Manor Gardens, Alexandra Terrace, Exmouth
(also accessible from Imperial Road or Chapel Hill)
The History of Manor Gardens
As the name suggests, "Manor Gardens" was originally part of an old Manor House. This was home to the Ducarel family during the eighteenth century and then subsequently to a Mr Charles Prettejohn. It was a large building set into the hill and featured extensive cellars, some of which are still in existence today, extending under Chapel Hill. Apparently, one of the butlers in the property was well known for disappearing from the house discretely in the evening, venturing over the road from the back entrance to the pub at the foot of the Beacon!
It was in 1893 that the Local Board (the local authority of the time) first sought to lease the gardens from the Rolle Estate for public use. The Manor House was demolished in 1894 and a 99-year lease granted by the Hon. Mark Rolle to the Local Board. The rent was £50 per annum (worth approximately £3,500 today) – a very generous arrangement, especially when you consider that the Rolle Estate also donated £50 per annum to the Local Board to contribute to the upkeep of the Gardens!
The gardens were made even larger in 1905 when they incorporated the kitchen garden of the Imperial Hotel and in 1907 a Deed of Conveyance finally gave the entire area over to the local council, a condition being that nothing should ever be built there.
Now the Gardens are again surrounded by iron railings but these were only reinstated in the mid 1990’s. The railings were there originally were taken down as part of the war effort but there is no doubt that their replacements have helped restore the original appearance of the Gardens. The cellars also played their part during the war when they were used as an air raid shelter.
Entertainment in Manor Gardens
The Gardens are still intended to be a place for rest and quiet, however, since they were opened to the public, they have also been used for a wide variety of public entertainment. In the summer of 1896, several months before the Gardens had even been dedicated to public use, a band played every day. During the evenings, some of the country’s most eminent bands performed "illuminated promenade concerts with charming and brilliant effects".
The Gardens also benefited from the building of a bandstand. It was used for a range of musical performances and the original bandstand was replaced in the early 1950’s. Sadly, its condition declined until it was finally dismantled in 1993.
It was not only music performances that graced the Gardens. There have been numerous theatre companies, both amateur and professional who have performed since the Gardens were opened to the public.
Trees – The gardens have always been dominated by mature trees, the old pictures of the Gardens being defined by the presence of large specimens, many of them Elms. Sadly, like so many other parks across the country, Dutch Elm Disease completely changed the landscape in the 1960’s. This, however, gave the opportunity to plant many new trees and there is still a diverse range of trees present in the Gardens, many of which date back to the early 20th century. Species present include Copper Beech, Holm Oak, Turkey Oak, Monterey Cypress (known locally as Macrocarpa), Horse Chestnut, Yew, Purple Sycamore and many more. There is also a line of pollarded Limes which trail through the garden, increasing the formal character.
Sub-tropical Bed – The Sub-Tropical Bed is a relatively new feature that has been added to Manor Gardens. The mild climate here in Exmouth means that there are a greater range of plants which can be successfully grown. Species used include a variety of Agave’s, Chamaerops humilis, Lamphanthus spectabile and mixed Yucca. There are two particular plants of note from Mexico, these being Beschorneria yuccoides and Dasylirion acrotrichum.
Herbaceous Borders – there are a number of herbaceous borders which add great variety and diversity to the Gardens throughout the year. Again, the mild conditions here in the South West are ideal for plant lovers!
Rose and Topiary Garden – The Rose and Topiary Garden is not an original feature but it is in keeping with the style of a Victorian formal landscape. This example has been created using Box, which is kept carefully clipped to give a precise appearance. The small hedges surround bedding plants, which give an attractive splash of colour throughout the seasons.
Carpet Bed – the Carpet Bed has been a feature of Manor Gardens
since the 1960’s. The pictures are created using a range of different bedding plants, the foliage of
each one helping form the picture, which always has a local link or theme.
The bed is painstakingly laid out and planted up over the course of around three days, using up to 9,000 plants. The hard work does not end there – it needs to be clipped weekly to keep the lines clean and sharp. There is no way that the bed can be walked on of course – all the work is done from long planks suspended across the bed!
If you have any comments or suggestions concerning Manor Gardens, please contact East Devon District Council’s Parks Development Officer on (01395) 516551 ext 2017.
Please click here to download the Exmouth Manor Gardens Guide (355KB Portable Document Format - 22 June 2006 - PDF Help)
Page last updated on 31 July 2014