Interior of the house called 'The General's Office' Larmer Gardens, 2012 [Photo J. Gammon]

Pitt-Rivers published two guides to the Larmer Grounds during his lifetime. These are transcribed here and copies are held by the Pitt Rivers Museum's manuscript collections.

Here are some other accounts regarding the Larmer Tree Gardens:

1. Description from 29 September 1888 Lady's Pictorial :

Visitors to Bournemouth should make an effort to drive over to Rushmore, and get a glimpse of a modern Arcadia, the existence of which is largely due to General Pitt Rivers, a brother of Mr Lane-Fox [sic] and a prominent member of the Archaeological Society, who lives at Rushmore Lodge, about twenty-five miles from Bournemouth. The property is popularly known as the "Larmer Tree," from the fact that there is a tree near the house to which was attached a bell, presumably used as an alarm bell. On the lawn is Boehm's "Hunter of Early Days," a really remarkable piece of work. General Pitt Rivers is a model landlord, and most thoughtful as to the comfort of his tenants and servants, and the village of Rushmore is entirely charming. Among other pleasant innovations the General has erected a band-stand in his grounds, and on Sundays a selection of music is given for the amusement of all who care to attend. The band was formed some three years ago, and consists of labourers, shepherds, farm servants, the local carpenter, grocer &c. It was taken in hand by the grocer, who is also the church organist, and although the task seemed herculean, he has done marvels, principally owing to the fact that the men take great interest in their work. They are dressed in a particularly effective uniform, and are engaged by the General to play at his garden-parties, for which they are paid half-a-crown a head. Mr Spencer, of the Grenadier Guards, is sent down by Lieutenant Dan Godfrey to coach the band during three weeks in the year, and he is much gratified by their rapid progress. The drive from Bournemouth to Rushmore is most beautiful. [A copy of this press cutting, sent to PR by a press cuttings agency [Romeike's Agency of London] is held as part of the Pitt-Rivers papers, S&SWM]

2. Pitt-Rivers, King John's House 1890 privately published, page 2:

One of the Indian houses at Larmer Gardens, May 2012 [Photo J. Gammon]

... About 800 yards to the south-west of the House are the remains of an old wych elm, known as the Larmer Tree, now enclosed in a pleasure ground, which tradition affirms to be the spot at which King John used to assemble with his huntsmen for the chase. That it has always been a boundary and a noted spot in the neighbourhood, appears to be evidenced by the fact that earthen banks marking the divisions between the two counties of Wilts and Dorset, and the three parishes of Tollard Royal, Tollard Farnham, and Farnham run up to it. Even in pre-historic times it is possible it may have been used as a landmark or a place of resort. Within a radius of a couple of hundred feet from the tree, I found, when the field near it was under cultivation, that it was covered with the debris of a flint workshop ...

3. Roach le Schonix, 1894. 'Notes on Archaeology in Provincial Museums: The Museums at Farnham, Dorset, and at King John's House, Tollard Royal', The Antiquary 30, 166-171:

See these links for le Schonix's account of Farnham Museum and King John's House.

Statue at the Larmer Gardens 2012 [Photo by R. McGoff]

'This account cannot be brought to a close without some record of General Pitt-Rivers' extreme generosity to the public with regard to his invaluable collections. The Larmer Grounds, Rushmore, that lie between these two museums of Farnham and Tollard Royal, are beautiful pleasure-grounds that have been laid out for the recreation of the people in the neighbouring towns and villages regardless of expense. An excellent band, consisting of workmen on the estate, plays every Sunday in the grounds, as well as occasionally on other days during the summer months from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The grounds, as well as the museums, are open gratis every day to the public, Sundays included, from mid-day to dark.

4. Austin Caverhill Rushmore - Then and Now:

... The Pitt-Rivers Museum that was to house his collection and was to be the principal means of enlightening the minds of the ordinary people was established in an old gypsy school, but how was he to attract people to it? The means by which he hoped to do so was the establishment of a recreational centre that was surely the first of its kind in the country. Not only was every facility provided for the visitor at the Larmer Tree Grounds in Tollard Royal, but here was also an eighteen hole golf course that started at the race track (also built by the General), that went as far as Minchington Cross, back to just below South Lodge, then across the Tollard Royal Road, and back to the Race Course. Inside Rushmore Park visitors could see exotic animals such as llamas, emus, rheas and kangaroos. The General also cross-bred Highland and Jersey cows with the humped back Zebu cattle from India ... He even brought reindeer into the park to see if they could be acclimatised but they survived for three years only, finding the climate too warm! ... Eight miles of new fencing was erected to enclose these animals (as well as the deer) ... Sixteen workmen from the estate were pressed into service to form the original band ... under the supervision of Band-Sergeant Spencer of the Grenadier Guards. The band became one more attraction to the area, playing both in the park and at the Larmer Tree Grounds.

5. British History Online

Between 1880 and 1885 A.H.L.-F. Pitt-Rivers, the archaeologist and anthropologist, who owned most of the land in the parish, converted c. 20 a. south of Tollard Royal village into pleasure gardens known as the Larmer Grounds. Within the grounds, a little south of the county boundary, stood the Larmer tree, a wych-elm, then dead, near which tradition claims that courts for Tollard manor were held. A temple in classical style and a half-timbered cottage for a caretaker were built in 1880–1. From 1885 the grounds were open to the public daily and without charge. A bandstand, an open-air theatre, a dining hall, and summerhouses in rustic and Indian styles were built later. A band, formed in 1886 from among workers on Pitt-Rivers's estate, played in the grounds on Sundays in summer. Over 400 people visited the grounds on a Sunday in July 1886; during 1893 there were 24,143 visitors. Sports and races were held each September to commemorate the annual hunt associated with the manor courts. A golf course extending east of the grounds into Berwick St. John parish was opened in 1896. PittRivers (d. 1900) left an endowment to maintain the grounds but they became less popular after his death. They were still open in 1932 but had by then been reduced to 10 a. Some of the buildings had been demolished and a new restaurant built by 1985; the grounds were then principally used as an aviary and were occasionally open to the public.

