"An Account of the Improvements in the Gardens & Park at Cannonhall, the Time when begun, when finished & the Expense[s] thereof."

LANDSCAPE GARDENING. SPENCER John, III of Cannon Hall, Cawthorne, Barnsley, South Yorkshire


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Manuscript Notebook with accounts of the improvements to the gardens and park at Cannon Hall by Richard Woods and the house by John Carr of York, 1760-65, with accounts of expenditure amounting to over £5,000, and lists of trees, shrubs and seeds planted. With an account of later work on the house and estate from 1872 to 1912.


Manuscript in ink on paper (no watermark). 8vo. 45 pp. (inc. a few blanks) + 13pp. at the end (Lists of plants and seeds); first few leaves loose and dusty and a little worn in the outer margins. Written in a blank book bound in dark-blue morocco, covers tooled with a gilt roll-tooled border, spine divided by raised bands into six panels with gilt tooling, comb-marbled endleaves, gilt edges (joints, headcaps and edges rubbed, short splits at the foot of the joints corners worn). 


[England, South Yorkshire, 1760-65]

John Spencer III (1719-75) inherited the Cannon Hall estate at Cawthorne, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire from his father William in 1756. The family had made their fortune in the local iron industry and the late 17th or early 18th-century Hall, set in a park through which the Daking Brook runs, was five bays wide and three bays deep.  


Four years later Spencer invited the well-known landscape architect Richard Woods (1715/16-93), then of Chertsey, Surrey, to redesign the gardens and park at Cannon Hall.   


Richard Woods arrived on 1 April 1760 and John Spencer recorded the progress of his work in diaries and account books, now in the Spencer Stanhope family archive at Sheffield Archives (the diaries are Sp.St.60633/13-18). From those original diaries and accounts John Spencer extracted the most important entries relating to the improvements to his gardens and park and the house from 1760-65 and transcribed them into the present volume.   


Writing of the original diaries Fiona Cowell has noted: 


“John Spencer’s diary provides this commission with a unique aspect, a glimpse from the employer’s side into the process of landscaping a park. Surviving documentation elsewhere is in the form of accounts, or memoranda and letters written by Woods himself, but here Spencer’s own evident enjoyment and delight in the progress of his improvements is clearly expressed in this diary.”


Also exceptional is Spencer’s close personal involvement with the gardens themselves as he devoted days to working alongside Woods, e.g. “Planted shrubs along with Mr Woods in the shrubery” (24 Oct. 1761) and “Set out the Piece of Water below the Bridge along with Mr Woods” (21 June 1762). As Cowell noted, when Woods was working in Yorkshire at the same time for members of the Lascelles family at Goldsborough and Harewood he would be “accompanied, if at all, by a steward”. 


Just as Richard Woods’s reputation as a landscape designer lay long-buried beneath the shadow cast by his contemporary Lancelot (‘Capability’) Brown so much of his work lay buried by Victorian schemes and re-plantings. However, at the height of his career, which encompassed some 40 known commissions, Woods was a considerable rival to Brown though his work was generally on a more modest scale and his clients, on the whole, less grand. His work featured a greater mastery than Brown's in designing kitchen gardens and intimate pleasure gardens with flower plantings and modest effects with water rather than in manipulating vast swathes of parkland. 


Richard Woods's work at Cannon Hall in the first half of the 1760s not only found him at the height of his success but it remains a rare survival in reasonable condition today. Moreover, it is one the best-documented of his commissions. 


His long-buried reputation has been uncovered by Fiona Cowell (see Literature) and Richard Woods is now re-established as a landscape designer who was well-respected in his lifetime and has left a lasting impression of the English countryside. Although the material included here is duplicated in the Spencer-Stanhope archive at Sheffield, along with correspondence (including letters from Woods and Spencer’s steward) beside a few extracts quoted by Fiona Cowell (see Literature) it remains unpublished. As distilled here into this single manuscript “Account of the Improvements” it presents a unique view of a leading English landscape architect and gardener at work in the mid-18th Century from the perspective of his employer. Below are a series of extracts of the principal activities and the expenses for each year from 1760 to 1765. A full transcript of the MS is available. 


Below are a series of extracts of the principal activities and the expenses for each year from 1760 to 1765. A full transcript of the MS is available.  


