My interest in gardening grew after obtaining an RHS Certificate in Horticulture which then led me to a qualification in Garden Design in 2005. During my studies I studied many great British garden designers including Alfred Parsons, Gertrude Jekyll (who was famous for her herbaceous borders and greatly influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement), Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, landscaper Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Rosemary Verey to name a few. I was also fortunate to visit many of the gardens which were originally designed by these great designers, many of which are located in the Cotswolds. I now live in the picturesque village of Broadway in the North Cotswolds which was also home to Alfred Parsons in the late 19th century.
Alfred William Parsons, English landscape painter, watercolourist and illustrator was born on 2nd December 1847 in Laverton near Frome, Somerset. Alfred was the second of seventeen children of Dr Joshua Parsons and Letitia Harriet Parsons (née Williams). His father was a doctor with a keen interest in growing alpines which no doubt sparked Alfred’s early interest in plants and gardening.
Although Parsons started work in 1865 as a clerk in the Post Office after 2 years he left to pursue studies at the Kensington School of Art. Parsons. went on to become well known as a fine botanical painter, engraver and painter of English rural landscapes exhibiting at various galleries including the Royal Academy (1887), the Grosvenor and the New Gallery.
Whilst living in London, Parsons shared his home with Edwin Austin Abbey and they painted alongside each other in adjacent studios. Parsons was introduced to Broadway by his friend Lawrence Dutton who was a frequent visitor to Broadway Tower, the holiday retreat of William Morris, Dante Rosetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Parsons was so taken with the village that he decided to move out of London joining the Broadway colony of artists in residence in Broadway in the late 1880s. Parsons became a good friend of both John Singer Sargent and Francis Davis Millet (Frank and Elizabeth Millet named their youngest son John Alfred Parsons Millet after both Parsons and Sargent) and introduced Abbey to the Broadway colony.
Parsons also met Henry Harper through the Broadway Colony which led to him illustrating several editions of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (Harper’s Magazine). Parsons also worked with his good friend Abbey on illustrations of Robert Herrick’s poems and supplied illustrations for Henry James’ essays on Broadway. He also illustrated songs, poems as well as travelogues.
Parsons’ fine watercolours for botanist Ellen Ann Willmott and illustrations for William Robinson, author of The Wild Garden, encouraged Parsons interest and passion in garden design. Parsons had always been an avid gardener and horticulturist and was once a judge at the Chelsea flower show. Parsons went on to design several great gardens including Great Chalfield Manor, an Arts and Crafts garden near Melksham, Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton and Lamb House, Rye, home of Henry James from 1898 to 1916. Parsons also designed several gardens in Broadway including Court Farm, home of Mary Anderson (Mme de Navarro), Broadway Court with its wonderful yew topiary, Bell Farm, home of the pianist and composer Miss Maud Valerie White and eventually his own at Luggershill.
Parsons became President of the Society of Painters in Water Colour in 1905 and full RA in 1911 on the acceptance of his diploma work, the oil painting Orange Lilies which Parsons painted in his back garden at Luggershill. Orange Lilies was on public display in the ‘Exhibition of the work of John Singer Sargent and members of the Broadway Colony’ at Trinity House, Broadway, during the 2010 Broadway Arts Festival. Parsons died at Luggershill (now known as Luggers Hall), Broadway, Worcestershire, on 16th January 1920.
The next Broadway Arts Festival will take place from 8th – 17th June 2018 and will offer a varied schedule of events including talks, art workshops, demonstrations and exhibitions, music and theatre. The village is a centre for the arts with its unique heritage of the world-famous colony of American artists, writers and musicians – the Broadway Colony.
If you are interested in staying in Broadway during the 2018 Festival please visit our Cotswold holiday cottages in Broadway, just a few minutes’ walk from the centre of the village.