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17th century etching sheds light on English vinegrowing

A 17th century etching, believed to be the work of Wenceslaus Hollar, depicts vines growing in Albury in Surrey, shedding new light on the history of vinegrowing in England.

Wenceslaus Hollar, View of countryside near Albury, Surrey, c.1645. © Trustees of the British Museum.

The forgotten etching is currently stored in the British Museum archives and is labelled with the following description: ‘Albury; stump of old tree in the foreground at left, with wooden fence behind and swans swimming in the lake beyond; vineyards, arched building and seven persons walking by the water in the background.’

The staff at the current Albury Vineyard first discovered the etching when it was unearthed by local bike tour operator, Dominic Crolla.

According to the Albury Estate, the picture shows Albury Park, before the building work, which was designed and planned by diarist, writer and landscape designer John Evelyn (1620-1706) and completed during the tenure of Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk.

The etching has been dated to c.1645 by George Vertue in his A description of the works of the ingenious delineator and engraver Wenceslaus Hollar, disposed into classes of different sorts (1684, p19).

A diary entry from Evelyn’s diary, dated 23 September 1670, seems to indicate that his plans involved the planting of vineyards as well as the construction of a canal and “crypta” or “pausilippe,” referring to tunnel driven 160 yards through the nearby sandstone hill (the term was coined by Evelyn in reference to the famous grotto of Posilippo at Naples.)

‘…to Alburie to see how that Garden proceeded, which I found exactly done according to the Designe (sic.) & Plot I had made, with the Crypta through the mountaine (sic.) in the parke (sic.), which is 30 pearches (sic.) in length, such a Pausilippe is no where in England besides: the Canals were now digging, and Vineyards planted’.

Speaking to the drinks business Michael Baxter of the Albury Estate said: “Although we believe the etching to date to the period before John Evelyn’s work was carried out, we don’t know whether there were vineyards in the area before Evelyn planted some.”

“There may have been a bit of artistic license and it remains unclear whether Hollar depicted what he actually saw, or whether he was showing what the park would look like after the plans were realised”.

Silent Pool, the site of the Silent Pool Gin distillery with Albury Vineyard nearby.

According to Charles Walmsley’s A Description of the Mansion and Grounds at Albury Park Guildford Surrey and of the Old Parish Church of Albury (1986), between 1648 and 1676, most of the old Albury manor house was demolished and replaced by a building designed by George Evelyn (1526–1603, John’s grandfather.) The construction work and the subsequent improvement work on the gardens, designed by John Evelyn, spanned the tenures of Thomas Howard II, 5th Duke of Norfolk and Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk.

John Evelyn was responsible for the redesign of the grounds, including the construction of the Crypta tunnel (presumably inspired by his family knowledge of gunpowder) and an 80-foot-wide canal. The water, supplied by local springs (now called Silent Pool, the site of the Silent Pool Gin distillery) was, according to Walmsley’s guide, ‘needed not only to serve the Half Moon pond and its fountain, but also to sustain a vineyard, lying on south-facing ground between terraces and a new canal at a lower level.’

Baxter of the Albury Estate believes that the etching depicts the north side of the River Tillingbourne, overlooking Silver Wood, but he admits that this also remains unproven as understandably the land looks very different now to how it did in the 17th century. The present day Albury Vineyard is planted on a different site and is located near the Silent Pool Gin distillery, close to the A25.

Marketing and events manager at Albury Vineyard, Lucy Letley, said that the etching will now have pride of place on the wall of the visitors’ barn.

Evelyn, a skilled horticulturalist, made many references to vineyards and winegrowing. In his Elysium Britannicum: Kalendarium hortense (1664), he advises feeding ‘your vines with Blood, sweet, and mingled with Water. But this, and all other Summer Refreshings, is only to be done early in the Morning, or late in the Evenings’.

He also instructs that, towards the latter end of July, you should ‘visit your vineyards again and stop the exuberant Shoots at the Second Joint above the Fruit; but not so as to expose it to the Sun, without some Umbrage.’

His various horticultural discourses, including Sylva (1664) on trees and A Philosophical Discourse of Earth (1676) on soils, also reveal lengthly examinations of the best manure to use when planting vines and fruit trees as well as the use of ‘lees of wine, ale, beer’ and ‘blood and urine mixed with water’ to ‘sprinkle [on] your ground at seasonable times’.

In contrast to the informal and ‘natural’ landscape gardening that came into fashion in the eighteenth century, pioneered by figureheads such as Lancelot “Capability” Brown, Evelyn’s design evokes the formality typically found across Europe at the time.

If you have any information about the etching and its history, please comment below.

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