6. Thompson, 1977: pp. 79-80

Pitt-Rivers carried the full cost himself: all the visitor did to enter at any one of these three places, the Larmer Grounds, King John's House or the Museum was to sign his name in a book ... Nowadays because of the motor car, it is fairly easy to persuade the public to come in large numbers to the remotest country house. It was quite a different matter to go to the nearest station by train and then hire a horse-drawn vehicle or walk, even if the bicycle was beginning to make people more mobile. ...The three institutions referred to are quite long distances apart if one is on foot. It is possible that Pitt-Rivers had decided to create the Larmer pleasure grounds before he inherited the property, since he seems to have chosen this wooded site and erected the round temple in 1880. ... The timber-framed caretaker's cottage was added in 1881, Boehm's bronze statue of The hunter of early days in 1883 and the bandstand in 1886. It is probably fair to say that it started off as a park occasionally open to the public, but in 1885 became pleasure grounds normally open to the public. ... The public were invited to picnic in the grounds and cutlery and crockery were provided; liquor had to be brought. There were eight quarters each provided with an arbour, seats and table, which have whimsical names: Owls, Cats, Yaks, Stags, Hogs, Hounds, the Vista and Band View. ... German skittles, bowls and swings were provided in the shrubbery. ... The accounts record the expenses of firework displays, of hiring singers and entertainers and so on. During the last five years of his life Pitt-Rivers made some remarkable additions to the Larmer grounds: the singing stand (1895), the dining hall (1896), the Japanese bronze pony (1897), the Oriental Room (1895), the Upper Indian House (1898) and the India Room (1899). ... It will be noticed that the oriental additions were made about the time of the Diamond Jubilee in 1897. This was the Indian period of the Queen when the Durbar Room was added to Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight. ...

7. Bowden, 1991: 145-9:

Even before the [Farnham] Museum opened Pitt Rivers had started to lay out the Larmer Tree Grounds at Tollard Royal. The Larmer Tree was an ancient wych elm on the Dorset-Wiltshire border, traditionally the meeting place of the hunt since King John's time. When the General came to the Chase the tree was in its dotage and he replaced it with an oak. At first the pleasure grounds at Larmer may have been intended mainly for the enjoyment of the family and guests though the General was later to claim ... that he had always intended the Larmer Grounds to be a meeting place for the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages. Thompson suggests that the idea came from the Black Fen pleasure grounds at Bramham Park, which the General had known as a boy ... The General himself hinted that the inspiration had been the pleasure grounds he had seen while travelling on the Continent, where people could meet and relax on Sundays ... He stated quite clearly his belief that loneliness and isolation were a major cause of insanity and that the creation of the Larmer Grounds as a meeting point for the inhabitants of the scattered villages and farms in the area was an attempt to counter this evil. ... Whatever the original inspiration for the Larmer Grounds, however, their central role is seen in Pitt Rivers' remark that museums 'must be supplemented by other inducements to make them attractive'. [1891: 119-20] The Larmer Grounds were open every day ... The main day of activity at the Larmer Grounds was Sunday. ... As the years passed the scope of the Larmer Grounds increased enormously. Many buildings were erected, some of them designed by the General himself in the ferme ornee tradition. There were picnic bowers, dining halls, statues, a temple, an open-air theatre and a bandstand. 'Indian houses' designed by the General and built by the estate carpenters, were erected in 1897. They were decorated with carvings brought from the Earls Court Exhibition of the same year and a huge and very fine Moultan Ware fireplace purchased from the 'Indian Art Gallery' of Proctor and Co., ... A race-course was laid out on a piece of land adjoining the Larmer Grounds and then a golf course. ... The General formed his own band which performed at the Larmer Ground, free of charge, on Sunday afternoons in the summer ... The bandsmen were dressed in the style of eighteenth-century Chase Keepers in the Pitt Rivers livery colours of blue and yellow. ... In later years there were three major events at the Larmer Grounds in addition to the Sunday openings. These were on Whit Monday, August Bank Holiday and the first Wednesday in September. ... Visitor figures for the Larmer Grounds were very high, with 44,417 being recorded for 1899, and many of these came from some distance. ... Pitt Rivers even went so far as to build the Museum Hotel in Farnham for the convenience of visitors from further afield. ...

To see details of items from Pitt-Rivers' second collection that were displayed at the Larmer Grounds go here.

See here for the wikipedia account of the Gardens.

Bibliography for this article
Bowden, Mark 1991. Pitt Rivers: The Life and Archaeological Work of Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Caverhill, Austen (no date) Rushmore Then and Now: A short history of Rushmore House and Park, at one time residence of Lieut-General A.H. Pitt-Rivers and now the home of Sandroyd School No publisher [published on the occasion of Sandroyd's Hundredth anniversary]

Pitt-Rivers, A.H.L.F. 1890 King John's House, Tollard Royal, Wilts. Printed privately

Above extracts transcribed by AP in June 2010 for the Rethinking Pitt-Rivers project

AP [before 2012]

prm logo