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Wednesday, 01 May 2013
•Alexandra Sore with Christine Baxter and one of Christine’s sculptures, in the gardens at Wyndcliffe Court
•Some of the sculptures on display in the gardens for the spring exhibition
There’s no denying that the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley boast some of the most beautiful views anywhere in Britain. Picturesque Wyndcliffe Court, just outside St Arvans, manages to combine a beautifully designed Arts and Crafts house and an Italianate Arts and Crafts garden, designed by Henry Avray Tipping, with tantalising glimpses of the surrounding countryside.
Our area also seems to encourage a lifestyle that’s just a little bit different from the norm. While we have our share of nine-to-five commuters, many of the people who live here have found other ways to make a living and probably few of us would consider ourselves part of the rat race. This is undeniably true of the trio who now live at Wyndcliffe Court and who are about to open its gardens to the public for the first time in over ten years.
Christine Baxter met her partner Alex Brown at art college in London. She says: “I knew the Forest of Dean because I used to come on holiday here as a child. In the 1990s Alex and I moved out of London to live in Ruardean initially and then we moved to Bream.” Christine works as a sculptor and is very familiar with the current trend to display outdoor sculptures in a garden setting rather than in rows in a garden centre or in an art gallery. She says: “Sculptures never look as good displayed out of context. People love visiting gardens and it’s the perfect way to show off our work.”
The couple already knew Alexandra Sore, who runs her own publishing business and, when they started looking for gardens that they could use for sculpture shows about 18 months ago, Alexandra joined the search. Christine says: “Although we were all living in the Forest of Dean, we were looking around Bath, Bristol and all across Gloucestershire. We heard about Wyndcliffe Court being available and were blown away when we went to visit, but found the prospect of taking it over very daunting to say the least. However, the owners were delighted with our plans and accepted our proposal and here we are!”
Wyndcliffe Court itself was owned until recently by an elderly couple with no children. As a result it’s now held in trust for their 14-year-old nephew. Christine says: “The house was open under the National Garden Scheme for many years and the trustees love the fact that it will be open to the public once again.”
With ten rooms and a number of attached cottages the house offers plenty of space for the three of them to operate their separate businesses, but all three are involved in preparations for the three sculpture exhibitions taking place in the gardens between May and September.
Alex works as a fine artist, painting still lifes and abstract pieces, some of which will be on show in the tea room that is being set up in the main house. Christine says: “Until recently this was used as our sitting room, but it leads directly on to the garden via a sheltered terrace, so it’s the perfect place for a cup of tea and slice of cake!”
Alex has also been working with the house’s long-time gardener to open up some of the original pathways. He says: “These are high maintenance gardens. Lots of the areas are very formal with lots of topiary, and that is where work has focused recently. We’ve been looking at some of the ‘wilder’ parts of the original design and trying to restore them. We’ve cleared a small pond and the paths leading to it and have reintroduced a bench next to it. We hope eventually that we might restore the beautiful greenhouses and put them back into production. It’s a real thrill to rediscover what was intended by Tipping when he designed the garden.”
Alexandra has been taking care of publicity for the project and managing the impressive list of sculptors who will be exhibiting their work. She says: “We have 33 sculptors exhibiting in our spring exhibition from across England and Wales, including some from the Forest and Wye Valley. We’re hoping to include work by more local artists in the summer and autumn exhibitions too. We moved here in January, so we haven’t had long to pull everything together for the first show, but it’s come together well.”
While taking on a rambling country house and its gardens, may seem daunting to many people, Christine says: “My parents were trustees of a country house garden in Kent while I was growing up. I wasn’t involved in opening it to the public, but I was aware of how they ran it, so this didn’t seem a strange thing to do at all. Alexandra was already sharing a house with us and so we’ve all moved to run our separate businesses from here.”
Christine had also had plenty of experience of exhibiting her own sculptures in gardens across the UK. She could see the potential to bring sculptors together to create exhibitions in gardens that were well worth visiting in their own right. She says: “These particular gardens are a national treasure and we’ve enjoyed researching them as well as finding the perfect spots for the sculptures we’re exhibiting. The gardens are too wonderful not to share with the public.
“We’re here for a year initially, but if we’re successful, we hope to extend our lease for another ten years.”
An Arts and Crafts gem
Wyndcliffe Court was commissioned in 1910 for the Clay family. Significant local landowners, they were then living at Piercefield House near Chepstow. When their home burned down, they turned their sights to the cliffs above St Arvans. Work on Wyndcliffe Court paused for a while during the First World War and the house wasn’t completed until 1922. Later in date than many Arts and Crafts houses, this house is also significantly larger. The extensive gardens of the house were designed by local man, Henry Avray Tipping. He was a friend of the much better known Gertrude Jekyll and designed the gardens at Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat. Tipping, was editor of Country Life magazine for many years and also designed the gardens at High Glanau, the Arts and Crafts home near Monmouth, that he had built in 1923.
Find out about the history behind Wyndcliffe Court and the gardener who created it in a future Inside Story.
THE Sculpture Gardens are open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays from Friday 3rd May to Sunday 29 September, 11am - 6pm.
Sculptor Christine Baxter says: “While we welcome well supervised children, many of the sculptures on show are fragile and easily damaged, so we ask people to take extra care when they visit.”
To find out more, go to www.wyndcliffecourt.co.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 01291 621242.
Copyright Tindle Newspapers Ltd Friday, 25 July 2014
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