The history of the trees of Tortworth

By Tony Titchen 2001

The trees are on the land of the Ducie family. Sir Robert Ducie, who had been Lord Mayor of London, purchased Spring Park and Woodchester in the Cotswolds from the Huntley family round about 1630. Which were added to his already large Gloucestershire estates, which included Frocester Court and Tortworth. It is known he never lived at any of his Gloucester homes (manors).  Preferring London where he is buried. However, his son and heir, Sir Richard Ducie, did live at Frocester Court and Tortworth. He was a stubborn and active Royalist during the Civil War and had to pay heavy financial penalties as well as being imprisoned.

His brother, Sir William Ducie, succeeded in 1657 – later known as Viscount Downe. Very wealthy and spent lots of it improving the Tortworth Estates and enlarging the ‘original’ Tortworth Manor House built by the Throckmortus, turning it into Tortworth Court which was close to Tortworth Church (St Leonard’s). This was laid out with terraced gardens and enclosing some large pleasure grounds to be known as Cromhall Park. The arboretum is part of the park – although it was not as yet planted up with exotic species. He did all this for the enjoyment of his future wife “a young aunt of the proud Duke of Somerset – a Seymour heiress”. She was immensely wealthy; she adored the old Tortworth Court by the church. However, the Viscount Downe and Viscountess Downe had no children. The Viscount died in 1679 and the title died with him. The enormous Ducie inheritance went to Elizabeth, his niece, who was the wife of Edward Moreton of Little Aston, Staffordshire. Elizabeth and Edward stayed in Staffordshire, leaving the widowed Viscountess to live at the old Tortworth Court. She stayed there till she remarried in 1688.

Finally Edward and Elizabeth’s only son, Matthew, known as Matthew Ducie-Moreton, inherited all the Gloucestershire and Stafford estates. Later he was to become 1st Baron Ducie of Moreton in 1720. Just prior to that, wishing on his marriage to yet another heiress to have a Gloucester home worthy of his fare and fortune. He decided between 1710-1720 to dispose of the Staffordshire estates and to concentrate on those in Gloucester.

He built a new family seat known as Spring Park, Woodchester. Remodelling the landscapes, making the lakes and building a new mansion. This new mansion remained the official residence of the Ducie-Moreton family until after 1800. All the lavish entertaining was at Spring Park (now known as Woodchester Park!). 

The Tortworth Estate always had special family affection. The 1st Baron Ducie installed his mother-in-law there first and later it was to be the home of his widow, who lived until she was ninety years of age. Private family time was spent at the old Tortworth Court. They loved fishing, shooting, riding and farming the land of our Arboretum, with its lovely Dell, was very popular. The successor of the 1st Baron Ducie, having no children, petitioned the Crown to be created Baron Ducie of Tortworth, with the remainder to his nephews, so that the title did not die with him.

This nephew, Thomas Reynolds-Moreton, became Baron Ducie of Tortworth. This showed how the heart of the Ducies was at Tortworth – even though their official home was Woodchester. 

The first Lord Ducie died in 1735. A keen horticulturalist and experimental agriculturalist. He laid out the walks in Spring Park. This successor carried on to be responsible for the coffered landscape and game reserve characteristic of our Tortworth Arboretum. He is considered to be the instigator for the planting of the many pollarded Spanish Chestnuts, Standard Oaks and pollarded English Oaks, which are found in our Arboretum. Principally on the eastern side of the stream. This stream is on a geological fault. The eastern side is acidic whilst the western side is calcareous and alkaline. Please note the abundance of bracken, rhododendrons and laurels on the western side.

The oaks and the chestnuts are typical of the landscape associated with a Deer Park in the 18th century. The Spanish Chestnuts would have been direct descendants from the famous 1,000 year old Chestnut behind the Church at Tortworth and at one time very close to the old Tortworth Court. So, by 1800 we had substantial planting of English Oaks, Durmast Oaks and Spanish Chestnuts. The exotic conifers, oaks and other foreign trees were not to be planted until well into the latter half of the 19th century by the 3rd Earl.

Spring Park was still the Ducie Country House. The 4th Lord Ducie, Captain Francis Reynolds-Moreton RN, entertained George III at Spring Park in 1788, whilst Admirals Hood and Rodney also visited. This Ducie was a brave adventurer, swashbuckling ships captain who was responsible for winning one of our wars in the West Indies and for which he had an Island named after him, “Ducie Island” – not far from Pitcairn Island, as he was involved in arresting the mutineers of the Bounty. He liked to be known by the inhabitants of Tortworth as Captain Reynolds – he set about improving the lot of his Tortworth tenants.

His son, Thomas, was created 1st Earl of Ducie in 1837. He married more …., the daughter of the 1st Earl of Caernarvan in 1839. He lived at Spring Park whilst his brother, a famous Colonel Moreton and later his son Captain Peter Moreton, lived at the old Tortworth Court. 

If you have the time to visit the churchyard at Tortworth Church, look over the wall to see old trees at one time planted near the old Tortworth Court.