1760 - Woods arrived on 1 April 1760 and that is where this Account of the Improvements begins: 


           1760 April 1 Mr Woods came to Cannonhall to plan the Grounds Gardens Park &c. 


Woods stayed to 9 April and spent the time in agreeing plans to build a new “pinery”, that is a glazed hothouse for growing pineapples, to be built by a local carpenter and bricklayer to be ready in August and in choosing a site for the new Kitchen Garden. It was an expensive hobby and thus brought great social distinction.  In May work on the new Kitchen Garden wall began. Woods returned at the beginning of July:  


            July 2d Mr Woods came to Can-hall to proceed upon his plans of Pinery, gardens & Park from the 2d of July to Sep 3d he was at C Hall at different times 32 days. 


On 29 August the Pinery was “reared” [raised] and on 24 September Woods’s foreman Thomas Peach arrived to supervise the planting of the pineapple plants which were sourced from Spencer’s neighbours: William Wentworth, 2nd Earl of Strafford, Wentworth CastleStainborough, near Barnsley; Sir William Wentworth, Bretton Hall, near Wakefield; his brother-in-law Walter Stanhope, of Horsforth, Leeds; ? Sir George Beaumont, of Whitley Beaumont, near Huddersfield; John Smyth, of Heath Hall, Wakefield; ?Edward Radcliffe or Radclyffe, of Barnsley.  


            Oct. 3 placed the plants Recd from Lord Strafford into the Pinery. 4 placed Sr Wm Wentworths plants into the pinery. 6 Thos. Peach returned from Mr Stanhopes with 80 plants placed into pinery. W Godbery bro.t plants from Whitley & placed them into pinery. 13 Mr                              Radclyffe dined here and bro.t some pine plants - Octob. 23 Cutt the first pine apple out of my Hothouse. 24 Receiv’d some plants from Mr Smith of Heath & placed them into the Pinery. 


 The list of expenses for the Pinery totalled £461/7/7 and for the “Hott Wall” for growing fruit-trees against finished in 1760 came to £102/12/1 while other “Expences about the Garden in the Year 1760” came to £270/6/2.


 1761 - In January 1761 Thomas Peach returned and on Jan. 8-10 he:   


"planted Fruit Trees &c in the new Garden ... and against the Hott wall."  


On 14 March Spencer noted:


"planted Flowering Shrubs in the front of the Pinery & before the garden Wall [as by particulars (deleted)]" 


This refers to the Lists of plants at the end of the MS: “March 14 1761 Planted in the Plantation A above the Stove” - “Plantation B On the Turf before the Stove” - “In Plantation C behind the Seat” - “Plantation D. one”  - “Plantation D 2o” - Plantation E” - “Plantation F” - “round the Plantation G upon the Turf”. The guide letters apparently refer to Woods’s original plan, Design for the Improvement of the Park, Gardens & Water at Cannon Hall in Yorkshire (1760), see Cowell, Richard Woods (2010), fig. 67 (Sheffield Archives, Sp. St. 100). 


 Richard Woods returned from April 1 to 9: 


"4 Mr Woods planted the Flowering shrubs recd the 2d from Pontefract 6 7 Mr Woods planting shrubs in the shrubery & measured Bowers Marsden & Robinsons Work at the Hott house and the New Garden 9 Mr Woods left Can-hall"


On 10 April Thomas Peach planted 29 types of tree and shrub seeds ranging from a Weymouth Pine to a Purple Spiraea (Spirea) according to the List at the end of the MS: “A Catalogue of Seeds sown by Tho.s Peach Apr 10th 1761.” 


Spencer spent the summer season in London and Woods returned on 11 October. In that month Spencer applied to divert the road to Cawthorne and arranged with Kenneth MacPherson to build a new road from the Smithy to the Beet House and masons began to demolish the old bridge at the Mill and to build a new (west) bridge. On 24 Oct. Spencer: 


"Planted shrubs along with Mr Woods in the shrubery [and] Recd [plants (deleted)] from Wakefield the Hott house plants and placed them in the House"


On 26 Oct. Spencer was:   


"Busy planting in the shrubery and begun the New bridge" 


The detailed “Expences about Bridge at the Mill begun Octo.r 26 1761 & finishd in 1762” totalled £286/11/6. 


"N.B. Most of the Materials of the Old Bridge were used in the new one"


Woods returned again from 26 November to 5 December:  


 "26 Mr Woods came here busy in planting Decem. 2 Planting with Mr Woods. 3,4,5 busy removing Trees and planting by the Bridge. Settled acco.ts wth Mr Wood & he left C hall."  


