Stody Lodge Gardens history
Stody Estate was originally part of Blickling Estate, the nearby National Trust property owned by the Marquis of Lothian and the birth place of Anne Boleyn. The original Stody Lodge, approached by a long drive flanked with magnificent Cynthia Rhododendron (still much admired by visitors today), was occupied from 1895 to 1926 by Lady Lothian and her husband, Mr Ernest Horsfall.
Mr Horsfall was a keen gardener and, early in the twentieth century, decided to clear and plant the large ‘dark and boggy’ area adjacent to the original lodge. Over the next 25 years the Azalea Water Gardens took shape and today, in this unlikely corner of North Norfolk, we understand it forms the largest single expanse of azalea mollis in the country (more than 2,000 plants over two acres.)
This first Stody Lodge finally succumbed to its third fire in a decade shortly after it was acquired by Lord Rothermere, the newspaper baron, in 1932.
In 1933, Rothermere commissioned a London architect, Walter Sarel, to design a new Stody Lodge with extensive gardens.
Lord Rothermere’s butler at Stody Lodge, Wilfred Chinnock, notes in his memoirs that when ‘His Lordship’ arrived from London he was always welcomed into the Lodge by two footmen standing either side of the opened front door:
‘…if he chose to walk past us with not as much as a word – and he often did just that – nobody would interrupt his train of thought, for he could have affairs of state on his mind and might walk straight past us across the hall and through the drawing room to the French windows and out onto the pleasure garden which was almost in a direct line from the front door and take a leisurely stroll by himself…’
He notes that there were seven gardeners working at the time producing a wide array of fresh fruit, vegetables and cut flowers for the lodge. ‘Down near the home farm were the glasshouses in which were grown cantaloupe melons, muscatel grapes, blue grapes and even pineapples, tomatoes and the most perfect houseplants and flowers always available in season.’
Reproduced with kind permission of publishers PJE Productions. ‘Chinnock – A Butler’s Story' is available as an ebook here
During the first part of the Second World War Stody Lodge was commandeered by the Royal Army Medical Corps and used as a convalescent home. One of its patients, the late Claude Hopper, remained to work in the house and garden for another 60 years. His wife Cynthia continued to live on Stody Estate until recently.
In 1941, Lord Rothermere sold Stody Estate to George Knight of G.C. and F.C. Knight and Co. and the lodge became his home until his death in 1963. At that time there were many gardeners and large glasshouses growing carnations for the commercial market.
Following the death of George Knight, the Estate passed to his stepson, Ian MacNicol, who took up the reins aged just 22. The gardens at this time were very formal. Different species of rhododendron and azalea had been added over the years from its original 1930s design, there was a formal rose garden and the borders mainly filled with annuals such as geraniums and lobelia. In 1974, Ian married Adel Richmond-Watson. Stody Lodge and its gardens provided a wonderful family home in which to bring up their four children. Over the next forty years, Adel MacNicol’s love of soft herbaceous borders and her creative flair served to enhance the garden’s original formal planting. Herbaceous borders were created, initially around the swimming pool, and later either side of the large blue door to the teas and along the terrace. Many more ornamental trees, particularly magnolias, camellias and acers were added, and the vegetable garden extended. The pristine lawn learnt to sustain such things as bicycles, climbing frames and birthday parties.
During the last few years there has been an extensive amount of development, mostly intentional but some brought about by damage from severe winds or heavy snowfalls. Despite this, great care has been taken so that the basic layout and form are the same today as when the gardens were first laid out in 1932.