Many times I’ve heard people mention ‘ha-ha’ in conversation; and many a time I’ve listened to the story of how the ha-ha title came about. Of course, I expect many of you interested enough to click on this post already know all about them!
For those who don’t, I find the straight forward explanation in Andrew Eburne and Richard Taylor’s book ‘How to Read an English Garden’, nice and concise:
“A ha-ha is essentially an invisible wall: a wall (sometimes a fence or hedge) built inside a ditch so that you can’t see it until you are very near. The word ‘ha-ha’, originally French, derives from the exclamation of surprise made by the visitor on discovering this barrier (or perhaps falling into it).”
Now then, the good old ha-ha, in all its forms became increasingly popular during the 1700s, and good old ‘Capability’ Brown made full use of this feature in his ‘natural’ landscapes. The ha-ha was very effective at stopping animals and undesirables in their tracks while allowing undisturbed views to and from the landscape. Brown and many others used the ha-ha to make the tussock covered hills and grazed parkland flow seemingly unhindered right up to the house. A marvelous invention arriving just in time for those rural landscapes people increasingly desired during the 18th century – the ha-ha in this sense helped landscape designs to flow more naturally.
My inspiration for this mini post was a tip-off of clearance work for one such ha-ha wall at a Brown landscape in Staffordshire, known as Fisherwick. The clearance work shown is by the Woodhouse Community Farm Volunteers, who worked on this occasion to clear superfluous vegetation back, thus preserving this special feature. A merry band of workers gave their time freely on an early January Sunday work day. Well, when I say ‘gave time freely’, I have heard that cake was available…
The images above and below show the ha-ha pre and post clearance, and show an ageing but solidly built ha-ha. Of the many ones to be found around the country; it is reassuring to know that this one is watched over and cared for. The Fisherwick ha-ha is mentioned in one of Timothy Mowl’s ‘Historic Gardens of England’ books, where, while seeking out the remains of the Fisherwick landscape he wrote: “the approach road to the site is flanked by a dramatic ha-ha of squared and coursed red sandstone”. A simple note it may be, but it’s also reassuring, especially for ha-ha lovers, to know was significant enough to merit a mention.
The photographs show it is clearly a wall of sound construction, and made to last, and indeed; it has survived much longer than the original mansion that was removed in the 19th century. It is thanks to the efforts of gardeners, estate workers and volunteers around the country that historic features of this importance survive. The Woodhouse volunteer team are one such group who join together to care for their local heritage in all its forms.
If you would like to learn more of the fascinating project please follow the Woodhouse Community Farm link, where you’ll find lots of information along with details of their next volunteer work day on 3rd February 2013.
Many thanks to Kate Gomez for supplying the photographs. If you know of work in progress at a Capability Brown site near you, do send me some information for the blog!