suggest place - more they interrupt space on an individual basis, since the physical design of the garden as a whole has been lost and only the main features brought back from the natural brink.

There are several theories as to the origins of "Vachery", and the site was also previously know as the "Vetchery" and perhaps "Vecchery".  The Norman word "vacherie" means a shelter in the forest for cows.  A "vetch" is a wild bean plant used for foraging, including by cows.  A "veche" is the Norman word for sprint, and the spring that feeds the upper pool (Forest Garden #8) and flows down the gorge to the ponds below is mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086.  The Forest is first mentioned in 1372 when it was gifted to John of Gaunt, son of Edward III.  There are unsubstantiated reports that Gaunt Chelwood Vachery the centre of his estate.

The site began to take its current shape in 1906 when it was sold to Sir Stuart Samuel, Liberal MP, by Lord de la Warr.  Samuel employed William Flockhart to construct a mansion and Leonard Rome Guthrie to landscape the grounds.

In 1925 it was sold to FJH Nettlefold who employed Colonel Gavin Jones to develop a gorge and rockery to connect with a string of lakes along the course of the Mill Brook on the south west boundary.  This was a very considerable undertaking, a true "folly".  Stone was brought form Cheddar Gorge by steam engine, and a railway was built across the forest to get the rocks (some weighing 3 tonnes) to their current locations.  In the 1930s a Folly Bridge (named as such) was built across a right of way that leads across the land.

Nettlefold recorded the garden in a set of photographs in the 1930s.  One of these images, using the Finlay Colour Process, appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1936.

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