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During the 1650s and 1660s John Evelyn, the diarist and commentator records occasional visits to see Mr Henry Howard, later Duke of Norfolk, at Albury. On the 21 September 1667 Eveleyn designed for Mr Howard, during one such visit, a canal and garden with a crypta or grotto passage through the hillside. It also encompassed a Roman Bathhouse. Three years and two days later he followed up with another visit to check progress with his design. The crypta through the mountain in the park was by then 30 perches in length, "such a Pausilippe is no where in England besides". Here he is referring to the outstanding Grotto of Pausilippe in Naples. Ten years after the visit when the design was first conceived, he again visited and records the garden and crypta. (click underlined text for details of Posilipo)
The country mansion at Albury lies in the Tilllingbourne valley and the river's location, near the mansion, provided the inspiration for Evelyn's terraces overlooking the canal. The Howards were in possession of the mansion and grounds during the Civil War and during the War had met Evelyn in Padua, Italy where they had relocated. After the death of Henry Howard in 1684 the estate was sold to the Heneage Finch family who held the title Earl of Nottingham.
The Crypta or grotto that was constructed by the Howards survives and continues to be a central feature in the terraces that Evelyn envisaged. The terraces include the Half Moon Pond and this was originally fed by water from the spring that flows from beneath the chalk at the Silent Pool, a short distance away to the north. Land disputes over an extended period of time jeopardised the reliability of the supply. The terraces in the lower greensand strata of the hillside overlook the canal and across the Tillingbourne valley, the mansion itself views Evelyn's creation. The tunnel or grotto is just over 100 metres in length and provides a transit through to an alternate landscape on the northern side of the greensand ridge. This landscape is one dominated by the scarp face of the chalk North Downs with a spring and the Silent Pool nearby. The layout of Evelyns' garden is geometrical and balanced and is in contrast to many stately homes who sought a sculptured natural look to their parks.
Other buildings in the immediate vicinity include the ancient parish church on the western side of the mansion. It became redundant in 1842 but is now cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. The interior is elaborately decorated in parts and includes a painting of St Christopher on the wall in the nave dated at 1550. St Christopher has a remarkable resemblance to the grotto grading cartoon figure but that is purely coincidental.
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1. View of the mansion from the grotto at the top of the terraces.
2. The grotto cave, through the lower greensand ridge to another world.
3. The grotto entrance with the fountain and Half Moon Pond.
4. The grotto entrance from the lower terrace.
5. View of the grotto entrance and recesses in the semi circular surround.
6. St Christopher in the ancient church.
7. Map showing layout of the terraces and estate.
GREAT BRITISH GROTTO GRADING
Click to go to Grotto.Directory home page
On private property, Open set times only
Access by Road, Access on Foot, Conducted Tours of Locality, Grotto - just one
England - Southern
THE FEATURES PRESENT
+Cared for and maintained in good condition, +Dark and mysterious chambers and cave like spaces, +External rock structures, either real or simulated, +Sacred spring or integral water feature, +Stunning setting and location, +Viewing points from within to an intriguing landscape outside, GRADED SIX