Bees buzz above and fragrant sweet pea plants sway in the breeze: the Gothic Revival Garden of Knightshayes Court is one of the best examples of a traditional Victorian walled vegetable garden in the UK. Home to countless edible plants, sweet-smelling flowers, and a whole host of insects, this kitchen garden is well worth a visit if you love anything to do with gardening or history!
Knightshayes Court Country House near Tiverton
Knightshayes Court is a celebration of Victorian Gothic Revival. The architectural style is characterised by its ornate, elaborate, and often flamboyant, designs. And although this movement was born during the 18th-century, it did not become incredibly popular into well into the Victorian era, hence its name.
The country mansion at Knightshayes was built at the behest of a member of the Heathcoat-Amory family, an ancient Devonian family who still retain links to the South West today. Several decades earlier, Sir John Heathcoat-Amory’s grandfather had invented a type of lace-making machine which revolutionised the production of the material.
At height of lace making in the region, Tiverton was home to the largest lace-making factory in Europe. Today, the factory still produces a range of textiles, including materials used by NASA, and remains one of the largest job providers in Eastern Devon.
Gothic Revival & Victorian Architecture in Devon
The house itself was designed by William Burges, an eccentric character who was eventually fired from the project and went on to design Cardiff Castle. There is much speculation as to why Burges was fired, though it’s believed that it’s because the Heathcoat-Amory family felt that they simply could not live with some of his more flamboyant designs.
Following the firing, the family hired John Dibblee Crace to complete the house. Dibblee Crace was much respected during the Victorian era and his designs appear in the likes of the British Museum, National Gallery, Longleat, and at Tyntesfield. Much of the exterior architecture was built to Burges’ original designs, while the interiors were decorated by Crace.
The house then remained within the Heathcoat-Amory family for the following century, before the National Trust acquired the property during the 1970s. Today, highlights of Knightshayes include a Gothic library, Burges room decorated with items from Burges’ personal collection, and of course, extensive gardens.
Traditional Victorian Walled Vegetable Garden (Kitchen Garden)
Located close to the car park and not far from the similarly Gothic Revival style stables which now house the visitor centre, second-hand bookshop, and café, the traditional Victorian Walled Vegetable Garden at Knightshayes was designed by the same architect as the house, William Burges.
Completed in 1876, the kitchen garden thrived for just several decades before the outbreak of WWI when many of the men working in the garden went off to partake in the war effort. From that point onwards, the garden became more and more neglected. Following WWII, the walled garden was turfed over and the space was even used to graze sheep!
Unfortunately, by the 1970s when the garden had fallen into total disrepair when the National Trust acquired the property. Extensive efforts in the past two decades have restored the garden to their former glory. By 2003, the restorations were completed and the gardens were open to the public. Now, the Victorian walled vegetable garden is home to greenhouses and vines, among other traditional plants.
Today, Heritage vegetables and fruits are grown in the garden (i.e. seeds from the Victorian era) as a result of an annual seed swap at the property. The turrets, high walls, and wrought iron gates are classic Victorian and were first constructed to keep out local wildlife (including plenty of deer!)
Should you wish to visit Knighshayes Court, I highly recommend a trip to the National Trust property at Christmastime when the entire building and its surrounds are all decked out in Victorian-era decorations. However, with all this being said, the gardens are best visited in the summer when the vegetables are at their best and the flowers are in full bloom.