Waterton’s Wall

CHARLES WATERTON completed his wall around Walton Park in 1821. It had taken five years to build and cost £9,000. Refusing to go into debt to complete it, Waterton, who as a teetotal Yorkshire squire was something of a rarity, quipped that he’d paid for it with the money he hadn’t spent on claret.

It seems a simple concept today but it had never occurred to anyone before to enclose an area with the sole purpose of providing a sanctuary for wildlife. Enclose an area to hunt wildlife, yes, but not to preserve it for the purposes of enjoying it for its own sake and studying its habits.

He also pioneered the concept of a country park by providing an area for picnics and outdoor concerts in a clearing in a small wood near the farm buildings known as the Grotto. Keeping some areas strictly for the birds and allowing open access to the public in others ensured that visitors didn’t unduly disturb the birds and animals in the perfect patch of unspoilt countryside (a rare commodity in the industrial districts of mid-Victorian West Yorkshire) that they’d come to enjoy.

Waterton been inspired by his experience of the wilderness of what is now Guyanna to recreate a pristine version of as many English natural habitats as he could fit into his park; lake, swamp, hedgerow and woodland. He regretted that he didn’t have an arm of the sea available to complete his selection.

He picked up ideas on his travels in Europe, notably the use of ivy to cover ruins which he’d seen in Italy in a park where pheasants could coexist with the throng of townsfolk taking a stroll because the birds had instant access to dense cover.

I’ve enjoyed working on this illustration even though I decided not to go on location to draw it, which is usually my preference. I’d taken a photograph of one of the few complete and uneroded sections of the wall in the summer, so I worked from that. As you can imagine drawing the sandstone blocks of the wall had a therapeutic effect on me. Unlike when I’m writing, I find that I can listen to the radio as I do this kind of step by step drawing, alternating from classical music on Radio 3 and news and documentaries on Radio 4. Bliss.

I don’t as yet know whether the final use for this illustration will be in black and white or colour so I took a high resolution scan before I started adding the watercolour. The illustration has to sit easily with nineteenth century engravings of the Park.

The line drawing was in Noodlers black ink, using an ArtPen with an extra fine nib.

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  1. This is an interesting insight into Walton Hall – I’m interest by Charles Waterton, having read ‘A Bird of Time’ by Norman Moore … Do you have a good source of information on the nature reserve? I’m intrigued to see whether it still exists?

    1. I haven’t come across the Moore book, thank you for pointing that out. Most of the park is now a golf course but some of the fringes are managed as a country park. Definitely worth a look though if you’re interested in Waterton. You can visit the Hall as it’s now a hotel and have a cup of coffee overlooking the lake.
      I’ve written a booklet following a history trail around the park: http://www.willowisland.co.uk/waterton.html

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