The topographical views of the eighteenth century lend themselves to minute exploration, especially digitised images that can be zoomed into and enlarged onscreen. Travelling around the perimeter of William Westley’s 1732 North Prospect of St. Phillip’s Church in Birmingham, I ran into a corner of ‘Mr Pemberton’s Garden at the Hillhouse’.
The Pembertons were wealthy ironmongers and had laid out a garden on Bennett’s Hill that matched the status of their house. Revealed in Westley’s print was part of the ‘handsome flower-garden about half an acre, square, and walled in’ and the ‘convenient summerhouse’, both described in a letter by fellow Quaker Resta Patching when he visited the Pemberton’s some 20 years after the date of the engraving.
In the print the garden occupies a marginal space, just edging into view, dwarfed by the bulk of St. Philip’s Church - but significant enough to be included and to be named. Consideration of the find and its placing made me think it a metaphor for the eighteenth-century town garden in Birmingham’s history: hidden in the margins but elbowing into view against the bulk of the town’s historiography. The ‘row of fan elms’ and ‘borders of various kinds of plants and flowering-shrubs’ may be in another marginal space elsewhere.
Image: William Westley, The North Prospect of St. Philip’s Church, etc. in Birmingham, 1732 (detail), Library of Birmingham, 13922