Having recently posted about the fabulous gates of Chirk Castle – ironwork of the highest order made at Bersham in the early 18th century – I now want to report on the superb iron gates of Erddig. Erddig is another National Trust property that is very close to where I live, built in the late seventeenth century and extended through the eighteenth century.
We don’t go into the house itself at Erddig, so we haven’t seen all of the fittings and furnishings that are outlined in exhaustive detail in the guidebook. We tried once. However, an over-zealous volunteer requested I remove a small rucksack from my back that apparently was placing the house in peril. An incident ensued when, while in the midst of trying to acquiesce to her request, (a) she tried to help me remove the rucksack without warning or my permission and (b) the result of her yanking it from my shoulder was that my digital camera, also around my neck, swung into the skull of the baby I was carrying. I decided to leave promptly carrying the screaming infant to avoid being forced to deal with the no doubt well-meaning but officious individual.
The reason I mention all this in this particular context is that, of the 95-page National Trust Erddig guidebook, only 9 pages cover the park and gardens and many of the most prominent features observed by the visitor are mentioned in passing or not at all.
Now the park and gardens have some fantastic features but among my favourites are the ironwork screen and gates at the east end of the fishpond. Most of the many gates visitors discover are overlooked by the guidebook and two are only mentioned and only briefly.
According to the NT guidebook, the accounts record ‘the erection of a boundary wall with a formal ironwork gate and screen by Robert and John Davies of Wrexham, weighing some 56 tons and costing £150 11s 6d’ in c. 1716-17. This was placed to the west of the house and it has not survived, although it does appear on a 1740 bird’s-eye view by Thomas Badeslade. However, ironwork – gates and screen – attributed to the same manufacturers was brought to the east-end of the fishpond in 1908 from Stansty Park, Wrexham and looks very similar to that pictured in the 1740 illustration situated at the west side of the house.
What is interesting about this?
(i) ironwork gates and screens were an important medium for demonstrating wealth and power of the family – particularly showing off the profits of industry – within the post-medieval designed landscape. Hence they were integrating the products of industry materially into the fabric of the country house and its gardens
(ii) ironwork gates might be ‘gifts’ to the householder, as is true for the 19th-century Queen Anne gates by the Moss Walk. Hence they enshrine the family connections of those inhabiting and visiting the property
(iii) ironwork gates can have an important ‘biographies’ of translation. At Erddig we find gates far from their original positions at other country houses
(iv) ironwork gates are an integral part of the parks and gardens and visitors experience of them, and yet their quality and prominence demand considerably more attention than they currently receive.
The next time you visit a country house, ignore the buildings, the trees and the flowers, explore the iron instead!