When the Elmhirsts arrived in 1925, the garden’s central feature was an overgrown formal Dutch-style sunken garden.
Inspired by Dartington’s medieval history and John Holand’s reputation for jousting, Leonard Elmhirst dubbed it the ‘Tiltyard’ and had its tiered shape accentuated.
The South-west side of the Tiltyard is flanked by a series of grassy banks, each with a flat terrace stepping up to a row of ancient Chestnut trees, where Henry Moore’s ‘Reclining Figure’ sculpture quietly spends her days.
A lawn, three more terraces, and a row of twelve Irish yew trees, known as the ‘Twelve Apostles’, separate this area from the 14th C Hall which stands off to the north-east side of the Tiltyard. The Tiltyard lies between a natural spring, which today feeds the Swan Fountain, and the stream that runs through Valley Field, meaning it can become water-logged.
In the 1990s some drawings from the 19thC were discovered, revealing that the Tiltyard had been a lily pond making full use of the nearby water springs. Folklore from the Champernowne era refers to a ‘bear pit’ or ‘dog pit’ in on corner of the Tiltyard, suggesting that it was used for dog or animal fights at one time.
However, the more recent discovery of drainage from medieval kitchens suggests this corner was more likely to be used for kitchen waste – the fights perhaps had been more spontaneous ‘scraps’ for food. Could the Twelve Apostles been planted to screen the house from this unsightly and malodorous corner?
More Gardens history
The TiltyardThe history of our most distinctive Gardens feature
Henry Moore's Memorial FigureThe renowned sculptor's tribute to a key Dartington figure
The Sunny BorderHow one of Dorothy Elmhirst's favourite features has evolved
The Bridge by Peter Randall-PageA functional artwork that helps keep our Gardens accessible to all
Beatrix Farrand’s courtyard pavingThe history of a space inspired by the college quadrangles of Oxford University
FloraA statue gifted to founders Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst by the people of Dartington
The Yew TreeThe oldest living resident of our Gardens, believed to be 1500-2000 years old
St Mary’s Church TowerThis 13th century tower is home to our 'Silent Space', a place of quiet contemplation