Landscape Designer, Surveyor and Gardener
Woods was described as ‘gardener’ when he purchased a quarter of an acre in Chertsey in 1751. By the middle of the 1750s, his career as a designer must have started, although no commissions are documented before 1758. It is not clear whether he used the Chertsey premises as a nursery, but it is worth noting their proximity to Woburn Park and that both Southcote (the owner of Woburn) and Woods were Roman Catholics, demonstrating the close association of co-religionists in mid-eighteenth century society. Southcote influenced Woods’ use of colour and planting arrangements using a mixture of forest trees and flowers. By 1761 Woods also had a London address, where he is more likely to have occupied nursery ground.
His move in 1768 to North Ockendon Hall, where he took up farming, not only marked a shift in commissions from the north and south west to Essex, but also a rise in his social status. In 1763 Richard Hoare at Boreham House had become the first of his known Essex employers, although the main landscaping there dates from 1771. In 1765 he prepared plans for Hatfield Priory and for Wivenhoe Park, although the improvements at Wivenhoe were deferred for ten years, whilst work was carried out at Alresford Hall, the property of the client’s kinsman. The work at Alresford and Wivenhoe is well-documented, unlike that at several other Essex commissions. Work was in progress on major sites for Roman Catholic landowners at Wardour, Irnham and Lulworth during 1769-1772. Hengrave Hall, his only known commission in Suffolk, was also for a co-religionist.
Woods had moved to Essex at the peak of his career, which subsequently failed to develop. By 1780, he was experiencing financial difficulties; at this period he designed the Elysian garden at Audley End, although he was not responsible for its execution. After his first wife’s death in 1783, Wood’s move to smaller premises at New Cottage, Ingrave, coincided with his appointment as surveyor to the 9th Lord Petre at Thorndon, where he may have been involved in re-shaping the pond, new plantations and additions to the west garden. The following year he modernized the grounds at Copford Hall and was still working for the owner on his Stanway estate at the time of his death in 1793 at the age of 77, according to the notice published in The Laity’s Directory.
Woods was a competent designer of small garden buildings and bridges; he excelled himself in the surviving example at Great Myles’s (1771). He was at his best in small scale settings, combining gently undulating landscapes, as at Hatfield Priory, with Elysian walks. Sites Worked on by Woods in Essex include Boreham House, 1763-73; Hatfield Priory, 1765; Alresford Hall, c.1765-1776; Wivenhoe Park, 1765, 1776-1780; Hare Hall, 1768/9; Belhus, 1770-1771; Great Myles, Kelvedon Hatch, 1771, 1787; Gidea Hall, 1776; Audley End, 1780; Copford Hall, 1784; Brizes, Kelvedon Hatch, 1788. His design ‘style’ was characterised by the combination of forest trees with flowers, and the use of water features terminated by grottos.
Taken from: Twigs Way, Ed., Rooted in Essex (Essex Garden Trust, 2006).
See also: Fiona Cowell, Richard Woods (1715 1793) Master of the Pleasure Garden (The Boydell Press, 2009).