The gardens and grounds around Alton Towers are vast and steeped in history.
Prior to 1814, the site of the beautiful gardens at Alton Towers was no more than rugged Staffordshire countryside. There was no water to be found and there were very few trees. The creation of the gardens that we see today are a direct result of the vision, wealth, creativity and work of the 15th and 16th Earls of Shrewsbury.
The 15th Earl Charles, and the 16th Earl John were part of the Talbot family, who initially inherited the Alton Estate in 1412. The line of the Talbot, Earls of Shrewsbury were descendants of Richard De Talbot who came from France with William the Conqueror. George Talbot, the 4th Earl of Shrewsbury carried the sword at the coronation of Henry VII in 1485, and the 6th Earl George had custody of Mary Queen of Scots, during her imprisonment from 1569 to 1584, and was present at her execution in 1587.
In 1787 Charles Talbot became the 15th Earl of Shrewsbury at the age of 34. At Alton he had inherited a hunting lodge (Alveton Lodge) that was used only as an occasional residence, along with the surrounding land. Earl Charles eventually became more involved in his Alton estate, and just after the turn of the century and into the 1800's, significant improvements were becoming apparent. It was the intention of Charles to fill the valley with sounds and fragrances evoking fabled times and enchanted places. Alongside garden architects Robert Abraham (1774-1850) and Thomas Allason (1790-1852), the 15th Earl was responsible for the first phase of garden creation. Charles was fond of landscaping and architecture so it is of no big surprise that certain landscape features were drawn out by him.
Along with numerous follies and buildings in the gardens, Charles was responsible for the provision of running water. This was of high importance as it would be needed to fill his new lakes and ponds (which had been dug by hand), along with his other planned water features. This was achieved by bringing in water by conduits from a spring at Ramsor, in the weaver hills, 2 miles away. The 15th Earl Charles was also responsible for the enlargement of "Alveton Lodge" into "Alton Abbey". Upon Charles' death in 1827, having no children, he was succeeded by his nephew John, who became the 16th Earl. Earl John completed the landscaping of the valley, seeing through various buildings schemes and introducing many imported shrubs and trees. He was very forward thinking, planting many trees that he knew would not mature until long after his death.
Seen here is the Choragic monument mentioned below.
One of Earl John's first projects was to have a monument (The Choragic Monument) erected in memory of his uncle Charles 15th Earl, fittingly inscribed "HE MADE THE DESERT SMILE". Earl John created work for the local unemployed, including construction of 66 miles of drives and paths in and around Alton. No doubt, a fair amount of these still lie in the gardens today. This is just one of the reasons that the 16th Earl became known as "Good Earl John". "Good Earl John" died in 1852 aged 61 and was succeeded by his cousin Bertram, an invalid who died unmarried in 1856 aged 24. After a legal battle, Henry John Chetwynd Talbot, the 18th Earl, took possession of the Alton Towers estate and was responsible for opening the gardens to the public, in 1860.
30 years later, annual garden fete's attended by up to 30,000 people were common. This continued until the turn of the century, but by the 1920's the gardens had started to become neglected, and certain area's had become overgrown and unused. In 1924, Alton Towers was purchased by a group of local businessmen who formed Alton Towers ltd, and organized a full staff of gardeners to restore the gardens and open them up to the public during summertime, and were apparently responsibly for the construction of the bandstand, where at one point, bands would play every Saturday and Sunday. By 1939, Alton towers was recognized as "The most magnificent gardens in the British Isles".
Unfortunately, the 2nd world war came upon us, and as a result, Alton Towers and its grounds were to be used by the British Army as an Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU). By the end of the war, the grounds had understandably become dilapidated. The Towers and gardens remained under British Army requisition until 1951, when it was handed back to the owners. In 1952, the gardeners once again brought the gardens back to order as well as the general grounds around the Towers. The gardens were now once again opened to the public.
The Grand Conservatories hosting an event in the early half of the 20th century.
Click here for a 360 degree virtual tour of the Alton Towers Gardens and grounds courtesy of Adrian Whitcombe.