Aerial view of Blenheim Palace and gardens, Woodstock, Oxfordshire
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire © Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire © Blenheim Palace

George Clarke announces his top 10 Homes & Gardens in England

  • TV presenter George Clarke judges the Homes & Gardens category of our campaign Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by Ecclesiastical
  • Queen Victoria’s summer home, the Merseyside park that inspired New York’s Central Park and almshouses that are ‘the physical manifestation of human compassion’ are among 10 places chosen from a long list of public nominations
  • New podcast episodes hosted by TV and radio presenter Emma Barnett explore his chosen 10 places and their importance to England’s story

The oldest almshouses in England, a street of pre-fabricated bungalows built after the destruction of World War II, the park in Merseyside that inspired New York’s Central Park and Queen Victoria’s summer retreat are among the 10 places chosen today by TV presenter George Clarke, for our campaign  A History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by Ecclesiastical.

The campaign aims to find the 100 places which bring England’s extraordinary history to life and best demonstrate our collective identity.

George Clarke, who has judged the Homes & Gardens category, is one of a panel of expert judges, including Mary Beard, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Tristram Hunt and David Olusoga, who will choose 10 places in 10 different categories from a long list of public nominations.

All 10 places picked by George will be explored in new episodes of the recently launched podcast series, hosted by Emma Barnett.

The 10 places in the Homes & Gardens category are:

Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire

This is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world. It has been occupied by 39 monarchs since William the Conqueror began its construction in 1070 to secure the western approach to London and give access to the nearby hunting forests. Windsor is still a working royal castle, regularly used for ceremonial and State occasions, including the hosting of dignitaries from all over the world. It also houses an extensive collection of works from some of the finest artists, designers and writers in the world. Windsor Castle is where the Queen spends most of her private weekends and is thought to be the place she calls home.

Birkenhead Park, Birkenhead, Merseyside

Created in 1847, this is thought to be the first publicly funded civic park in the world and marks a change in our attitude to public health. Designed by Joseph Paxton, this green open space filled with lakes and rockeries was created for people of all classes to escape to, away from the industrial hubbub of Liverpool. It is also known to be the inspiration of perhaps the world’s most famous park: Central Park in New York City. In 1850, American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted visited Birkenhead Park, which he called a “People’s Garden”: “I was glad to observe that the privileges of the garden were enjoyed equally by all classes…all this magnificent pleasure ground is entirely, unreservedly, and for ever, the people’s own. The poorest British peasant is as free to enjoy it as the Queen.” Olmsted took what he learned from Birkenhead and went on to win the design competition for New York’s Central Park in 1858.

Park Hill Flats, Talbot Street, South Street and Duke Street, Sheffield

Built in the late 1950s to replace slums after the war, Park Hill’s "streets in the sky" made it a ground-breaking council housing estate. The blocks, which were built with decks wide enough for a milk float to pass along, promised a living environment where families cleared from slums could still talk to their neighbours in the fresh air, have easy access to the facilities of a village and even have their milk delivered to their doorsteps-on-high. To maintain a strong sense of community, neighbours were re-homed next door to each other and old street names from the area were re-used. The estate’s Brutalist design has long divided opinion and the flats certainly weren’t perfect but they represent an important milestone in providing better, more ethical social housing.

Almshouses at Hospital of St. Cross, Winchester

The documented history of social housing in Britain starts with almshouses, which were established from the 10th century to provide shelter for "poor, old and distressed folk", often widows. They are the physical manifestation of human compassion. The Hospital of St. Cross in Winchester, established in 1132, is the oldest almshouse still in existence and one of England’s oldest charitable institutions. They have been described by the writer Simon Jenkins as “England’s most perfect almshouses”. After the dissolution of the monasteries only a few almshouses remained, making this survival even more important. The Hospital of St Cross still houses people today and almshouses across the UK provide accommodation for around 35,000 people, making this piece of history as relevant today as it was hundreds of years ago.

Post-war prefabricated bungalows, 397 - 427 Wake Green Road, Moseley, Birmingham

Birmingham was devastated by bombing during World War II, targeted for its manufacturing of planes, vehicles and arms. It was the second most heavily bombed city in the UK, with more than 12,000 homes destroyed. Over 4,000 temporary homes, or prefabs, were erected at sites across the city as part of the Temporary Housing (Emergency Factory Made Homes) programme. These detached prefab homes in Moseley were built from cream corrugated sheeting, with a corrugated pitched roof. They had two bedrooms, fitted kitchens and bathrooms which were a novelty at the time, and they also had gardens to grow flowers and vegetables. Although only supposed to last for 10 years, many are still standing today and 16 of the prefabs in Wake Green Road were listed at Grade II in 1998. They survive, still lived in, 70 years on as a testament to and symbol of post-war recovery, innovation and optimism for a brighter future.