1762 - The first half of 1762 was devoted to planting trees:  


"Jany 29 Planted in the Pleasure garden. 30 Took up Trees at Barnby Furnace & planted them at the Gill Royd Bridge. Feby 1 Planting at Do. March 5 Planted Spruce Firs & Beeches in the Park. 6 Planted by the Park Wall side from Beet House down to the Miln G[ord?] alternately, Oaks, Elms, Beech, Firs, Chesnuts, Oaks, Firs, Beech. 8 Planting large Trees in the Park. 13 Planted Beeches in the upper Part of the Park. 15 Planting single Trees. 19 Planted large Beech & Sycamores in the Great Ing in the Park. 26 & 27 Planting in the Park. Ap. 2 & 3 Planted Firs near Beet House. 5 Planted Firs in the Park near Gill Royds Bridge. 6 Planted Beeches in the Corner near Charles Dransfield Close. 7 & 9 Planting Firs on each side of the Gate going into the West Field. 12 Planted at the Turn of the Water in Cudworth Holm & 4 Weymouth Pines upon the slope in the pleasure Ground. 16 & 17 Planting ever Greens near Beet House."


The second half of the year saw the creation of the first lake and cascade on the Daking Brook:  


"June 21. Set out the Piece of Water below the Bridge along with Mr Woods. 23 Set the Balustrades on the new Bridge. 29 Let Thomas Peach [the (deleted)] ground work at the new Piece of Water. John Armytage broke his Leg in removeing some stones … [Oct.] 29 The Cascade playd for the first Time. Planted in the Park."


In total £553/11/3 was: 


"Expended in making the first Piece of Water below & the Cascade belonging thereto begun & finished in 1762."


In addition £139/19/9 was spent on the new: 


"Turnpike from the Beet House to the Old Smithy begun & finishd in 1762."  


And £94/4/8 on: 


"Expences about the Deer put into the Park from the first to the 7 Febry 1762."


Like the pineapple plants, the deer were mostly acquired from neighbours – 34 Bucks from Lionel Copley of Sprotborough near Doncaster, 20 Does from Sir George Armytage, 5th Bt of Kirklees Hall near Leeds, 21 Deer from Mr Parkyn [? of Mortomley Hall near Sheffield] and 2 Bucks & 8 Does from Godfrey Bosville IV of Gunthwaite Hall near Barnsley.  


And £329/14/1 on:        


"Farther Monys expended about the Kitchen Gardn & Pleasure grounds in 1762"  


Further “Moneys Expended about the Park in 1761 & 1762”, including work on one or more Ha-Has, came to £741/3/10. 


1763 – Woods was back at the end of January and beginning of February, leaving instructions for Thomas Peach to create a second lake and cascade before returning in late August: 


"Janry 31 With Mr Woods removing large Trees out of the Nursery & planting them in the Park. Febry 1 Foggy day. Busy with Mr Woods planting & stakeing in the Park. … 3 Peach took his Instructions for the New Piece of Work [i.e. Water]. March 8. Planted Elms, Beech, & Firs the West side of the Park. 9 Planted Chesnuts, Oaks, Firrs &c on the West side of the Park. … Aug.t 25, 26, 27 busy these Days with Mr Woods."


Planting resumed in the middle of October and on October 30: 


"The 2d Cascade playd the first time."


In total £433/9/6 was spent on:


"The 2d. Piece of Water & the Cascade thereunto belonging begun & finished in 1763."


In addition in 1762-63 £106/6/5 was spent on:       


"Money Expended in the Kitchen Garden & Pleasure Garden in 1762 & 63"


1764 – Woods returned on 8 Feb and again on 21 Feb and stayed until early March making planting and making plans for a third lake and a second (Palladian) bridge:  


"Feb. 8 Mr Woods here, walked over the Park along with him & Mr Cockshutt. 9 rainy, planting along with Mr Woods & setting out the 3d Piece of Water. 10 busy with D.o & planting. Feb. 21 Mr Woods came here. 22 busy with Woods planting upon the Banks of the River. 25 signed a Contract with Mr Woods, where he engages to complete a Piece of Water & form the Ground adjoining to it as described by a Line of Stakes, to make a Palladian bridge, & a Head at the Park Wall to raise the Water for 330 lt & to be completed in 2 Weeks Time. ..." 


