September 02, 2011

Sidney Dowdeswell, Mosaic and shell garden



The small mosaic at the bottom of the tombstone, as in above picture, might be one of the few items left of a lifetime's creative activity by Sidney Dowdeswell (1884-1977).

Dowdeswell, who lived in the small community of Hindlip, north of Worcester in England, UK, in 1921 began transforming the garden of his house into a mosaic and shell garden.

For around some forty years he has been active in decorating garden elements with shells and making various mosaic decorated items which he displayed in the garden. He would use all kinds of broken tiles, pieces of glass and shells.

In a comment on this post (may 2015, see below) the site has been described in this way:

"Peacocks, butterflies, birds of every colour all illustrated using tinted broken glass from bottles. Thousands upon thousands of sea shells, broken tile and household ceramic . This mosaic of material all set into a bed of mortar to form a forever work of art. Then there were fish ponds with a miniature bridge and water ways , hand made and painted garden gnomes and caricatures busily fishing. 

Arches and walkways, all splendidly patterned and illustrated beyond imagination. The remaining trunks of long dead trees brought to life with a shimmering cover of glass and shell while life-size storks observed through glass eyes the visitor exploring the tightest and most secret of the gardens corners. 

You walked pathway after pathway though this little slice of heaven and with each circuit found something new and unnoticed on a previous passing. This was all blended skilfully with a brilliant array of bedding plants and annuals". 

Indeed, in the english gardening tradition Dowdeswell also took care that the orderly arranged beds were full of blooming flowers and plants.

picture from UK newspaper Daily Herald (1962)

Since Dowdeswell's outsider environment hardly has been documented, just a few biographic details are available so far. In a comment on this post the information was shared that according to the 1911 U.K. census Dowdeswell worked as a painter when aged 27 (More biographic information is very welcome !)

A surprise however:  the artist and his garden have been portrayed in a small film news item (1962), which was archived on British Pathé (click on the picture to see the fragment; you can buy it from Pathé for GBP 30)


click to go to the Pathé page

Sidney Dowdeswell died in 1977. He was 93 years old.

In the early 1980's the plot was redeveloped by a project developer and the garden was demolished.

Old postcards traced (2015)

Above text was written in February 2011. In 2015 I happened to trace some postcards, republished here.


These picture postcards denote the depicted site as Harveydene gardens located in Droitwich Spa, so when I looked at these postcards for the first time, I thought they related to another art environment.


Further research, however, taught me that these postcards relate to Dowdeswell's garden. For example on the Pathé movie (link above) at 1'32" a butterfly mosaic appears that is similar to that in the postcard below.


Droitwich Spa is a city that is located near the small community of Hindlip.

first published feb 2011, revised 2015, jul 2017

Sidney Dowdeswell
Mosaic and shell garden
Hindlip, Worcestershire, West Midlands, UK
site demolished

6 comments:

  1. I was first taken to see the garden at Hindlip /Smite as a young seven year old by my father . He had been introduced to the spectacle a week or so earlier by his friend, a Mr.Skinner of Claines near Worcester . At that age I was of course not particularly thrilled at the idea of going to see someone’s garden, unless it had swings and roundabouts perhaps. The car was parked at the meeting of two lane ends if I remember correctly and the house and garden filled the angle of land where they met. High hedgerows prevented any preview and we entered via. a small garden gate . Once inside the place presented its wonders little by little as we carefully ambled around .

    Despite my tender years I was totally awestruck, gob-smacked to put it bluntly. Peacocks, butterflies , birds of every colour all illustrated using tinted broken glass from bottles .Thousands upon thousands of sea shells , broken tile and household ceramic . This mosaic of material all set into a bed of mortar to form a forever work of art. Then there were fish ponds with a miniature bridge and water ways , hand made and painted garden gnomes and caricatures busily fishing. Arches and walkways, all splendidly patterned and illustrated beyond imagination . The remaing trunks of long dead trees brought to life with a shimmering cover of glass and shell while life-size Storks observed through glass eyes the visitor exploring the tightest and most secret of the gardens corners . You walked pathway after pathway though this little slice of heaven and with each circuit found something new and unnoticed on a previous passing . This was all blended skilfully with a brilliant array of bedding plants and annuals.
    At length with all of this wonder stored in mind it was time to return to the car and home for tea. The exit was through the same cottage gate and coins could be dropped into a thank you box on the gate post . Very few people overlooked this opportunity to show their appreciation of all the years of effort that the mystery gardener had devoted to this minor miracle of creative art ,

    So ended my first visit. Over the years as I grew into adulthood and introduced many others to the wonders at Smite. I remember on one very rare occasion having the chance to speak with the man responsible for its creation. Sidney Dowdeswell was a quite unassuming man and with some persuasion he outlined his story. He astounded me with the fact that for years he had cycled to his work ( In Worcester I think ) and back again each day but with energy to spare for his beloved project.
    I moved to the far north in 1977 and paid no further visits to this wonderful place but it was forever in my memory.

    Recently on seeking to find mention of the garden on the internet with the idea of visiting with my younger grandchildren, I was so pleased to find this blog and web page referring to the garden . Then horrified to read that Sidney’s life’s work had been demolished after his death to make way for some modern project or other ( was this vandalism carried out on the alter of money ? ) To me and hundreds of thousands of others this was indeed a national treasure and worth just as much to our heritage as anything to be found in the Tate. Why oh why ??? Thankfully we have good old Pathe News to thank for their short but illustrative film showing Sidney at his art. That however will never come close to the wonder on a young boys face on encountering this magical garden for the first time.
    I'm 72 now and would love to walk with my to youngest grandchildren around that garden again but that can now, never be. I'm sorry Sidney, but its seems that it was just in the way ….....
    Rest in peace Sidney Dowdeswell for I and many many others will take the memory of your wonderful garden to the grave.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @ Macknight131. Thank you very much for your comment. Very interesting to read your impressions of the site when visiting it as a youngster. I inserted part of your text into my post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My pleasure . According to the 1911 U.K. census Sidney worked as a painter when aged 27.

      Delete
  3. My grandmother took me to see the gardens when I was a child - must have been the early 1960's. I have very fond memories of the visit and would have loved to return. I'm so sorry to learn that the garden has been demolished, but have been delighted by this article and the images.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your friendly message !

      Delete
  4. Worcestershire Lassie.July 20, 2017 at 3:08 PM

    My father took me to visit, as a young child on several occasions in the mid 1950s, it made a lovely day out from Redditch town. I remember being allowed to post pennies into a shell covered box. I loved going out there and seeing all the pretty shells and sparkly glass. As a grown up I imagine what a labour of love it must have been. Fond memories of jam sandwiches and old Austin 7 car with running boards to sit on.

    ReplyDelete