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire

This has been the ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough since it was built for John Churchill following his victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. His descendent Sir Winston Churchill was born at the Palace in November 1874. Blenheim is a masterpiece of 18th century Baroque architecture set in more than 2000 acres of parkland, landscaped by the famous Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The palace was designed by the dramatist John Vanbrugh, who clashed with the fierce Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah Churchill, from the very beginning. Sarah wanted a home but Vanbrugh also wanted the palace to be a monument for the nation, which meant lavish expense, paid for by the public as well as the Duke and Duchess. Vanbrugh was eventually banned from visiting his creation, after a final blistering argument with Sarah over rising costs. Vanbrugh had a flair for the dramatic and no detail escaped his notice: it is said that if you look through the keyhole of the first stateroom, you can see through all the rest in the row, which is a testament to the precise design and craftsmanship which define the entire place. Blenheim is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Port Sunlight, Wirral, Merseyside

This was built as a site for the Lever brothers’ expanding soap business and a carefully planned model village for its workers. William Lever, in planning the village, sought to create an environment that provided “everything that makes life pleasant – nice houses, comfortable homes, and healthy recreation.” Lever wasn’t driven by philanthropy; he understood the benefits to his business in providing better living conditions for his workers. Port Sunlight is set in 130 acres of parkland and there are also gardens, allotments, a school, cottage hospital, concert hall, open air swimming pool and later an art gallery. The intention was to create more comfortable, healthier and more enjoyable lives for working people. Lever commissioned a different architect for each block to provide special, good quality homes for the factory workers, with 900 buildings in the village now listed at Grade II. Port Sunlight was part of a bigger, national shift in attitudes to workers and their living conditions, which ultimately saw big improvements in the lives of so many across the country.

Great Somerford Free Gardens and Allotments, Wiltshire

These are thought to be the oldest continuously cultivated allotments in England. Due to the enclosure of common land facilitated by the 1773 “Inclosure Act”, only a dwindling amount of land was available for poor people to grow food. Although seen as more of a pleasure today, 200 years ago growing vegetables and crops was essential to survive but this required land. In Somerford the philanthropic village rector Stephen Demainbray used his connections with King George III to devote six acres of land to working people who had very little money to spare. The acres were used as free gardens and allowed people to harvest wheat, oats and other crops, to feed themselves and their livestock. The allotments are still lovingly cultivated today, though a few plots are currently empty and looking for green-fingered owners.

 RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) was given Wisley in 1903 by Sir Thomas Hanbury who was a wealthy quaker with a passion for gardening. The garden quickly acquired a reputation for its collections of lilies, gentians, Japanese irises, primulas and water plants. But more importantly at Wisley the RHS had the space they needed to allow plant scientists to study flowers, vegetables and fruit, with the goal of sharing with the public which plants were the best to grow. They strive to educate the public about horticulture and continue experimental research into plants, pests and diseases in order to future proof both our gardens and our food sources.

 Osborne House, East Cowes, Isle of Wight

It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot" said Queen Victoria about Osborne House, her holiday home on the Isle of Wight. The house was designed by Prince Albert himself, in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo, as a summer home and rural retreat for the royal family. After Albert’s death, Queen Victoria continued to use Osborne as a royal retreat and for diplomatic relations. In the later years of her reign, the Queen struck up a very close friendship with her Indian servant Abdul Karim. He taught her Urdu and introduced her to Indian culture, including Indian curries, which she adored. Her growing fascination with Indian culture was epitomised in the Durbar Room at Osborne, which was designed by Bhai Ram Singh and Lockwood Kipling (Rudyard’s father). Queen Victoria later died at Osborne House in January 1901.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: “The history of our homes and gardens is the story of how we and our ancestors lived and George Clarke has chosen 10 fascinating places in this category. From the earliest form of social housing, to the home of our monarch and even to Brutalist streets in the sky which took people away from the degradation of the slums, these 10 places play an important role in telling the social history of England.”

Mark Hews, Group Chief Executive of Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “Country gardens and stately homes will always have a place in the hearts of the English but what is really interesting about this list is how many of these places represent really significant social change. Places such as Park Hill Flats in Sheffield and the Almshouses of St Cross, Winchester, are not necessarily places that come to mind when you think of England’s homes and gardens but they are an irreplaceable part of our modern heritage and it is right that they are represented in this list alongside Windsor Castle and Blenheim Palace.”