On a beautiful summer’s day, what better than to explore a glorious garden with sweeping avenues, intriguing woodland walks and herbaceous borders packed with every conceivable type of flowering plant.
Anglesey Abbey, a few miles outside Cambridge, has all of this, as well as a lovely manor house rebuilt and refurbished by the splendidly named Urban Huttleston Rogers Broughton, 1st Lord Fairhaven. A wealthy man, with a passion for collecting and a love of racing, a comfortable country house close to Newmarket was the perfect setting for his eclectic selection of paintings, sculptures, clocks and books.
In 1926 he and his brother began the transformation of a run-down Victorian manor, which incorporated the remains of a twelfth century Augustinian Priory, into a gracious and elegant home. Having grown up in America, his notion of comfort was that of the grand houses of Long Island, so plentiful and well-equipped bathrooms were added next to the many bedrooms. Expansive sofas filled the sitting rooms and the huge library was an oasis of quiet and comfort.
The house was run on grand and imperious lines. Timekeeping was exact. A Rolls Royce was dispatched each evening to Cambridge to fetch the evening papers and guests found that their shoes, returned to them each morning beautifully polished (of course), had also had their shoe-laces ironed.
The creation of the garden is perhaps Lord Fairhaven’s greatest triumph, with items from his collection of sculpture dotted liberally amongst the avenues and vistas of the 98 acre park. With an artist’s eye he grouped trees, created a lake, added serpentine pathways and wide open spaces – forming a complex garden where you never quite know what will be around the next corner.
A disused water mill, falling to rack and ruin at the edge of his property, was saved and used as a garden store. This picturesque building has been restored over the years by devoted volunteers and is now a working mill once more.
At his death in 1966, Lord Fairhaven left Anglesey Abbey to The National Trust, anxious that, in some way, his rapidly vanishing style of life should be preserved for future generations. We may not get our shoelaces ironed, but in his beautiful house and garden we can get some idea of the grandeur and wealth that could order a world and make leisure into an art form.