Woods was back again in August:  


"Aug.t 20th Busy with Mr Woods forcing the Grate at the new Head." 


November and December were spent planting trees, removing hedgerow trees and setting out new fences in Kettle Royd Farm. Expenses in 1763-4 were in part grouped together: 


"Sheep Lawn, Menagery, Planation, Little House, Ground of the West Side of the House &c finished in 1763 & 64. £562/17/0 

Further moneys expended in the Park in the Year 1763.4. £343/9/1 

1764 Expended in making the 2 Bridge the 3d Cascade & the 3d Piece of Water. £603/5/3" 


1765 - The year opened with the arrival of the architect John Carr (1723-1807) of York with a plan to attach two wings to the existing central block, one as an art gallery and one as a library, each with a second storey above. Planting of trees continued in the Park but work on the gardens and lakes was now completed beside a reference to “my new River” (21 Feb.).   


"[Jan.] 2 Mr. Car the Architect agreed wth John Marsden to do the Mason Work at Cannon Hall at the Price then fixed, & to have the Hands & one Bricklayer constantly employed, untill the whole was completed. … Busy with Mr Car the Architect looking at & settling the Plans of the Grounds & Buildings &c …  

Feb 1st Planting North side of the Park. 21 Mr Robinson here for my new River. … 25 Planted Firs &c at the Gill Royds Park Gate. Laid the first one of the intended Wings of my House. 26 Planted large Trees in the Park. 27, 28 & 29 removed large Trees out of the ground & planted them in the Park.  

March 1st fishd the Daun Hill Pond & took out of it only 40 Pike, the rest stolen, put them in the new Piece of Water in the Park. Mar. 4 Planted clumps of Beech, Elm & Firs the East side of the Park. … 7 Mr Car the Architect here vetted with him the Plan of the Additions to my House. 8 gave Directions about planting the Plantation in the Lane going to Bark Bridge." 


Then on 4 July there was a change of plan: 


"July 4th looking over the Buildings & Plantations that had been made in my Absence. 5 Busy with Mr Car, inspecting & measuring the Part of the Building already instructed, & giving farther Directs about the Construction. 12th Mr Car here, when upon mature Deliberation it was agreed to carry the Wings only one story high."  


Here, on 4 July 1765, the extracts from Spencer’s diaries and account books end. At the end of the volume are the 13-pages of lists of trees, shrubs, plants and seeds planted in 1761. There is no account of expenses in 1765. 


The original plan for the house was completed in 1804 when Carr added the second storeys to the wings. Cannon Hall is today Listed Grade II* - see Historic England’s Listing details: www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1151805 


Provenance: The extensive Spencer and Spencer-Stanhope archive survives and is split between Sheffield Archives (papers relating to Cannon Hall and Cawthorne) and Bradford Archives and the Brotherton Library, Leeds (papers relating to Horsforth and Leeds). John Spencer was unmarried and the Cannon Hall estate passed to his nephew Walter Spencer Stanhope (1749-1822), his 2nd son John Spencer Stanhope (1787-1783), of Horsforth Old Hall, Leeds, his elder son Sir Walter Thomas William Spencer-Stanhope (1827-1911), his eldest son John Montague Spencer Stanhope (1860-1944) and his daughter Margaret Elizabeth Ida (1891-1964); the contents were dispersed and the house and estate were sold to Barnsley Council in 1951 and now comprise the Cannon Hall Museum & Country Park - “Much of the eighteenth-century landscape has been preserved, but the park beyond the lakes has suffered from the activities of the war-time camps and by later opencast mining and housing development.” - David Hey, p. 123.  


No marks of ownership; not part of the family archive in modern times. Anonymous sale, Thomson Roddick & Medcalf, Carlisle, 22/1/2020, Lot 39 (est. £100-150).


Literature: Fiona Cowell, “Richard Woods (1716-93): A Preliminary Account”, in Garden History (3 parts: Vol. 14/2 (Autumn 1987), p. 85-119; 15/1 (Spring 1987), p. 19-54; 15/2 (Autumn 1987), 11-135; Fiona Cowell, “Woods, Richard (1715/16-1793)” in ODNB (2004); Fiona Cowell, Richard Woods (1715-1793): Master of the Pleasure Garden (Woodbridge, 2010). David Hey, A History of the South Yorkshire Countryside (Barnsley, 2015).










Stock Code: 235038

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