The move to Tortworth entirely was made by the 2nd Earl of Ducie (died 1853). Henry Gase Francis Reynolds-Moreton. He sold Spring Park (Woodchester) to Mr William Leigh. The circumstances for the sale are in some doubt. Why was it sold? The reader is referred to ‘A History of Woodchester’ by Rev. W Back for one version, whilst it is known that the 2nd Earl, from an early age, suffered badly from rheumatoid arthritis and did not like the dampness and foggy nature of Spring Park in the Cotswolds.

He was described as a Regency Buck, an able M.P., radical Liberal, hard riding master of fox hounds, had a violent temper and swore a lot. He was an experimental farmer and inventor. President of the Royal Agricultural Society and co-founder of Cirencester Agricultural College. Hew was generous, a good landlord, a devoted land and family man and who later on in his life became deeply religious! Stories about the 2nd Earl are even now told by the local inhabitants of the Tortworth area – passed down by word of mouth through the generations.

His hunting and riding helped to shape our Arboretum. He may have introduced the Laurels to give better cover for his deer.

He set up an ‘Example Farm’ at Tortworth, which is still in existence! He owned an iron works at Uley and is credited with the “Dulcie Cultivatis”. He also either invented or developed the Lawn Mower.

He could read the Bible in original Greek, held weekly Bible readings either in London (Belgrave Square) or Tortworth Court. His greatest achievement he considered was the formation of the Gloucestershire Scripture Readers Society, whereby those who could read would go from house to house reading the scriptures – often to the poor and illiterate.

He was also a family man – 10 sons and 4 daughters, all of which lived at …. at Spring Park.

Tortworth Court was getting a bit dilapidated and was the home of his local agent. However, once Spring Park was sold, Tortworth Court was done up. This was some time in the 1840’s (the 1841 Census shows Spring Park as being occupied by his children and servants). He would have been in London serving as Lord in Waiting to Queen Victoria. The 2nd Earl did not really live very much at the old Tortworth Court. Ins…. suffering as he was in his forties with arthritis and rheumatics, he set about building a new Tortworth Court which would not be covered in mist in the winter, which would have warm air central heating, its own gas works, its own kitchen gardens, orchards, arboretum and lake. Large enough for all the family, servants and important visitors to live in. This was started in 1846 by engaging a young architect, S.S. Tealon, to design and build the impressive property Tortworth Court which is now a 4 star hotel. The first job was to dam the river to create a lake, build the boathouse and stock the lake with suitable fish. 

Alas, aged 51 years, he died in 1853, before the new Tortworth Court was finished. He had passed on his love of trees to his son, Henry John. We know that Henry George Francis planted trees around the area of the Church and also on the southern side of the new Tortworth Court towards the lake. He may have planted some of the English Oaks in our Arboretum.

Henry Reynolds-Moreton, 3rd Earl of Ducie

It was the 3rd Earl, who lived until he was 94, who is responsible for the main structural plantings of our arboretum. He started in 1853 planting up near the new Tortworth Court, planting extensively in the pleasure grounds around the Court. At the same time he was developing his fruit, vegetable, cut flower and nursery interests within an enormous walled kitchen garden (size?). The present H.M.P. Glasshouses and the Visitor Centre are within the confines of this original kitchen garden. Alongside, to the south, is a fine residence with views overlooking the valley (and motorway now!). This opulent house was constructed as the Head Gardeners House and a succession of able and talented Head Gardeners lived there.

The most famous is Thomas Shingles who died …. and is buried in Tortworth Churchyard, with a headstone paid for by the 3rd Earl. His grave is marked by an exotic tree, Acer Sempervirens, the Cretan Maple. This man was responsible for all the late 19th century planting in our Arboretum. Planting went on until the 3rd Earl’s death in 1921. After this, during and until after the war (1938/45), very little planting was done. After the war H.M. Prison Falfield was responsible for the Court and the adjacent grounds, which included our Arboretum (see over for war time).

It was not until this time that the decades of neglect could be done away with. Dead trees felled and removed; paths opened up and new planting begun by a succession of interested Prison Officers responsible for the running and management of the Arboretum. Prominent amongst them are Stan Drew and Eddie Chambers.

Now and future

We have labelled and numbered the majority of the trees. The following pages will give you interesting information about the trees. Latin names, common names, botanical family and where it is known the planting dates. The old numbers referred to in the ‘notes’ refer to a catalogue produced 40 years ago by H.M.P. Authorities (A.J. Smith – 1960/1965 – The Trees of Tortworth). This information had been taken from the 3rd Earl’s Diaries, which he left meticulously. They had been loaned to the 1960 author by the 6th Earl.

Unfortunately, over the years these diaries have been lost (one for each year of the Earl’s planting).

New planting of trees which used to grow in the Arboretum are planned. It is envisaged that within 5 years a new Pinetum will be formed containing the lost conifers and Taxads, whilst in the main Arboretum new planting of the rare species of American Oak and Hickory will be established. 

A full record of “lost” trees has been compiled and it is hoped to plant these historical trees for the benefit of later generations. 

Tony Titchen (2001)