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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Teesside

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Kirkleatham Hall - garden front
© Courtesy of Stewart Ramsdale
What's so funny about a ha-ha wall?

The purpose of the Grand Tour was to form an appreciation for classical art, and it would have had a profound effect on Cholmley. Certainly his library was stocked with landmark texts of the time, including Palladio's I Quattro Libri. With the material and cultural wealth Cholmley had now inherited, he set about modelling the estate in line with the classical revival taking place at country houses across the country.

Nature and the individual

The ha-ha wall dates from around 1715-20 and could have been designed by any one of a number of renowned architects and masons employed by Cholmley at the time. Hawksmoor, Gibbs, Chambers and even Vanbrugh could have been involved in its creation. The wall was part of a wider movement transforming the relationship between the individual and nature.

In his seminal essay On Modern Gardening, Horace Walpole described ha-ha walls as "the leading step" in the new style of landscaped gardens. Pre-dating the late 18th Century Romantic Movement, whose advocates celebrated nature in its crudest form, ha-ha walls were a definite step towards enjoying "all nature as a garden" (Walpole).

Social distinctions

The East Bastion at Kirkleatham Hall
© Copyright of English heritage - NMR
Ha-ha walls embodied the strict social distinctions of the 18th Century. Though the view was preserved from within the estate gardens, little thought was given to aesthetic appreciation for those on the far side of the wall. By the mid 19th Century this distinction is referred to in Trollope's Barchester Towers, "that for the quality on the esoteric or garden side of a certain deep ha-ha; and that for the non-quality on the exoteric or paddock side of the same".

Eroding the division between the house and its grounds also reaffirmed the central importance of land ownership to the landed gentry at a time, when the growth of the middle class threatened their very definition.

As the ha-ha wall at Kirkleatham falls into an increasingly ruinous state, the window it provides on the social landscape of the 18th Century becomes ever more endangered. And you thought there was little that could be said about a wall!

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