MILES HADFIELD, PIONEER GARDEN HISTORIAN - AND THE MORASTON CONNECTION Ross-on-Wye & District Civic Society newsletter Spring 2007 (number 92)
Article by Philip Anderson (Hon Sec)
Moraston House lies in Bridstow parish just off the Ross-Hoarwithy road. It is on the site of an old settlement, but the present house was completed in 1815 for the agent for Guy's Hospital's Herefordshire estates. The builder was John Tristram of Ross and to quote local historian, David Whitehead, "the house with its low pitched slated roof, stuccoed façade, classical porch and shuttered windows was the epitome of Regency good taste". The house later achieved a degree of local fame as one of the two locations, along with Rudhall Manor, that accommodated Chelsea Pensioners in their World War II evacuation. However a lesser known connection of Moraston is with the garden writer Miles Hadfield.
Miles Heywood Hadfield was born in 1903 in Birmingham to a family that had been prosperous but was falling on harder times. At the age of 27 he left his job to study at Birmingham Art School and then embarked on a career as a botanical artist and writer on gardening and forestry. His importance is that he was one of the first people to study the history of gardens in an academic way and in 1960 he published "Gardening in Britain", by far the best history of British gardens at its time and still a standard work. He was a founder of the Garden History Society and its first President. For the last 20 years of his life, before his death in 1982, he lived locally in a relatively modest house, Dillon's Orchard, at Wellington Heath, near Ledbury.
The connection with Moraston House is that it was owned in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries by his grandfather George Heywood Hadfield, who was himself an enthusiastic gardener. In 1967 Miles Hadfield wrote an article in "Country Life" about the various gardens of his family in their heyday, including Moraston. He writes that in 1873, when his grandfather moved in, the garden was little changed from the time the house was built. (David Whitehead speculates that the original garden designer was either James Cranston of Kings Acre Nurseries, Hereford (now the site of Wyevale Garden Centre), who regularly worked as a surveyor for the Guy's Hospital estate, or Edward Wheeler, nurseryman of Gloucester, who had previously worked with the builder, John Tristram).
Miles Hadfield goes on to describe the garden in his grandfather's time. There was a neat rectangular garden at the rear with "no attempt at design; it was simply horticultural and produced fruit, flowers and vegetables of superfine quality regularly triumphant at flower shows". Away from this garden there were lawns scattered with conifers and irregularly placed beds cut into the turf. These were filled with different plants according to season, "in spring, for example, with the brilliance of polyanthus, in high summer with sub-tropical curiosities".
Miles Hadfield was an important man in his field and it is good that there are local connections with him, in respect of both his grandfather's garden and his years spent near Ledbury. In these years he was apparently an enthusiastic member of the Woolhope Club, and some of the readers of this article may even perhaps have met him?