A model of romantic garden



The Leasowes

Ah! Maria ... Ah! farewell!

(engraved on the urn to Maria Dolman)


In Halesowen (Worcestershire), William Shenstone, a preromantic poet, created in 1745 a "ferme ornée" of an extent of 60 acres. He had inherited the farm of his father. His wealth didn't allowed luxury works, so the gardens aren't gathering of precious buildings and rare species, but a highly sensible garden.

He managed paths and streams. He opened lanes in the woods, with dedicated urns and seats at key points (of which the urn to Maria Dolman, his beloved cousin, dead at he end of her teens)

    The ruined Priory The priory Ruins

The most remarkable feature were flows falling from one basin to other, and sights on surrounding through wooden dales.

Virgil's grove, a gloomy and mossy lawn at the foot of the main flow falling in a cascade, and the sight on Halesowen church over the Priory Pool were on the pinnacle.

Except the urns, seats and root houses (not too expensive) other buildings were restricted to an ornamental ruined Priory housing the gardener, the temple of Pan, the obelisk in Virgil's grove (dedicated to the Roman poet) and ruined gates. The ruined Priory had been inspired by the actual ruined Halesowen abbey and incorporated stonework from it.

Unfortunately, the Leasowes have suffered. The park was highly admired at its beginning for its novelty (but also criticized by some); then it felt in disregard. The grounds haven't been too much sized down (a part of them are now the golf of Halesowen), but most part of the ornaments and of water amenities disappeared. A channel built for industrial carriage in the 19th century blocks the sight on Halesowen church through the basins valley.

In 1997, an Heritage Lottery fund was granted to restore the Leasowes, with sustained benevolent help. The upper pond is under restoration, but cost increase due to unexpected work on dams has delayed the project. We should hope that the streams would eventually flow again.

The marquis de Girardin visited the Leasowes in the 1760's (to my best knowledge after William Shenstone's death). He was overwhelmed, as he discovered the actual park that he dreamed of, and that Jean-Jacques Rousseau suggested designing in his books. The nature was altogether preserved and perfected to find peace and matter to think of. René de Girardin found there a part of the inspiration for Ermenonville. Several of his own inscriptions are tributes to the Shenstone's poetry : the engraved poem in the grotto of the naiads in Ermenonville is translated from the inscription in the root house of Virgil's Grove, the poem engraved in the grotto of the fountain is a translation of a Shenstone's poetry, and so the stone in the shrub. In Ermenonville, a stone was specially dedicated to William Shenstone. Of all these four, only the poem in the grotto of naiads can still be seen today.

Links, contacts

Acknowledgements to :
Mr Martin MALE, animator of the Leasowes miniature railway ext,
who kindly sent to me a bunch of very comprehensive booklets.
Ms Buckley, for her remarks about some inaccurate statements, now corrected

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Copyright of the author, Dominique Césari
Last update: August the 1st, 2002 - links revisited 06/08/13


A few of inscriptions by William Shenstone

On the temple to god Pan :
Pan, god of shepherds, first inspir'd our swains,
Their pipes to frame, and tune their rural strains,
Pan from impending harm the fold defends,
And Pan the master of fold befriends.

On the "Assignation Seat"
O Galatea ! Nereus' lovely child,
Sweeter than Hybla thyme, more undefil'd
Than down of Swan, or ivy's purest white
When the full Oxen, wan'd by fading light
Home to the stall their sober footsteps bend,
If Damon's dear to Damon's call attend.

On the urn to Maria Dolman :
Sacred to the memory
a most amiable kinswoman

Ah! Maria
most elegant of nymphs!
Snatched from us
in thy bloom of beauty
Ah! farewell!
How much inferior
is the living conversation
of others
to the bare remembrance
of thee!


On one of the two root houses in Virgil's Grove :

Here, in cool grot and mossy cell,
We, rural Fays and Faieries dwell;
Tho'rarely seen by mortal eye,
When pale moon, ascending high,
Darts thro' yon limes her quiv'ring beams,
We frisk it near these crystal streams

Her beams, reflected from the wave,
Afford the light our revels crave;
The turf, with daisies broider'd o'er
Exceeds, we wot, the Parian floor,
Not yet for artful strains we call,
But listen to the water's fall.

Would you, then, taste our tranquil scene,
Be sure your bosoms be serene,
Devoid of hate, devoid of strife,
Devoid af all that poisons life;
And much it 'vails you in their place
To graft the love of human race.

And tread with awe these favour'd bowers,
Nor wound the shrubs nor bruise the flowers;
So may your path with sweets abound,
So may your couch with rest be crow'd,
But harm betied the wayward swain
Who dares our hallowed haunts profane.

In the "Inscriptions" ext, the texts of the urn to Maria Dolman and the Assignation Seat are in Latin.   However, the forewords by Literary Heritage ext specify that the actual engraved inscriptions where different of the published texts, and that they were also more numerous.   So, the above texts in English might not be the actual ones.