The History of Painshill Park

The Return of Charles Hamilton’s 18th Century Masterpiece


The Conservatory at Painshill - Surrey

Painshill, or “Pains Hill” as it appears in some 19th Century texts, was built by the Hon. Charles Hamilton between 1738 and 1773. The park, which is situated near Cobham in Surrey is one of the finest remaining examples of an 18th Century landscape park.

The Grade I listed park was awarded the Europa Nostra Medal in 1998, for the “Exemplary restoration from a state of extreme neglect, of a most important 18th century landscape park and its extraordinary buildings.” The park gained additional recognition in May 2006, when it was awarded full collection status for its John Bartram Heritage Collection, by the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG).

The Hon. Charles Hamilton was an artist and creative who dedicated himself to landscaping the splendid garden. Born in Dublin in 1704, Hamilton was the 9th son of the 6th Earl of Abercorn.

Hamilton began acquiring land at Painshill in 1738, and over the years extended the grounds of Painshill Park to over 250 acres. The landscaped gardens were among the earliest reflecting the changing fashions of the era, prompted by the Landscape Movement which began in England in 1730. It was a move towards a more naturalistic formula, away from the geometric formality of earlier garden designs.

Hamilton divided the gardens into two parts: the ornamental pleasure grounds with the central lake and the more natural style second half. Many of the trees and shrubs planted by Hamilton were sent to him from Philadelphia by naturalist John Bartram. Visitors were permitted to tour the gardens during this time, if they tipped the head gardener! The gardens were visited by respected figures such as William Gilpin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Prince Franz of Anhalt-Dessau and Thomas Whately.

Hamilton sold the estate when he ran out of money in 1773. Painshill was then owned by a number of private owners, including Benjamin Bond Hopkins, Henry Lawes Luttrell, William Moffat and Sir William Cooper, High Sheriff of Surrey. Sir William Cooper and his wife lived at Painshill until 1863, installing Joseph Bramah’s suspension bridge and water wheel, and adding the arboretum designed by John Claudius Loudon. Pains Hill Cottage was also rented by English poet, literary and social critic Matthew Arnold in 1873.

Following WWII the estate was split up and the house and parkland separately sold, which led to a period of neglect – the park soon disappeared and its features fell into decay. By 1980 the local authority had begun work on the restoration of the garden, and the following year charity the Painshill Park Trust was founded in order “to restore Painshill as nearly as possible to Charles Hamilton’s Original Concept of a Landscaped Garden for the benefit of the public.”