The following is a guest blog by the latest addition to the Discover Buxton team, Thomas Eccles, who will be promenading in the character of Mr Milner, the landscape architect responsible for the design of the Pavilion Gardens, Buxton throughout the Summer.
Visitors to the Pavilion Gardens Buxton queuing with their children for a ride on the miniature railway may well be puzzled by the name on the little steam locomotive: Edward Milner – who is or was he?
Apart from this literally moving tribute, posterity has largely consigned Mr Milner to obscurity, but he was much celebrated in his day as one of the finest and most successful Victorian landscape architects and designer of most of what visitors to the Pavilion Gardens see around them.
His origins were humble enough. He was born in Darley Dale, the son of a Sawyer and gardener on the nearby Chatsworth Estate and nothing was more natural than he should join his father there to begin earning a living. His natural ability and diligence caused him to be noticed by Joseph Paxton, the famous resident landscape architect and confidante of the 7th Duke of Devonshire and he was parcelled off to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris to further his education – an extraordinary privilege in those days. The record is silent on how he coped with the language!
In 1851 Paxton was busy designing and building the Crystal Palace which was to house the Great Exhibition to show-case the technological and imperial achievements of the age. The magnificent edifice was never meant to last for longer than six months, but it had become so popular that it was decided to dismantle it from its Hyde Park location and rebuild it at Penge Park Sydenham.
This was Milner’s great opportunity. He was given the task of overseeing the reconstruction and the layout of the magnificent Crystal Palace and its gardens. So successful was his design (which departed significantly from Paxton’s original) that the building stood as an iconic London landmark until it was destroyed by fire in 1936.
When it came to choosing a designer for the Buxton Pavilion Gardens, the Buxton Improvements Company looked no further than Edward Milner who brought his considerable experience to this ambitious project. The concept of the “Winter Garden” was born: a miniature Crystal Palace where the upper strata of society could “promenade” in all weather and enjoy the displays of exotic foliage and flowers while listening to palm court music. The pavilion was completed in 1871 and has evolved since Milner’s day while retaining the spirit of the original concept. The keen observer will notice the stags heads in the wrought ironwork and the ducal coronets which adorn the exterior – a nod to his wealthy patron the 7th Duke.
The gardens were Milners masterpiece – an Alice in Wonderland creation of lawns, arbours, shrubberies, streamlets, cascades, lakes and jutting crags, to delight the eye and lead from one sublime vista to the next. Today’s Gardens, though still pleasant have been much modified in response to the enormous visitor pressure. In the old days, one had to pay to get in! Children were forbidden to play and were not admitted unless accompanied by a nurse. One had to “Keep off the Grass” and servants were allowed on payment of a five shillings per annum subscription.
On a balmy afternoon the visitor to the palm house may brush shoulders with a top-hatted frock-coated orchidaceous character examining his hunter watch at the end of an Albert chain or pointing with his cane at some rare bloom. Edward Milner? Or is it Thomas Eccles (top tenor with Tideswell Male Voice choir) conducting his enrapt party on one of the popular Discover Buxton tours?
Edward Milner attained the peak of his profession; on his death in 1884, he left an estate of £720,000. His busy practice of MilnerWhite Landscape Architects lasted until the retirement of its last director in 1995.