A Miniature Matterhorn and Gnome Miners: English Rockeries: 1900, 1909

Sir Frank Crisp's miniature Matterhorn rockery.

Sir Frank Crisp’s miniature Matterhorn rockery.


Englishman Has a Three Acre Reproduction of the Matterhorn.

The largest rock garden in England is that of Sir Frank Crisp at Friar Park, Henley. It is a faithful reproduction of the Matterhorn on a scale of about three acres. Seven thousand tons of limestone were brought from Yorkshire to make it.

The snow capped peak is represented by quartz. Below it are thousands upon thousands of alpine flowers growing in pockets between the rocks and filling every chink in the trails that ascend the mountain. There must be 200 different species in bloom at once.

At the base of the mountain is a miniature Swiss chalet, where one may sit and enjoy the scene, comparing all the main features with a little bronze model of the Matterhorn which Sir Frank had made for the entertainment of his guests. A book courses down the mountain side, and just before it reaches the chalet it forms a pretty cascade and then spreads out at your feet into a miniature lake decorated with pygmy water lilies and richly margined with pinks, primroses, gentians and other alpine flowers…

As to the Matterhorn feature, English critics are divided. They do not quarrel with the Japanese for imitating Fuji, but there is no precedent in England for duplicating any particular mountain. However, all are agreed that Sir Frank’s alpine flowers are grown with admirable skill and arranged with perfect taste… Country Life In America, Vol. 16, 1909

The Alpine Garden at Friar Park

The Alpine Garden at Friar Park

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Friar Park, Henley-on-Thames, was bought by a musician named George Harrison, one of the principals in a group called by the misspelt appellation: The “Beatles.”  The building is an exceptionally eccentric Victorian structure, built by Sir Frank Crisp and restored by Mr Harrison, who also restored the gardens. It appears that the Matterhorn rockery still exists, but the house and grounds are not open to the public, as they are occupied by the relict of the late Mr Harrison.

Gnome miners at Sir Charles Isham's Lamport rockery. Just one of many assemblages.

Gnome miners at Sir Charles Isham’s Lamport rockery. Just one of many assemblages.

This Alpine rockery did not stand alone in the annals of British gardening.  Sir Charles Isham, Bart. at his seat at Lamport created a fantasy world, which he described as “an assemblage of small caves, crevices, excavations, and inequalities, carpeted and incrusted with vegetation suited to the purpose.”  The gentleman used special varieties of miniature trees, (cedars three feet high, for example) vines,  and flowers and added rather twee scenes using ceramic garden gnomes from Germany. It was said that the only comparable rockery in the world was one created by the Austrian Emperor’s gardener, but it was judged by the cognoscenti to be far inferior to the one at Lamport where Sir Charles created crystal caves, Alpine meadows, and droll scenes of dwarf miners. One of the scenes showed the mining gnomes on strike:

Gnome Miners on Strike

Gnome Miners on Strike

Look at the reality of the picture, “On Strike,” and consider the labour involved in the production of figures that so closely harmonize one with another and produce a life like effect, which was first conceived by the constructor and afterwards worked out with such skilful care. The notice board bearing the inscription :—

Eight hours’ sleep, Eight hours’ play, Eight hours’ work, Eight shillings pay,

serves to emphasize the Trade Union spirit. It seems that the only person wanted to complete the scene is the paid agitator, unless the little gentleman on the upper ledge, who is dignified by the possession of a hat as compared with the caps of the miners, may be considered as such….In a different part of the rockery is depicted another mining scene—a set of miners, whose demands have evidently been satisfied, and we see some of them at work with pick and shovel, others wheeling barrows or climbing ladders, whilst others sit and smoke the pipe of peace—or laziness. In still another part of the rockery are a number of miners loaded with chains, and who, apparently, have task-masters set over them. Let us hope they exact a full day’s work. The Strand, Vol. 19 1900

There was one other, distinctive figure in the Lamport rockery:

Sir Charles's rockery girl figure.

Sir Charles’s rockery girl figure.

One figure that graces the rockery, and a photograph of which is shown on this page, in comparison with the gnomes is as a giantess amongst the pigmies. The contrast is so great that one’s attention is immediately arrested, and frequently at a slight distance the impression given is that it is of a living child. The figure was first exposed to public gaze in the Brussels exhibition, from whence it found its way into the shop of a London curio dealer, only to be rescued by Sir Charles Isham to adorn his rockery. Since that time the young lady has been presented with a gorgeous hat and a diamond ring by two interested visitors, and in the picture she may be seen wearing both. The Strand, Vol. 19 1900


Sir Charles Isham in his rockery.

Sir Charles Isham in his rockery.

Alas, the Lamport rockery has been dismantled. Local legend says that the gnomes were used for air-rifle target practice by Sir Charles’s daughters. Just one of the originals survived the slaughter and may still be seen at the Hall.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



5 thoughts on “A Miniature Matterhorn and Gnome Miners: English Rockeries: 1900, 1909

  1. Stephen Barker

    Last time I saw the surviving Gnome it was under a glass dome in the library. Sir Charles also had mottoes carved in the stonework of the house and I believe like many Victorians was interested in spiritualism.


    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Most interesting! What sort of mottos were they? There was a fad for “olde-Englishe” mottos among the arts and crafts enthusiasts. There is a photograph of the surviving gnome on Lamport’s web-page. One wonders if Sir Charles also believed in fairies, like Spiritualist Sir Arthur Conana Doyle?
      Many thanks for writing.
      Mrs Daffodil


  2. Serge Aubert

    I am preparing a book on the history of the alpine gardens and I would like to know the source of the image “Sir Frank Crisp’s miniature Matterhorn rockery”. I came to know Friar Park from a reference in the history of alpine gardens writen by Marcel Mirande, former director of the Lautaret alpine botanical garden (1911 – Les jardins alpins et leurs buts – Notice sur les jardins alpins de l’Université de Grenoble. Annales Université de Grenoble – tome XXIII N°1 p 1-45).
    Congratulation for your blog.
    Serge Aubert, professor at Grenoble university and director of the Lautaret alpine botanical garden


    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Dear Sir,
      Apologies for not getting this information to you immediately. Usually I have sources listed for my illustrations somewhere in my files, but have misplaced this one. I seem to remember that it came either from this forum (although the photo is not there now.) http://www.beatlelinks.net/forums/showthread.php?t=11306
      or this link. http://www.gardenhistorymatters.com/2012/01/is-it-rock-garden-rockery-or-alpine.html. There were also articles in the Strand and Country Life (as cited in the article) but I cannot find this illustration there. Such an extravagant conception for a garden!
      Mrs Daffodil



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