Bicton Park Botanical Gardens
Telephone: +44 (0) 1395 568 465
Bicton Park is reputedly Devon's most magnificent historic gardens. The gardens themselves date from the eighteenth century albeit the estate overall can be traced back some 1300 years to Saxon times. The lords of the manor at Bicton were responsible for the wardenship of nearby Rougemont Castle prison. The role was rescinded when the castle fell into disrepair in the late 1700s. By then the Italianate Garden had been established in 1735 by Henry Rolle the first Baron. Following this, work was begun on demolishing the former Tudor Mansion and erecting the present Bicton House in 1750. The period 1800 - 1845 saw the construction of many of the garden features including the Shell House or Grotto.
In the twentieth century the estate was broken up and Devon County Council took over Bicton House. Initially it was rented for use as a college but in 1957 it was purchased outright. In 1998 the park passed to the Lister family, having for the previous 12 years been held by a Charitable Trust set up by Lord Clinton and his family. The Listers were the first new family to own the gardens for five centuries. The Park was first opened to the public in 1963, a practice that the Lister family continued with full time opening starting in 1999.
The Minstrels of Mythology visited the Park in order to appraise the grotto in 2014 and it was with great pleasure that we were able to meet and talk with Mr Fred Lister, father of the present owners. The Lister family had been industrialist famed for their Lister engines. Amongst the treasures in the gardens we discovered the Shell House or Grotto located between the Italianate Garden and the visitor car park.
Set in an extreme rockery with a small pool and fountain, the shell house dominates the footpath leading up to its entrance through a labyrinth of standing stones reminiscent of a fallen ancient Stone Age monument. It comprises a circular stone single story tower with a roof light. Inside there is displayed a grand collection of shells, from around the world. Many were collected in the Bahamas when the Rolle family owned estates on the Exuma Islands. The Shell House was built by Lady Louisa, widow of Lord John Rolle and his nephew Hon. Mark Rolle. The rockwork for the Shell House appears to comprise flints bound in cement and then used as building materials. The flints are believed to have come from flint deposits between Beer and Sidmouth. The shell collection can be dated by an article in the Gardeners Magazine of 1842. The collection was about to be assembled at that time.
There are also two other mysterious grotto like underground features at Bicton which are worth noting. These are located near where the narrow gauge railway exits the main station on the estate. One is the sunken link between Bicton House and the gardens. Bicton House can be seen across the lake overlooking the lake and gardens. Apparently it was once fashionable for the Lady of the House to drive her carriage through this tunnel for her daily visit to the church and reverend from the house. St. Mary's church is within the estate. The second subterranean feature is nearby, comprising a doorway that gives access to a covered chamber. Its purpose is unknown. Both of these features are illustrated.
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A venue for a good family day out with the train ride around the gardens.
GREAT BRITISH GROTTO GRADING
Click to go to Grotto.Directory home page
Open set times only
Access all Year, Access by Road, Access on Foot, Entry Fee, Grotto with extensive rock gardens, Grottoes - more than one, Restaurant/Food, Retail Souvenir Shop, Toilets
Country town/village, Quality Natural Environment
England - Southern
THE FEATURES PRESENT
+Cared for and maintained in good condition, +External rock structures, either real or simulated, +Fossils and/or shells incorporated into the decor, +Stunning setting and location, GRADED FOUR